Professional sports are a funny thing. We somehow become personally invested in a game played by millionaires where the outcome probably won’t affect our lives in any meaningful way. It’s not like art where it can broaden our minds and change our outlook on the world or propose new ideas. It’s entertainment, but entertainment that appeals to our baser instincts of competitiveness and adoration of physical triumph. And there’s nothing wrong with that as I had fun this past year when I became invested in the world of football.
A good friend of mine suggested that a way to become more interested in football was to join a fantasy league. I did and suddenly I cared about players who weren’t on my team. But as much as I was watching how Frank Gore or Hines Ward would perform on a week-to-week basis, I became incredibly interested in the Atlanta Falcons.
My interest in the Falcons originally began in 2008. After Michael Vick’s arrest and the coach quitting in the most dickish manner possible, it felt like the team had reached such a low that there was now a clean slate. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t name all the players or recite the team’s history. The team had a new coach, a new quarterback, and a fresh start. And they played an impressive season and made it to the playoffs. The next year, they fought through injuries and came away with a triumph of back-to-back winning seasons. And then this year, things really started to click into place.
What made the Falcons fun to watch was that they didn’t blow out their opponents. They kept you on the edge of your seat for the full sixty minutes. They weren’t a flashy team, but they had a consistent strategy of conducting long drives and eating tons of play clock. The national media wasn’t paying attention, but I didn’t care, because my team was winning and winning in ways that kept me captivated. Furthermore, the team had versatility. While Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzales were the stars, other players like Michael Jenkins, Eric Weems, and Brent Grimes were playmakers at key moments. I found myself counting down the days until Sunday when I could see my team play again. I was leaving the NFL Network on in the background as I worked. I listened to an obscene amount of Sports Talk radio.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I was dismayed that the Falcons were being disrespected by the national media in their playoff match-up with the Packers. I felt that this team had done some incredible work this past season and it was unfair to be treated as underdogs when they had the #1 seed, a bye week, and were playing at home. But after tonight’s dismal game, the Falcons are going to have to earn the nation’s respect all over again. I didn’t think the Falcons were going to waltz to a win, but I thought it would at least be close. But when Matt Ryan threw a pick-six in the closing minute of the first half, it seemed to suck all the life out of the team. Even though we were only down by two touchdowns, that deficit somehow seemed insurmountable, and the team that came onto the field in the second half seemed to have already given up. We were trounced and what’s worse, we were trounced on a national stage. Next year, the Falcons still won’t get any respect and it’s because of this game. They’ll have to earn it all again and while I may be disheartened, I imagine what I feel is but a fraction of the emotions felt by die-hard fans and members of the Falcons’ organization.
It was a shitty end to a great season, but it was a great season. Anyone who says that tonight’s loss makes the season a disappointment is re-writing history. Tonight’s outcome doesn’t take away how much fun I had watching the Falcons this season and becoming more interested in football. I still can’t identify different plays beyond broad definitions like “blitz”, “pass”, “run”, etc. and I usually have to wait for an official to announce a penalty rather than being able to spot it myself before the flag is thrown. But football, and most sports, appeal to my competitive nature and it would be disingenuous of me to pretend like this year didn’t matter simply because we sucked in our first-round playoff game.
Sure, it would be nice if my initiation into the world of football fandom was greeted with my team winning the Super Bowl. But that’s not really what being a fan is about. Being a fan means you have to suffer with your team and while everyone likes the ecstasy of victory, there’s only one team that gets crowned champion, and everyone else has to deal with the agony of defeat. The Falcons shouldn’t be ashamed of their season because of tonight’s performance. I know I’m not.
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