Arthur Blank still hasn’t recovered from Falcons’ playoff exit

Falcons owner Arthur Blank, here with general manager Thomas Dimitroff after the Falcons' playoff loss, will return from Dallas before the Super Bowl. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Falcons owner Arthur Blank, here with general manager Thomas Dimitroff after the playoff loss, will return from Dallas before the Super Bowl. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@AJC.com)

A few nights after the Falcons were drop-kicked out of the playoffs, Arthur Blank and his two football lieutenants went out to dinner. There in a Midtown restaurant sat the team’s owner, the general manager (Thomas Dimitroff) and the coach (Mike Smith), emotionally facedown in their soup.

“It was just the three of us together, reflecting back,” Blank said. “It’s sort of like going to see a therapist. You go there to work through any issues you have and then you try to get ready for the future. You’re just trying to get some of the hurting out of the way so you can move on.”

For the record, that hasn’t happened yet with Blank.

He is as emotionally invested as any owner in professional sports. He admits he’s still psychologically hung over from the Falcons’ 48-21 loss in the Georgia Dome two weeks ago. He is going to Dallas for Super Bowl week – only he’s not really going to the Super Bowl.

“I leave Thursday, we have meetings and then the hosting owner [Jerry Jones] always has a party Thursday night,” Blank said. “Then Friday morning the commissioner has a press conference, and I’ll go to that. Friday afternoon I’ll go to radio row for interviews. Friday night is the commissioner’s party. Saturday we were going to have a league meeting but that’s been canceled, so I guess I’ve got some free time.”

And Sunday?

“I’m coming home Sunday morning — mostly because I’m still pissed about our game,” he said.

He allowed himself to think the Falcons could get to Dallas. He knew the 13-3 record, the bye week and two potential home playoff games didn’t come with guarantees. But what happened in the Georgia Dome blindsided him, as it did most.

“You don’t look ahead,” Blank said, “but we certainly believed we would get deeper than we did.”

He said no major reassessment of the franchise is needed. He still believes the Falcons are trending upward and have become one of the “national” and “relevant” franchises in the NFL, based on three consecutive winning seasons and two playoff berths in the Dimitroff-Smith-Matt Ryan era. He said he doesn’t think the loss will hurt the team’s marketing efforts in the offseason, although that’s probably more the salesman in him talking than the realist.

Blank said he doesn't blame the fans who couldn't bear to watch the Falcons any more and left in the third quarter.

Blank said he doesn't blame the fans who couldn't bear to watch the Falcons any more and left in the third quarter. (AP photo)

Finally, there’s this: Blank says he has changed from the newbie sports owner who bought the franchise from the Smith family in 2002. He says he’s more “controlled.”

Comment: “My emotional thermometer is different than when I first became an owner.”

Maybe so. But not by much. The man still wears his emotions on his sleeve.

Late in the third quarter against Green Bay, he watched from his private box as the Packers scored their scored fifth consecutive touchdown to take a 42-14 lead. Fans began to stream out of the Georgia Dome.

“People said to me, ‘You must be upset about that,’” Blank said. “I said no. I wasn’t upset that they were leaving, I was upset about the way we were playing. The fans were incredibly supportive all year. After that third quarter, it would’ve taken a miracle just to come back and make the game competitive. It was like the fans were getting hit on the head with a hammer, and it wouldn’t stop. The only way they could make it stop was by leaving. So they left.”

Blank’s head was still throbbing the following week when NFL meetings were held in Atlanta. During a lunch break, he sat with New England owner Robert Kraft, whose team was stunned in its first playoff game by the New York Jets (the day after the Falcons’ loss).

“There we were, the owners of the two No. 1 seeds, having lunch,” Blank said, managing a chuckle. “Nobody else sat at our table. We were two sorry sacks. You never get used to it.”

