In thinking about this column, I was perplexed at where to begin. I mean, it would be easy to just scroll through the Atlanta Falcons record books and pull out names like Bartkowski, Riggs, Van Note and Andersen. Or I could have even just grabbed the marquis names that have come through our city like Deion Sanders, or Billy "White Shoes" or Jeff George (ok, just seeing if you were paying attention).
But instead I thought why not grab a name from the past that made a significant contribution to Atlanta Falcons lore, who maybe your average fan may not know about (or has forgotten). The pantheon of those names was quite broad. Kenn, Brezina, Nobis, Tuggle, Andrews, Buchanan, Settle...just to name a few. I finally settled on a guy who was one of the primary reasons the Falcons reached there first ever playoff berth...a kicker. That's right a kicker. (Yeah, yeah I know...kickers will speak when spoken to, right Ray Lewis?) But this kicker was the underdog of underdogs, and came out of nowhere to secure a place in the Falcons and NFL record books for a time. His name was Tim Mazzetti. He only played 3 seasons for the Falcons, but what a ride it was.
Tim Mazzetti came out of the Ivy League, and the University of Pennsylvania. He played soccer as a young man in São Paulo, Brazil, and wasn't even introduced to kicking for American Football until his sophomore year at Penn. After his college graduation in 1977 he was invited to come tryout for the New England Patriots, but he failed the physical as a result of a hernia and lost his chance to tryout or play that season. He returned to São Paulo to get back into shape after his successful hernia surgery, and returned in 1978 to take his shot at open tryouts for the Philadelphia Eagles. He remained with the Eagles for the entire training camp, but coach Dick Vermeil went with veteran kicker Nick Mike-Mayer instead. After being passed over during single day tryouts by the Cowboys and Saints, he returned to Pennsylvania where he took a job bartending at Smokey Joe's near the Penn campus. Six games into the 1978 season, he got a call from Atlanta head coach Leeman Bennett, and was signed after a one day tryout with the Falcons.
So here he was, the Ivy League bartender from Pennsylvania, kicking field goals in the NFL. (No, this isn't the story of the guy from "Invincible") Mazzetti's rookie season started off with him making 13 of 16 attempts, including a team record 11 straight field goals (4 of them game winners).
Then came Monday Night...October 30th, 1978. The Falcons were playing a rare home game on Monday Night Football, and it was against division leader and rival, the Los Angeles Rams. (For you younguns out there, the Rams storied history did begin in L.A.) Mazzetti kicked 5 field goals, a then record on MNF, and provided Atlanta's only points of the game in a 15-7 victory. His kicks brought the venerable Howard Cosell to exclaim, "This Philadelphia bartender won't need to mix scotch-and-waters any longer." Thanks to Mazzetti's foot, the Falcons reached the playoffs for the first time ever that season, and wouldn't you know it, their first wild-card playoff game was against his former employer, the Philadelphia Eagles. Mazzetti shut the door on Vermeil's and the Eagles season with a game winning extra point that put the Falcons in the W column 14-13.
Mazzetti remained with Atlanta for two more seasons, but was cut after the 1981 season. He did some broadcasting for a couple of years, and then came out of retirement in 1983 to join the USFL's Boston Breakers. He stayed with the Breakers for three seasons (from Boston, to New Orleans to Portland), and then retired in 1985. During his USFL days, he became the answer to a pro football trivia question. Who was the first person to score a point in the USFL? Why it was Tim Mazzetti...the former bartender, former Falcon and former Brazilian soccer player who will go down as an important part of Atlanta Falcons history.
Editor Note: Over the past several weeks we have been bringing you a couple of features that will help you get to know our writers. One of those features is "Our Favorite Falcons." So far, Eric told us why Jessie Tuggle is his favorite, Mike wrote about Brent Grimes, Joe brought us a piece on Warrick Dunn, Zach's favorite was Roddy White and Matt told us why Tyson Clabo was his favorite.
Get more great Atlanta Falcons news and analysis over at The Grits Blitz.