The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is counting down the Top 50 players in Atlanta Falcons history during the franchise’s 50th anniversary season. No. 39 is defensive end Jeff Merrow.
Years played for Falcons: Out of West Virginia, defensive end Jeff Merrow was selected in the 11th round (263rd overall) in the 1975 NFL Draft. He played nine seasons in the NFL, all with the Falcons, from 1975 to 1983. While in college, Merrow played for legendary College Football Hall of Fame head coach Bobby Bowden. As a sophomore, Merrow recorded 141 tackles, 15 for loss and six sacks. The following season in 1974, he tallied 134 stops, seven for loss and three sacks.
Jersey No.: 75
His impact on the team: Merrow was one of the key components of one of the greatest defense in NFL history. In 1977 he led the “The Gritz Blitz,” a defense that allowed just 9.2 points per game and only 129 points over a 14-game season, the best mark in league history. Merrow tallied 10 sacks that season to lead the Falcons, but the team failed to make the playoffs with a sputtering offense, finishing 7-7 on the year. The following season the Falcons entered the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and scored their first ever playoff victory, a 14-13 win over the Philadelphia Eagles before falling in heartbreaking fashion 27-20 against the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round. In 1980, Atlanta reemerged as a contender and won its first division title at 12-4. The Falcons made it back to the playoffs one final time while Merrow was with the team during the strike-shortened 1982 season and lost in the wild card game to the Minnesota Vikings 30-24. Merrow, a gutsy player, often dealt with injuries throughout his career, but did his best to play through them. He most notably played with a broken forearm against the Vikings in the playoffs.
On his time at West Virginia: “Coach Bowden is a real dynamic guy and my grandmother was from West Virginia. From the time I was two years old I just thought West Virginia was God’s country. It was a great time and a great opportunity and at the same time, the guys I went in with as a freshman were really an outstanding group of players.”
On today’s game compared to when he played: “If you didn’t have the demeanor for it you struggled with it. I can remember my second or third year with the Falcons they took out the head slap rule. I had an old-school coach (Eddie Khayat) and he said, ‘Gino Marchetti invented it. Willie Davis perfected it and Deacon Jones beautified it.’ All you wanted to do was to get that big guy to blink.”
Where he is now: Merrow is now 62 and lives in Buford. He works alongside his brother David and ex-teammate Don Smith at a company that sells heavy-duty truck lifts. Merrow’s son Thor, a fullback, followed in Jeff’s footsteps playing football at West Virginia. In 2011 he enjoyed a cup of coffee with the Atlanta Falcons during training camp before being waived.
50: Chuck Smith
49: Michael Haynes
47: John Zook
46: Ken Reaves
45: Lynn Cain
44: Justin Blalock
43: Bobby Butler
42: Tim Mazzetti
41: Buddy Curry
40: Scott Case
39: Jeff Merrow