Originally created 12/06/01

Home Depot founder to buy Falcons



FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons president Taylor Smith has agreed to sell the team to former Home Depot CEO Arthur Blank, a source close to the team said Thursday.

Blank is paying "a little north of $500 million" for the Falcons, according to the source who spoke on condition of anonymity. The sale is to be announced Friday, the source said.

One of Blank's assistants at the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation said Blank planned no announcement Thursday.

Blank also is buying the 12 percent of the team split between Atlanta venture capitalist John Imlay and media executive Tom Watson Brown.

"They have a gentleman's agreement," team spokesman Aaron Salkin said. "That's about all I know."

The Smith family has owned the team throughout its 36-year history. Rankin Smith Sr. founded the franchise on June 30, 1965, paying $8.5 million for rights to the team.

Falcons coach Dan Reeves said he and Taylor Smith recently discussed the possible sale of the team.

"I talked to Taylor a couple of days ago and at that time he thought things would stay the same, so I don't know," Reeves said. "But he did say there was a possibility someone would be talking to him."

Reeves did not know the details of a potential agreement. Asked if Smith mentioned potential percentages of ownership that a new buyer would take, Reeves said, "That would need to come from him."

The Falcons are 6-5 this year and tied with Tampa Bay and New Orleans, which visits Atlanta on Sunday, for the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC.

Reeves, who also serves as the team's executive vice president, indicated he wants to return for a sixth season in 2002. He signed a five-year deal worth approximately $10 million in 1997.

His current contract expires at the end of the season, but Reeves and the team have what he described as "a mutual option" for 2002.

"I think if I made up my mind, I'd want to stay but we've got five more weeks of the season," Reeves said. "But I think my health's a lot better. I enjoy the players we got. If I had to make it right now, no question about it."