While working on a package of stories looking at the Falcons 1977 “Grits Blitz” defense 40 years later, I took a big breath and dove into the deep end of the worldwide web to see what kind of historical respect this bunch receives.
Would a defense that still holds the modern-day record for allowing the fewest points per game (129 points in 14 games, a 9.2 point-per-game average) crack any all-time Top 10 lists?
No, according to an ESPN.com posting.
No, said an Athlonsports.com list.
A video no from NFL.com.
A yes, finally, from something called Ranker.com.
The defenses that gathered the most praise were, not insignificantly, the ones attached to winning teams. In some cases, defenses that dragged plain-as-unbuttered-toast offenses to championships. Like the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and the 2002 Tampa Bay Bucs. In other cases, defenses that came to define classic outfits like the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the 1962 Green Bay Packers.
Fact is, none of them did better at a defense’s basic task of denying the other guy the endzone than the ’77 Grits Blitz.
Claude Humphrey was the only Hall of Fame-level player on that defense (Tommy Nobis, who should be in the Hall, had just retired). A defensive assistant named Jerry Glanville came onto the scene ready to rush 12 players if he could get away with it. Defenses of the era were allowed to play far more physically, and those Falcons made full use of that invitation.
Playing the best defense that still-young franchise had ever seen, those Falcons only managed to go 7-7 (14-game season then). Yes, they were offensively challenged.
That bottom line is what is bound to relegate the Grits Blitz to slightly less than legendary status, despite being as statistically stout as anyone. Being a Falcon of that era means often being overlooked. In large part, those players are required to be the keepers of their own legacy.
The world moves on. We forget, especially those teams that do nothing special in the standings. It’s the proud old men who were there with spikes on the ground who need to remind us once in a while just what they, through determination as much as talent, were able to accomplish.
There’s an example there somewhere for Dan Quinn and his group of proud young men.
“When you have guys who can man-to-man cover in that style and play aggressive, that’s a good style. That crew certainly embodied that,” the Falcons coach said, flashing his appreciation for history. “It’s the toughness of that era and of that defense that sticks out to me.”
Rank them where you will. Regardless, don’t you think the 2017 Falcons would go pretty far if they held opponents to under 10 points a game? OK, it’s an offensive era now – so let’s say under two touchdowns a game. A little Grits Blitz II, the sequel, wouldn’t hurt 40 years later.