Falcons trailing in terms of pedigree

By Paul Newberry
Associated Press / January 15, 2011

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ATLANTA — Bart Starr. Lambeau Field. Ray Nitschke. Titletown USA. Reggie White. Heck, they even named the Super Bowl trophy after Green Bay’s most famous coach.

Yep, the Packers are just oozing with tradition.

The Atlanta Falcons? Not so much.

“We’re fairly new on the block,’’ said Roddy White, the Falcons’ Pro Bowl receiver. “We’re still trying to prove ourselves. You’ve got to go out there and win playoff games. That’s what this league is all about.’’

The Falcons (13-3) are the top seed in the NFC playoffs heading into tonight’s divisional game against Green Bay (11-6). Atlanta merely needs to win two more games — both at the Georgia Dome, where the team is 20-4 over the last three seasons — to reach the Super Bowl for only the second time.

Up first, Atlanta will have to get by a franchise with a much more impressive résumé over the long haul.

The Packers have won a record 12 NFL titles, three more than any other franchise, a bounty that includes three Super Bowls victories. Compare that with the Falcons, who have managed just four division titles in 45 years and lost their lone Super Bowl appearance in 1999. In fact, Atlanta had never put together back-to-back winning seasons until its current run of three in a row.

No one has considered naming a trophy after anyone from the Falcons. Heck, the team has yet to send even one player to Canton; the best it can do is Eric Dickerson and Tommy McDonald, two Hall of Famers who played briefly for Atlanta late in their careers. And when it comes to coaches, the team can’t come close to Vince Lombardi or Curly Lambeau, who guided the Packers to their first six NFL titles in the 1930s and ’40s.

Green Bay hasn’t won a Super Bowl since the 1996 season. Longtime Packers such as receiver Donald Driver figure that’s long enough.

“We all know exactly what sits in front of us,’’ Driver said. “We want that trophy. It’s named after us. We need to get it back home, where it belongs.’’

Thankfully for the Falcons, tonight’s game won’t be played in a history book. They’ve earned home-field advantage for only the second time and intend to take advantage of it. They won’t have to worry about Lombardi calling one of his famous sweeps. Or Starr sneaking into a frigid end zone for the winning touchdown.

This game will be played indoors in the 72-degree comfort of the Georgia Dome, contested by players who weren’t even born when those guys were dominating pro football, in front of a mostly red-clad crowd that has helped turn the Falcons into a virtually unbeatable squad on its own field.

“None of that matters,’’ Falcons safety William Moore said. “When those lights come on, those players from the past ain’t playing that night.’’

Anything less than a Super Bowl title will be considered a disappointment for a team loaded with offensive stars (White, quarterback Matt Ryan, tight end Tony Gonzalez, running back Michael Turner) and plenty of up-and-comers on defense.

“That sure would look good on a banner in the Dome,’’ Moore said.

Falcons cornerback Brian Williams is doubtful with an injured left knee. Williams, Atlanta’s primary nickel back, was injured in the regular-season finale against Carolina. Among other injury concerns for Atlanta: White (knee), defensive end John Abraham (groin), defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (shoulder), middle linebacker Curtis Lofton (limited), and safety Thomas DeCoud (ankle) are questionable . . . Packers linebacker Frank Zombo is out with a knee injury. Safety Atari Bigby (groin), running back Korey Hall (knee), and center Jason Spitz (calf) are questionable.

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