Empowering People Through Employment

Our History

In 1975, Bobbie Knopf was chair of the Department of Special Education at Northside High School in Atlanta. At that time, she began a needs assessment dialogue with Joyce Slaughter, the mother of one of Bobbie’s students. They realized that the options available in North Atlanta for students with special needs after completing high school were limited.

As a result of the needs assessment, they formed an advisory board. Having heard of Tommy Nobis’ commitment to the Special Olympics and people with disabilities, the board approached the Atlanta Falcons All Pro Linebacker for support and named the project Tommy Nobis Center.

In 1977, Tommy Nobis Center hired Connie Kirk, who served as President & CEO for the next 39 years. Once incorporated, the Center’s team contracted with the Georgia Department of Labor’s Vocational Rehabilitation Program to provide vocational/work evaluations, social, personal, work adjustment services, job placement and job coaching for area clients.

In the 1980s, Tommy Nobis Center expanded its mission to include employment opportunities. To accommodate this expansion, the Center moved twice in the next decade, settling in 1992 in a 52,000 square-foot facility in Marietta, Georgia funded by public and private donations. In 1993, Nobis Enterprises was incorporated as the organization’s federal contracting division employing people with disabilities as an AbilityOne nonprofit agency. In 2015, Dave Ward was hired as President & CEO upon Connie Kirk’s retirement.

Today, Tommy Nobis Center continues to implement innovative programs and services to meet the employment needs of people with disabilities.

About Tommy Nobis

Tommy Nobis was one of the most prolific linebackers in the history of the NFL. Below is a recap of his incredible career and life after football.

Career Recap:

  • Tommy was the first ever player drafted by the Atlanta Falcons organization in the inaugural 1966 season and quickly became the first ever Falcon voted to the Pro Bowl.
  • “Mr. Falcon” led the team in tackles in nine of his 11 seasons, earning five trips to the Pro Bowl.
  • After his 46th consecutive NFL game, he underwent knee surgery in 1969 and on the other knee in 1971. Known for his toughness, Nobis came back from both surgeries to earn another Pro Bowl spot in 1972.
  • In a poll conducted in 1970 by ABC to pick the best athlete of the decade of the 1960’s, running back O.J. Simpson was number one, and Tommy Nobis was number two in the entire country.
  • Tommy had an astronomical 294 total combined tackles as a rookie, still the team’s club record.
  • Tommy also intercepted 11 passes during his professional career, returning two for touchdowns, and getting fined $100 each time for throwing the ball into the stands.
  • His uniform #60 was the first one the Falcons ever retired, and the number has only been worn by him during the team’s entire history.


  • Five-time Pro Bowler: 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970 and 1972.
  • NFL Rookie of the Year in 1966.
  • Voted into the Hall of Fame of the National Collegiate Football Foundation, the State of Texas Hall of Fame and the State of Georgia Hall of Fame.
  • Named to Sports Illustrated’s All-Century Team (1869-1969).
  • Named to CBS Sports All-Time All-America First Team of the best players in college football history.

College Career:

  • As the most outstanding lineman in college football, he won both the Outland and Maxwell trophies at the University of Texas.
  • Tommy played both offensive guard and linebacker for Darrel Royal on the Texas Longhorns team that won the 1963 national championship over Roger Staubach and Navy. In 1964, the 10-1 Longhorns beat Joe Namath and Alabama in the Orange Bowl.

With the same passion he devoted to football, Tommy dedicated his post-retirement life to helping people with disabilities find meaningful employment. He passed away on December 13, 2017, but his legacy lives on through the ongoing impact of Tommy Nobis Center.