Final story: Blank was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame on Friday. It was there he came in contact with Kathleen Bertrand, a gospel singer who sang the national anthem at the event. Bertrand told Blank that she performed the anthem at the Falcons’ last playoff win in 2004. She had hoped to sing it at another game during the season but had trouble getting in contact with the right person.

“I said if I knew that, I would’ve made sure she sang it again [at the playoff game],” Blank said. “But it probably wouldn’t have made a difference.”

Not unless she could play cornerback.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

369 comments Add your comment

Jim Viondi

January 29th, 2011
10:26 am

Resurgens – They’ll be back!

I still love the falcons

January 29th, 2011
10:26 am

I’m confident next year they’ll rise up and not let being a #1 seed get to their heads.

Nativebird

January 29th, 2011
10:37 am

“Relevant” is not nor should be a goal. You think the Patriots or Steelers shoot for “relevant”? Organizations with low expectations achieve them. Seems to be a trend around Atlanta…Schuerholz calls a Division win a “Championship”. pff. Get real.

Burdell

January 29th, 2011
10:47 am

Unfortunately for this franchise, you have to be relevant first after 50 years of irrelevancy. Then you can shoot for Patriots or Steelers. The Pats were a sad sack franchise for a long time before they reached the promised land. Its an incremental process that at least appears to be starting. Now they have to work the past #1 draft pick busts out of the salary structure and replace them with playmakers, overcome the injury bugaboo that has set back a number of recent high round draft picks, and build a complete set of backup players.

Rozeman13

January 29th, 2011
10:50 am

Falcons and Braves are fine but what do we do about the Hawks?

Robert08

January 29th, 2011
10:58 am

It still hurts me too. Hopefully, this is a sign of good times to come and the management team never wanting to feel that way again.

Dr. Warren

January 29th, 2011
11:08 am

At least Blank is being real when he says he is “pissed.” Look, I doubt the Falcons will win the Super Bowl, at least while they still reside in Atlanta. Our city just seems cursed on that front. But I do think Blank and his two cronies will have them in the playoffs once every two or three years on average. They are basically the Hawks with a better owner. Green Bay whipped them like Orlando did the Hawks. But you never know when Blank, unlike the Spirit Group, will throw tens of millions at a free agent or two and push them a bit farther than we expect.

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falcon

January 29th, 2011
11:19 am

Glad to see Mr. Blank is not pleased with how the Falcons finished the season. The Smith family seemed satisfied with 8-8.

Buckeye

January 29th, 2011
11:23 am

Green Bay has proven itself throughout. Rooting for then come SB Sunday. We Falcon fans had a good run. It’s good to know we have to add a few “pieces” as oppossed to an overhaul for a change. Give Matty Ice a chance. He’s still a baby in this league. Coach Smith is first class. Ownership and Management will do what it takes.

Delbert D.

January 29th, 2011
11:30 am

Stick to the script of building this this team, and a Super Bowl will be within the Falcons’ grasp.

AtlNative

January 29th, 2011
11:34 am

I am afraid that Mr. Blank is mistaken about the “not hurting” off-season marketing….
Unfortunately for him, he is fighting some powerful forces here in Atlanta sports. One, this is a transplant city, where die hard allegiances (at around 285 and in) belong usually to another team. The second is both more powerful and, sadly, more difficult to overcome. And that is the feeling by most Atlanta fans that “Gee, we have seen this before……”
Buying into an Atlanta team is a tough proposition. We are so desperate to love our teams and yet, we never want to completely give ourselves over for fear of, well, exactly what happened to the Falcons. Do 1st seed, division winners with a bye lose, sure they do. But here is the thing with Atlanta sports teams, its not just that they seem to ALWAYS find a way to lose in the biggest situations, but we lose in RECORD SETTING fashion.
It seems whenever we get a national audience looking at our teams, we choke, and we choke in glorious fashion.
Hawks getting absolutely dominated by Magic, Brooks Conrad setting a major league record for errors, and now the Falcons losing worse than any team in their position before. I love our teams, and I so desperately want them to win, but Mr. Blank will have to make some major moves before he gets me to buy in again like I did this year. I have faith in this organization, the owner, manager and coach are all quality guys who inspire confidence, but that lingering question still remains…
Why does this ALWAYS happen to us?

