Atlanta at Minnesota

Dirty Birds flying south to Miami after stunning Vikes

Chandler has plenty of friends now

From perfect to pariah: Anderson's miss kills Vikes

Minnesota's high-powered attack goes haywire

Falcons stop the unstoppable

  Sunday, Jan. 17 8:31pm ET
Notebook: Falcons' win was for Rankin Smith
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Taylor Smith couldn't help but think about his father as he held the NFC championship trophy Sunday in the center of the Metrodome.

Rankin Smith, who brought an NFL expansion team to Atlanta in 1966, died on Oct. 26, 1997, never getting a chance to see the Falcons' remarkable turnaround under coach Dan Reeves.

A few hours after Smith's death, the Falcons lost to Carolina to drop to 1-7. Since then, they've won 22 of 26 games, including Sunday's 30-27 overtime victory over Minnesota that sent Atlanta to its first Super Bowl.

"All week long, I've been thinking about dad," said Taylor Smith, the team's president. "I wish he was here. But he was in charge of bringing Dan Reeves here. I think he's looking down on this, enjoying the work that's going on down here and maybe helping us a little bit."

During most of its 33-year ownership, the Smith family was considered the main stumbling block to having a winning football team in Atlanta. Now, that burden has finally been lifted.

"It's hard to believe we're going to the Super Bowl," Taylor Smith said. "There's personal satisfaction because you've been disappointed that you haven't been able to give the fans a championship team. I'm very satisfied that we have a team right now that everybody in Atlanta can be proud of."

Center Robbie Tobeck said he's happy for the Smiths.

"They've been committed to this so long and been through so much. I just feel good for them," he said. "They've been good to me and I feel good for them, with all they've been through in the last year.

"I don't see how you can fault the Smith family for everything that goes bad. It's the coaches and players who've been playing the game."

What's next for Billick?
The man who designed the highest-scoring offense in NFL history probably is about to leave Minnesota.

Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick, who already has interviewed for the head coaching job in Cleveland, expects to meet with Baltimore as soon as Monday. He is considered one of the Ravens' leading candidates.

He also is a frontrunner in Cleveland, where he impressed president Carmen Policy during a 6½-hour interview last month.

"Those are intriguing jobs," said Billick, who took over as offensive coordinator early in the 1993 season. "Both have a lot to offer. It will be interesting to see what happens. ... Both groups are very passionate about what they want to do for their team, so that's all a factor. We'll give them a chance each to kind of step up and put their best foot forward and work the process and see where it goes from here."

Under Billick's guidance, the Vikings have recorded five of the top 10 seasons in their history in terms of total yardage, including a team-record 6,264 this season. The Vikings also set an NFL scoring mark this season with 556 points.

Vikings dealing with shock
Sunday's loss was devastating to the Vikings, who had been pointing to the Super Bowl since the start of training camp. Their emotions ranged from shock to sadness as they trudged up the ramp leading to their locker room after the defeat.

Tight end Andrew Glover's eyes were red from crying. Receiver Cris Carter had a look of anguish on his face as he limped into the locker room with help from his brother, John.

Linebacker Bobby Houston held his head in his hands as he and linebacker Ed McDaniel, both of whom were knocked out of the game by injuries, rode up the ramp on a yellow cart.

"I can't believe it," linebacker Dwayne Rudd said. "I just can't believe it."

Favored by 11 points, the Vikings clearly expected to beat Atlanta and reach the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1976 season, when they became the first team to lose the title game four times.

"As much as we felt we thought we could hop on the plane and go down to Miami, it all comes down to these last 60 minutes," quarterback Randall Cunningham said. "I don't think we got ahead of ourselves. ... We just didn't get the job done."

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