The Atlanta Falcons helmet history can be summed up in three phases: Great, Good, and Poor. Yes, if there’s one NFL team that has seen it all, it’s the Falcons. Once one of the more iconic and unchanging helmets in pro football, the team has now since gone with a dated identity suited more for the early-2000s than one that can be considered timeless.
Time will tell if the Falcons decide to revert back to the old ways, but there is encouraging news on such a front, which I’ll describe later.
But first, let’s take a look at the team’s helmet timeline, starting in the 1960s.
When the Falcons debuted in 1966, their helmets consisted of a red shell with a gold, white, and black crown stripe. A black flying falcon outlined in white made up the team’s first logo. Their crown stripe was intended to be a reference to the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech University, two powerhouse NCAA schools at the time.
In 1970, the gold stripe was dropped and the team’s colors from there on out have been red and black, with red dominating the scheme in the 1970s and 80s.
Related: Atlanta Falcons Jersey History
However, in 1974, the Falcons were on the cusp of changing their helmet shell color, opting for white instead of red. The black falcon would’ve held a red outline along with red-white-black-white-red helmet stripes. However, this helmet never took the field and the team decided to stick with a red shell. A good look of the helmet can be found here.
In 1978, as with most NFL teams switching from generic gray facemasks, the Falcons switched from a gray to a white facemask, and again in 1984 to a black facemask, which they have to this day.
The Falcons redesigned their helmet and overhauled the entire uniform in 1990. While the logo remained the same, the team dropped the crown stripes and opted for a black shell, retiring the red.
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The entire uniform went black as well while red, the team’s former primary color, was practically abandoned, reduced only to an accent around the team’s numbers and pant stripes while as you can see in the screenshot, the team completely phased out the red, leaving just a black falcon with a white outline.
This began what was known as the Dirty Birds era in Falcons history and it saw the team reach its first Super Bowl in 1998 in a losing effort to the Denver Broncos.
In 2003 the Falcons updated the flying falcon (that’s not an arm on the opposite end, as most fans believe, but wings), adding red accents to the logo, which now resembled the letter ‘F’ better than the previous, but still in a very subtle manner. The helmet remained black, but red made a comeback, this time in the logo as an accent color.
This helmet has garnered mixed reviews, with some fans praising the fiercer falcon, a logo that serves two purposes as some sports teams have done in the past, namely the NHL’s Minnesota Wild and MLB’s Milwaukee Brewers’ old school look.
Related: Atlanta Falcons Uniform History
Others have panned the look, stating its early-2000s Reebok redesign must go (similar to what the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks went through over the same time period). The team has responded in a positive manner, breaking out the original uniform as a throwback, complete with the red helmet until the NFL banned multiple colored helmets in 2013.
These days, the Falcons have adopted a modified version of their dirty bird uniform once more, featuring the old falcon on the helmet.
In 2020, the team updated their helmet featuring a chrome facemask, with the current logo now 30% larger.
Talking about the current helmet? No. No. No. No. No. No. No….No. Despite my gripes, I’m in love with the other helmets; either the red or the black. Whether we’re talking about the 1966 version, 1970 version, 1978 version, 1984 version, or 1990 version. You can’t go wrong in any way, shape, or form with them, but you can go very wrong with the 2003 -2019 or 2020-present version.
Related: Atlanta Falcons’ Logo History
If I had to choose, I’d go with the red helmets, as when I was growing up, loved playing on Madden as a historical version of the Falcons for this very reason…calling the team the Red Falcons…yeah, I had weird nicknames for teams back then.
If the team were to bring back their red helmets with preferably the white facemasks, it would become one of the best in the league once more, putting a dagger in my helmet rankings, an article I update each year before the NFL Draft. Further, it would give the Falcons a unique look in the NFC, as no team in the conference wears a red helmet.
The Falcons are one of more than a few teams with a brilliant overall helmet history that skidded upon Reebok’s hostile uniform takeover in 2002, systemically destroying looks one by one for teams that opted for changes. Nike has taken a different approach and despite their love affair with monochrome (though my Browns don’t look half-bad in them), at least they like to recognize the past, unlike Reebok, who was far too interested in the future.
Anyway, I’ll always be thankful for the fact the Falcons have brought out their throwbacks time and again, and hopefully there’s enough fan demand to see the old helmet and jersey combo return on a full-time basis, something I was hoping would happen when the team moved out of the Georgia Dome and into Mercedez-Benz Stadium back in 2017.