NYfalcon

January 29th, 2011
11:39 am

I have to believe had Blank owned the falcons instead of Smith we would not be talking about this team lacking a Super Bowl win. I hope Blank continues to invest some emotional equity into this team; maybe not quite as much as Mr. Jones though.

Keith

January 29th, 2011
11:42 am

Gawd Dr Warren, sooo optomistic!!!! way to have a postive outlook, the only curse the Falcons experenced this season, was name Aaron Rodgers and Dree Brees, both QB’s were able to extend the play and may big plays that won thier respectiver games. If the Falcons stop them from making those 3rd down play then they win, those games, of couse the INT by Ryan did not help. I do believe that things are moving in the right direction,yes I’m just as pissed as Mr Blank, I am still in a stuper about the fact that we lost that game the way we did. That said for you to say we are cursed and will never win a superbowl, come on if TB, at one time the worse team in the NFL, and New Orleans a team that until a coupe of years ago had NEVER won a playoff game can win the SB then the Falcons can surely win one and will

Falcons in 2012

January 29th, 2011
11:52 am

Glad we have a owner that cares that much..Now get it done.. Thanks Mr Blank…. you need to buy the Braves.

Benjamin

January 29th, 2011
12:03 pm

I’ve gotta say, I love Arthur Blank.

Dr. Warren

January 29th, 2011
12:05 pm

Keith, I like your optimism, and you are right about staying positive. I do so in areas of life that matter more. Yet, as an Atlanta die-hard fan since 1967, I’ve probably seen more losing than you. I do hope we win a Super Bowl or NBA championship, but I also think that Cubs-like run of no SB’s or NBA championships for like 90 years would be possible for this city, in the unlikely event the teams didn’t move first or the leagues didn’t fold! Sorry, little brother. I do feel lucky to be from such a nice city like Atlanta, though, if that makes you feel better.

Benjamin

January 29th, 2011
12:07 pm

I love the image of him and Bob Kraft, one of the most successful owners in pro sports, sitting there with nothing to say, too. Shows the true competitive spirit of the two men.

I truly believed we’d see them face-to-face in Dallas this season from about November on. Oh well. Pick up the pieces and move forward. We’ve got the right owner, right braintrust, and most of the right personnel to do it, too. This Falcons team is different from those of the past. We’ll be right back in the mix again next season, and that’s all a fan can ask for.

Dawg A

January 29th, 2011
12:18 pm

My season tickets were twenty six dollars when Arthur bought the team in 02. This past year the same seat was ninety nine dollars. Granted the team is better but how many of those new suits am I personally buying with my six tickets?
And I don’t want to hear you have to pay for success. Arthur should spend more time figuring out how to make tickets more affordable then how fast he can get to the sideline in the fourth quarter to get his mug on the television!!!
And we want him to buy the Thrashers???? He couldn’t buy them where would he go in the third period???
I realize I may be in the miniority but I wonder how many people who care so much for him have paid what I have over the years?
But that said….. it was still a great article,Jeff!!!

Fan since '72

January 29th, 2011
12:23 pm

This one didn’t hurt as much as the loss to Dallas in 1980. Back then I was young and actually thought the Falcons could be the best in the NFL. Now I merely hope they might but I’m never surprised when they fail. Actually, we all kind of expect it-40 years of cartoonish disasters will do that to you.

I’m glad to hear he AB is pissed about it. I can’t ever rememeber thinking one of the Atlanta sports franchise owners cared as much, or more, than the fan base. That alone gives me hope that the Falcons may someday overcome their past.

