FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - Considering where his team stood at the end of November, Dick Sullivan is grateful the Atlanta Falcons have such devoted fans.
The Falcons went 5-11 last season, their 28th losing record in 38 years. But despite suffering at least 10 defeats for the 19th time, the club remains a strong draw at the box office. Sullivan, the club's executive vice president of marketing, said season tickets have sold out for the second consecutive year and just the third time in franchise history.
Single-game seats will go on sale Saturday for eight regular-season and two preseason games. Sullivan refused to give an approximate number, but a team source indicated no more than 3,000 tickets are available per game.
"Tickets are in high demand," Sullivan said. "We want to give our loyal fans from Atlanta, as well as other cities and towns around the state, every opportunity to see a Falcons game."
Fans can buy as many as six seats per order by calling Ticketmaster (404-249-6400 or 800-326-4000) or by visiting select Publix supermarkets. Prices are $64, $52 and $40 per ticket.
With star quarterback Michael Vick recovering from a broken leg last year, the Falcons lost their first six games at the Georgia Dome. Vick returned to orchestrate home victories in December against Carolina, the eventual NFC champion, and Jacksonville.
STILL UNDECIDED: Ellis Johnson, who led all NFL interior linemen with eight sacks last year, continues to insist he won't report to training camp next week without a richer contract, but general manager Rich McKay still hopes the nine-year veteran changes his mind.
Atlanta's last camp at Furman University begins July 28 in Greenville, S.C. Players must report the day before.
"You'll get tired of hearing that we're only going to talk about the ones who are here," McKay said. "But we always hope our players honor their contracts."
Johnson, 30, asked for a raise after Rod Coleman left the Oakland Raiders for a $28.5 million contract with the Falcons. The 27-year-old Coleman, a five-year veteran, received a $10 million signing bonus after recording 28.5 sacks during the past four seasons.
After asking that the Indianapolis Colts release him in August 2002, Johnson, a first-round pick out of Florida in 1995, signed a three-year deal worth $4.3 million. Owner Arthur Blank added an extra season to the contract, including roster bonuses totaling $800,000, but Johnson, who still lives on a family farm near Indianapolis with his wife and two children, would forfeit more than half of that figure if he retires.
McKay, hired seven months ago as president and GM, won't discuss player contracts. Johnson has indicated, however, that McKay won't sweeten the deal. New head coach Jim Mora had a face-to-face meeting with Johnson, who skipped the team's entire off-season conditioning program for the second straight year, in February at team headquarters.
"We hope Ellis reports to camp," Mora said. "There's no question we're a better team with him on the field."
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