Arthur Blank, who’s set to enter his 12th season as the Falcons’ owner, is a native New Yorker.
He’d loved for his team’s season to end near his former hometown, as Super Bowl XLVIII is set for MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
The Falcons are coming off one of the more successful seasons in franchise history.
They were 13-3 and reached the NFC Championship game last season. The franchise, which came up 10 yards short of reaching the league’s biggest game, underwent major retooling over the offseason and signed quarterback Matt Ryan to a hefty five-year contract extension.
Blank is ready for the season to kick off, when the Falcons, the defending NFC South champions, face their rival New Orleans Saints at 1 p.m. Sept. 8 in the Superdome.
In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Blank discussed a wide range of topics, from the team’s improvement to how Ryan earned his new $103.75 million contract.
Q: How excited are you about the start of the season?
A: I’m very excited about it. Like every fan, I’m looking forward to our regular-season games and getting our season launched. I know that our team is better than last year’s (team). There is not a question about that. We have to be able to translate that into having as good of a record as we had last year, if not better. That will be a challenge because we have a very difficult schedule.
Q: How hard is it to continue winning in the NFL?
A: The NFL is set up to make sure that there is parity throughout the league. It’s our job to make sure that the field is not level and that we tilt it in our favor with the coaches, players and a variety of other things. We think we are in a really good place, but each one of these games are very competitive. As you know, half of the games are decided by seven points or less and a quarter of the games are decided by three points or less. The margin for victory is very thin.
Q: Are you pleased with your key free-agent signings, Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora?
A: We love them both. We think they both are significant additions to the team. They both have fairly storied careers. They both have indicated during camp and the preseason games that they can still play at a very high level. We’re excited about having them on the team.
Q: How did you arrive at your philosophy about spending up to the salary cap?
A: Our fans give us their financial resources and support. But beyond that they give us their emotion, passion, time and energy. They give us their family time. They give us a lot of things. The least that we can do is to have them know that we are putting everything that we can into the pie and into our side of the equation. We try to do whatever we can to win. The salary cap is a closed system, but we are going to spend every dime that we can to bring in the best talent and keep the best talent that we have.
We also want to retain the best coaches that we can. It’s not just the players. It’s obviously the quality coaches and the assistant coaches. We have a great head coach. His record and the team’s record over the last five years with the second most wins in the NFL and first in the NFC is a tribute to Thomas (Dimitroff) our general manager, (Mike) Smith our head coach, the coordinators, all of the coaches and the players. So, we are going to continue to do everything that we have to do to build a sustainable and winning team.
Sustainability is critical. We don’t want to be one-year flashes. I think we’ve gotten past that. Now, we are facing our sixth consecutive winning season in a row. We are hoping for it. That’s our aspiration. Hopefully, that will take us into the playoffs and we’ll be able to compete in the second season (the playoffs).
Q: Did you get any flak from your partners for making quarterback Matt Ryan the second-highest paid player in the league?
A: I think that my owner-partners and our fans would have been severely disappointed in myself and our franchise if we didn’t extend Matt. Matt is our franchise quarterback. In his first five years in the league he’s won more games than any other quarterback in the history of the National Football League. His completion percentage last year, was the best in the NFL. He’s won a zillion fourth-quarter games for us. We won a playoff game last year. So, we’re in a good place with him, and he’s in a good place with us. We consider him to be a lifer in terms of being a Falcon. We wanted to do whatever we had to, to make sure that he was here. While, I’ll say that it’s certainly a rich contract, he’s earned it. He’s earned it based on past performance and based on our expectations for the future.
Q: How tough was it to put last year in your rearview mirror?
A: It’s always tough. I’m a very competitive guy, as is Thomas, Smitty, our coaches, players and all of our fans are. It was very difficult. You have to learn from it. You have to improve. You have to keep moving on. You can’t really do anything about the past in that sense. So, you continue to compete and get better. I think this offseason we have gotten better.
Q: What would it mean to you if the team could reach the first Super Bowl in metro New York?
A: It would be great. It would be just wonderful. I wouldn’t care if the Super Bowl was played in Alaska. If we’re in it and we’re competing, I’m going to be thrilled. The fact that New York is where I’m from originally, it would be wonderful. Obviously, I’ve been in Atlanta since 1978, so this is my home now. I don’t want to wait until we get the Super Bowl back here to go to the Super Bowl. So, I’d be happy if it happened this coming year.
But we can’t focus on that, really. We have to focus on the first game, the second game and the third game. If we pay attention to the pieces in front of us, the ones that we can control. Control the next opponent, quarter-by-quarter, series-by-series, play-by-play… if we do that, we’ll be fine at the end of the day. If we start looking down the road too far and take our eyes off the ball, we’ll really be in trouble.
My attitude is that I think we’re in a good place. The team is ready to play. The coaches have gotten them ready, and let’s go out and compete and see where that takes us.