JSS

January 29th, 2011
12:28 pm

Where are the answers? Blank is missing the point again. Until he reaches the conclusion about not stealing marketing phrases from other teams. All I have wanted from Arthur Blank was competence and honesty as the steward of the franchise. Owner is a overused term. He is renting the right to run an NFL entity. Does he do a good job of it? It’s 50/50. The bar is so low in Atlanta that people fawn over him. I was once guilty of it. I’ve said it before, this team had deep flaws. Don’t blow smoke up my behind, it makes people overly optimistic instead of realistic.

I’m expecting a lockout, so I’m not worrying much about the team in terms of the roster. My long term outlook is more towards what the labor situation and financial outlook will be… Moreover, I want Blank to speak candidly on the issue of the proposed stadium… Not to politicians, not through the mouthpiece of Rich McKay; but directly to the fans, and especially the taxpayers of the region. In the foreseeable future, this economic reality deserve nothing less…

@ Keith…
I’m no Saints fan, but they won their first playoff game in 2000, not a “couple” of years ago…

We

January 29th, 2011
12:43 pm

I’d say that the Falcons lived up to their potential

Too tough

January 29th, 2011
12:45 pm

Mr. AB, I am glad you own the Falcons! I am gland you are pissed at the performance and the non adjustments on offense and defense,,,I know U will Get the Falcons to the promised land…I just know it! I feel those same feelings of dissapointment..I too as many others expected more in the playoffs….Hang in there! Go Falcons!

Truedat

January 29th, 2011
12:48 pm

Eight years as owner and how many playoff wins?

Roy

January 29th, 2011
12:51 pm

Well be ok we have built a team sort of like New England one that will be good for a while! Blank need not worry this is the Average Football League. You can win a title and not be so good the next year and you could be on the bottom and contend the next. The teams are so close in talent because of free agency and the salary cap. If someone gets hot they win it all or get real close just look at the Cardinals 2 years ago one play from winning it all and look at Seattle this year. Yeah its the AFL (Average Football League) no great teams anymore!

drew

January 29th, 2011
12:56 pm

“I’m coming home Sunday morning — mostly because I’m still pissed about our game,” he said.

I’m not sure why, but that statement makes me feel better about the future of this team. Thank you, Mr. Blank.

heartofdarkness

January 29th, 2011
12:58 pm

If you are persistent and focused, time is on your side. The Falcons have the most unified professional sports organization in Atlanta. If I had to take a position, I’d bet they will reach their goal somewhere in the intermediate time horizon. The new CBA will shake the landscape a little, and the Falcons will be fast adapters, IMHO.

ls1z28chris

January 29th, 2011
1:05 pm

Arthur Blank and Matt Ryan should have a good cry together.

The Grinch

January 29th, 2011
1:05 pm

I’m as used to the Falcons disappointing as anyone, but I really feel differently about this incarnation than the past ones despite the Green Bay game. I really do feel that was an aberration and that the GM and coaching staff will work to fix it and have us right back in the mix. I’m very, very proud to have Arthur Blank as our owner, TD as GM and Smitty as coach. I have faith in them and I think they’ll plug away ’till we finally break on through.

rc35

January 29th, 2011
1:08 pm

While we’re lamenting strange Atlanta playoff situations. Remember that the Braves, Western Division winners in 1969, ran into the “Miracle Mets” and fell short of the Series. In 1982, against the Cardinals, Phil Niekro had a 1-run lead and a shutout in the fourth inning when the game was rained out (Yes, playoff games could actually be rained out in those days) and he never got a chance in a best-of-five series to pitch again.

Mave

January 29th, 2011
1:08 pm

Great blog Jeff. I like that the owner has a little ‘fan’ in him. That loss was tough to bear. There is going to be some changes to the squad and a tweak to the coaching staff. The goal has to be not to waste Tony G’s last season in the NFL. We have to win a playoff game at least and the Super Bowl at most.

