The Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots are set to meet in Super Bowl 51, and the disrespect for Atlanta from Boston has already begun.
What you are about to read is not what I had originally intended. When I pulled my creaky little Walmart chair up to my rickety Ikea desktop, my thought was to pen a column about how the Atlanta Falcons could erase five decades of misery in the February 5th Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.
There was going to be no mention of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, five rings, G.O.A.T.S or the Boston area’s plethora of championships in recent years.
And then I read Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy’s latest offering.
Needless to say, my mood – and my thought process – changed drastically after reading yet another pitiful jab at Atlanta’s sports culture.
I won’t make this an open letter to Mr. Shaughnessy, because with the exception of a few needful circumstances, I think they are useless, self-promoting vehicles that are used to bait arguments rather than open debates.
However, I will address some of Shaughnessy’s assertions and hopefully this column will find its way into his inbox or Facebook mentions.
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The Atlanta Falcons have indeed caused some undue suffering in their five-plus decades in Atlanta.
In the late 1970s, fans thought they had a real shot at a long-standing dominance in the NFC. The sting is still there at the mention of Danny White or the Dallas Cowboys (who unceremoniously ousted the Falcons from the playoffs in both 1978 and 1980).
There was a tease in 1991 that perhaps some of the Atlanta Braves magic in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium had rubbed off on the Falcons, only to see the Washington Redskins literally plow the Falcons under a muddy RFK Stadium field in the divisional playoff round.
The 1998 Falcons made it all the way to the mountaintop (although most fans readily admit they backed in on the unlikeliest of Minnesota Vikings miscues – a Gary Anderson missed field goal) before being callously deflowered in their Super Bowl debut by a seasoned John Elway.
It hasn’t been easy being an Atlanta Falcons fan for anyone who has long clung to the hope that this franchise would deliver a title – a franchise who never even put together two consecutive winning seasons until 2008-2009, coming 44 years into their existence.
Sound like I’m making Shaughnessy’s point for him? Perhaps. But there’s more than just the dearth of championships in Atlanta or the lack of a bitter rivalry going on here.
While Atlanta may not have the “embarrassment of riches” in titles that the Boston area has been so lucky to experience, there is certainly no lack of real support for the professional teams here – particularly the Falcons.
Shaughnessy is simply revamping a tired old song crooned by Sports Illustrated many decades ago referring to Atlanta as “Loserville U.S.A.” in 1977, when professional sports in this town was still in its infancy.
The song has been sung over and over again – Rob Parker, Jason Whitlock, Michael Wilbon and others have all taken their pot-shots at Atlanta when the sports spotlight dared to make its way southward.
But in this case, Dan Shaughnessy attempted a different approach. Rather than putting on the foils and cross-checking Atlanta fans into the boards, Shaughnessy shamelessly lulled readers into a comfortable safe-zone (which could have lured millennials from thousands of miles away) with left-handed compliments and placating before landing his low blows.
You are an accomplished and respected journalist, Mr. Shaughnessy, but I’m here to tell you that you don’t know Atlanta…not even a little.
Perhaps all the indifferent “non-fans” Shaughnessy refers to in his poison pen-pal column are the 45 percent of metro Atlanta’s 5.7 million residents who are transplants from other cities. Transplants who have little to zero interest in local teams, it should be added.
Atlanta is such a warm and inviting place (and apparently affordable compared to the unspeakable cost of living in Boston) that northerners flock here in record numbers – filling the public houses and condominium developments, but not the sports arenas.
Attendance at Falcons games tells a very different story than the one spun by Boston’s esteemed columnist. While he painted gloomy pictures of decaying buildings erected merely 25 years ago, stating they’ve “come and gone as Atlanta teams search for support that never arrives”, the truth is that the support is there, and has been for quite some time.
The lowest attendance capacity figure the Falcons have posted in the last seven seasons is 95.2% in 2010, going well over 100% attendance capacity in 2014. Those figures include two losing seasons and one 8-8 campaign.
No, Atlanta fans love this team, and have seen the Falcons ebb and flow since the birth of the franchise in 1966. Win or lose (usually lose) the love and support for the Falcons has always been there. Old and young, fans live and die with this team.
So “Meh” to playing Atlanta? Not a worthy opponent? A town without pity?
Wicked good twaddle there, Dan.
And we don’t need your pity.
This is no longer just a hope for the Falcons to erase five decades of football futility, this has now become a mission to derail the Brady revenge tour and send the Patriots back to Title Town Jr. with their tails tucked firmly between their thigh pads.
The Falcons are now the hope of every team and every person in every city who despises the Patriots and how they go about their business – a full 48 states teeming with fans who more want to see the Patriots lose than they care about the Falcons winning.
In the 1990s. the Atlanta Braves were America’s Team, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Mark Bradley agrees, the Falcons will take up that mantle for one Sunday in February.
The one thing everyone in Brady-land seems to ignore is that this Falcons team has every ingredient needed to upend the Pats in Houston, proceeding to spoil Dan Shaughnessy’s corned beef brisket dinner and skunk his Guinness.
So go ahead Boston…be deflated about this game (yeah, that was on purpose). This isn’t a Falcons team who backed into the playoffs or the Super Bowl. This is a Falcons team with one more thing to prove, and all the talent on board to prove it.
As an experienced and well-written columnist, it’s surprising to me that Shaughnessy seems unfamiliar with the term “bulletin board material”…because brother, he just provided the Falcons with a stack of it.
(By the way Dan…very sorry your college football teams are so ashamedly average in New England. Must be tough around there on fall Saturdays.)