So it’s been a few days and I am feeling a little better. Still, there is no joy in Mudville. There is nothing that can be done to erase the monstrosity that was/is Super Bowl 51. If we thought that the Kirby Puckett homer in 1991 was a shot to the heart, then this was that same revived heart brought back to life only to be stabbed to death with the arsenic dipped knife of false hope. Yes, this was bad.
It’s not the fact that the Falcons lost the Super Bowl-it’s how they lost it. The fact that we were on the wrong end of the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history is what is, in the words of Slater from Dazed and Confused, so degrading.
If it had been a blow out or over early (like it was in 1998) that would have been easier. If it was a good, solid game throughout and we lost it in a normal way, that would have been easier. Instead, this was a gut punch to a city that had already suffered through several gut punches, most notably about every year in the 1990s except 95, when the Braves finally won the World Series.
I am a cautious sports fan. I never believe it is over until it is over. But I have to admit that when they were up 21-0, I thought it was actually going to happen. I even took a picture of my oldest daughter and I together cause I wanted to have a picture of us from the night the Falcons won the Super Bowl. I didn’t verbalize it to anyone, but I thought it. And apparently the football gods read my mind and knew this wish (along with the fact that I wanted to immediately order a Super Bowl Champions t-shirt after the game) and decided to strike down upon me with furious anger. So basically, it was all my fault-it had nothing to do with what actually happened on the field.
Ok, maybe it did a little bit. I won’t rehash those sad facts cause it’s been done enough in the post-mortem. Maybe some perspective is needed here. Yes, our city only has one major sports championship. But we certainly are not alone in sports misery. Imagine what Buffalo endured 1990-1994 (Please, God, don’t make us lose the Super Bowl the next 3 years in a row). Still, most NFL teams I think of that have been down on their luck are offset by another team in their city winning it all. Cleveland Browns fans had their pain salved by the Cavaliers’ championship last summer. The Arizona Cardinals are offset by the World Series title that the Diamondbacks won in 2001. I suppose we do have a leg up on San Diego-they haven’t won a major sports championship in 54 years and just lost the Chargers to LA. But they have their amazing year-round weather, so at least they can suffer their sports depression while in a temperate climate.
Growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta during the 1980s did not exactly foster a die hard love of the Falcons at an early age. Anyone that was here knows how awful the Falcons were. So I became a diehard 49ers fan, mostly because I loved Jerry Rice (I estimate that approximately 99.4% of my time playing neighborhood football was spent pretending I was Jerry Rice). I still of course wanted the Falcons to do well, but at that time, it was like wishing that I owned every single G.I. Joe figure, along with the aircraft carrier. It just wasn’t going to happen.
There were flashes of brilliance, like in 1991, when they made the playoffs for the first time in many years. But it wasn’t until 1998 that they made the Super Bowl, after the amazing victory over the Vikings in the NFC Championship game. So you are talking about them being awful until I was 14, then not having another great season until I was 21. Hardly the stuff that adolescent football fandom is made of. I eventually moved on from the 49ers after the Montana, Young, and Rice years, and mostly just became a general NFL fan (usually pulling for the underdogs in big games), while still definitely wanting the hometown team to win.
So I can’t say that I’ve always watched every game no matter what their record like some people I know. Kudos to them and their dedication. But I also never completely wrote them off either, and it took them losing the Super Bowl in soul crushing fashion for me to realize just how much I am invested in my hometown team. I feel a new sense of resolve in my fandom. I want my city to be able to stand atop the sports world. I want us to not just be defined by our near misses. And come September, I will be excited for the 2017 season and pulling for redemption, whether it be immediate or sometime in the next few years (ok, just sometime in my lifetime, please).