Tonight, I do some TV scouting looking for Super Quick WRs, a Sackmaster, and a burner at RB at the Senior Bowl.

falconfan58

January 29th, 2011
1:10 pm

You can not win consistently with just get by drafts. At some point you have got to quit passingby those high draft picks and settling for the maybes. There always great players available at the lower rounds-not many, but a few. The exceptions to the general rule. You can not continue to be satisfied with the average receiver. When you pass up a good D-1 player you are just fooling your self that you will find a great one later. The higher rated player is so rated for a reason-because he is considered better than a lot of the others. Not always true, but generally right on the nose. Passing up Clay Matthews was a great big error and only serves to question the so called knowledge of the falcon staff. The average fan knows who to pick on the first round. You win with defense first and then offense as a general rule. You can not always depend on your offense to score 30-40 points if your defense can’t stop the other team. The twenty-one points scored against Green Bay should have been enough to have keep it close. Stay close and you always have a chance to win at the end. The main offensive weapon in football is a great defense. You have got to stop the other team at some point in order to score more points than they score. Bad defense and over matched players results and early exit in the playoffs. GET THE “D”

ls1z28chris

January 29th, 2011
1:10 pm

Blank should watch that Sevendust “Falcons on Top” video. That should cheer him up! lol

Blank Has Bigger Issues Than Personnel

January 29th, 2011
1:16 pm

Jeff I’m so glad you wrote this article-

This is one of the major problems with Blank and the Falcon’s organization. We are too busy trying to emulate the Patriots. We ARE not the Patriots!!! Mr. Blank needs to get that through his head. He own the Falcons, so it would behoove him to create his team’s own identity. He’s way too concern with image. I understand that every owner want upstanding men as part of their organization but that’s not going to always be the case. Again, what may work for the NE may not work for some other organizations.If the Krafts were such experts in developing winning organization, then why haven’t any of the alumni (coaches/director of college scouts) gone on to successful careers outside of NE. I knew he was letting the Krafts dictate how he ran his organization.

Granted, the Patriots can afford to pick and chose players based on their boy scout images…they have the winning pedigreed to do so. We are the Falcons and have won jack.

I truly appreciate Blank’s desire to win, but he needs to lose a couple of pieces currently surrounding him, starting with Thomas Dimitroff- This GM is way in over his head. Just look at the pieces he has brought into the organization. We are no further along than 2008. Here’s why

We still need a DE to compliment Abraham or maybe two to replace him in the coming year ,

Cornerback (Overpaid for Duanta Robinson)

DL (Jerry Peria was hurt during his senior year in college…why TD signed him anyway is beyond me)

Change of Pace RB (should’ve signed onewhen Norwood went down in Sept

Great Slot/Slant Receiver (Matt Ryan does not have arm strength to consistently stretch the field)

LT (Baker is a bust!) Look at the picks we gave up for this guy.

Bottom line- I don’t think TD has a keen eye for talent, at least not based on his last 3 drafts. Blank problem is deeper than player roster. Its the people in-charge of identifying the correct player roster.

MB

January 29th, 2011
1:16 pm

I’m still mad about it, too. I’ve never seen a professional sports team lay such a big egg. Oh well, at least the Patriots laid one of their own.

riggo

January 29th, 2011
1:23 pm

It’s great to hear the owner is still pissed about the way our game with Green Bay turn out. With that said, we all know what we need to do to get better for next time. DEFENSE do win CHAMPIONSHIPS, hopefully some veteran guys to throw into the mix with all of our young guys.On OFFENSE speed speed speed!!!!!

gcs

January 29th, 2011
1:23 pm

This is why AB is an awesome owner. His goal is to win the Super Bowl. Consecutive winning seasons are nice. So is winning the division title and the best NFC record.
But it doesn’t mean diddly without a Super Bowl.
I hope Arthur hangs around a long time.

.

BCC0224

January 29th, 2011
1:25 pm

I’m glad it still stings Mr. Blank, as the loss still hurts me, along with other TRUE Falcon fans. GB is the hottest team in the league right now, and Atlanta just happened to stand in their way. The final score (and ATL’s defense) wasn’t pretty, but I like the Blank-Dimitroff-Smith era thus far. Winning the NFC South this year is a great accomplishment, especially when you win the division with THREE teams with double digit wins.

The Falcons aren’t going to go away (hopefully) next year, as I hope we see Arthur Blank proudly hold up the Vince Lombardi trophy after Coach Smith leads the Falcons to a Super Bowl XLVI victory next year.

DMR

January 29th, 2011
1:26 pm

You have to love that Blank is so emotional about the team, while allowing football men, ah-la Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff to do their jobs. His feelings tell you that he won’t stop until he builds a Champion. He has already built a winner. For Falcon fans who have been critical of the quick exit for the team; think of this. The Falcons lost 4 games all season to 2 playoff teams and 2 teams who are playing for the ultimate prize. The Falcons have also had three winning seasons in a row. Not bad. Also, the comparisons of Matt Ryan’s experience to that of Aaron Rodgers is woefully ridiculous. Let us remember, Rodgers has been in the league for 6 years and learned from one of the all-time great quarterbacks. Matt Ryan has had to blaze his own path. I like where this franchise is…and I like where I think they will end up.

Great Falconi

January 29th, 2011
1:32 pm

Late in the third quarter against Green Bay, he watched from his private box as the Packers scored their scored fifth straight touchdown to take a 42-14 lead. Fans began to stream out of the Georgia Dome.

“People said to me, ‘You must be upset about that,’” Blank said. “I said no. I wasn’t upset that they were leaving, I was upset about the way we were playing. The fans were incredibly supportive all year. After that third quarter, it would’ve taken a miracle just to come back and make the game competitive. It was like the fans were getting hit on the head with a hammer, and it wouldn’t stop. The only way they could make it stop was by leaving. So they left.”

He definitely understands how a fan feels in such a situation. Gotta give him that.

Jeff Schultz

January 29th, 2011
1:33 pm

Burdell — I think you’re making too much of the relevant comment. His point was that the Falcons are not irrelevant, which has been the case for most of their existence.

Jeff Schultz

January 29th, 2011
1:36 pm

Thanks, Mave. … On Tony G: He looked less effective to me this year as the season went on than the year before. But I suppose some of that was defenses keying on him and the Falcons not having enough good options in passing game.

Jeff Schultz

January 29th, 2011
1:38 pm

Blank has bigger issues — Thanks for the comments. I agree that the jury is still out on Baker and Jerry and certainly Robinson but how can you fault the job Dimitroff has done overall? He has completely rebuilt the roster.

St. Clarkston

January 29th, 2011
1:40 pm

This guy wants to win. They are very close now. I’m sure about 11 wins next year.

Jacket Backer

January 29th, 2011
1:44 pm

Blank must have some weasel in his family tree! The poor guy didn’t make it on his looks!

Frank Lane

January 29th, 2011
1:44 pm

This is a really good article. My father taught me to be a gracious winner and a good loser, but he cautioned that I did not want to be too good a loser. You want to constantly remember how bad it feels.

stu

January 29th, 2011
1:52 pm

you will never win with weak arm ryan as your qb. sorry. the playoffs are when teams step up and his arm strength and lack of deep ball ability will prevent you from ever winning a sb. you might not even win a playoff game. 0-2 says it all

Pride

January 29th, 2011
1:59 pm

Blank cares. Unfortunately, most of the jerkoff players care only about picking up their grossly over-sized paychecks. Until the Falcons get players who have enough pride and self-discipline to give the game everything they have, the Falcons will remain irrelevant.

chief pitchanono

January 29th, 2011
2:14 pm

Hey, at least he’s an owner who cares, thats allot more than the Braves have got.

Mr. Turnip-Green Jeans

January 29th, 2011
2:18 pm

Arthur Blank is the best thing that ever happened to the Falcons.

I hope he knows how grateful some of us are..