By Alex Norman
“Welcome to Atlanta where the players play… And we ride on dem thangs like every day… Big beats, hit streets, see gangsters roamin… And parties dont stop ‘til eight in the mo’nin”
The modern day poet Jermaine Dupri wrote that verse in his 2002 hit single “Welcome to Atlanta.”
That little ditty came to mind while watching the Falcons collapse during Super Bowl LI, and thinking that the parties in Atlanta weren’t going to last until midnight, much less 8 a.m.
By now you know the particulars. The Falcons led the Patriots 28-3 midway through the third quarter and somehow lost 34-28 in overtime. Atlanta had numerous chances to put the game away, but thanks to Tom Brady’s brilliance and more importantly the Falcons ineptitude in terms of offensive play calling, the Patriots had their 5th Super Bowl title, tying them for second most all-time with Dallas and San Francisco. Atlanta is still waiting for their first.
When you consider the stakes, it will go down as the worst choke job in the history of North American professional sports. That said; let’s look back at some of the most memorable moments of futility.
Two years ago in the Super Bowl the Seattle Seahawks had the football at the one-yard line against New England in the final minute and decided to pass instead of handoff to bruising running back Marshawn Lynch. Russell Wilson threw an interception, handing a title to the Pats on a silver platter. But that was a momentary lapse in judgement, and the Seahawks had won the Super Bowl one year prior, so it wasn’t a gut punch of the highest order for their fans.
In 1993 the Houston Oilers had a 35-3 lead in the third quarter of the AFC playoffs, only to lose 41-38. But that was a wild card game. The Oilers weren’t winning anything of significance that season.
Last year the Golden State Warriors had a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals, but LeBron James carried Cleveland to its first title following three straight wins. Maybe if Draymond Green could have stopped kicking opponents in the privates the Warriors would have gone back to back.
I believe that the 2004 New York Yankees used to hold the honor of biggest collapse following their ALCS loss to the Boston Red Sox. They held a 3-0 series lead and were up late in Games 4 and 5. But maybe this was simply the fates finally allowing Red Sox success. It was 86 years in the making and the Yankees had 26 World Series titles already on their resume (now 27) to make their fans feel better.
Tennessee Volunteers fans have experienced this devastation numerous times over the years. Most recently in 2015 when they couldn’t hold onto a 17-0 lead against Oklahoma, nor the 13 point lead in the fourth quarter that was vanquished at Florida.
The two most memorable would have the be the 2001 SEC championship game, when the Vols had a 10 point lead over LSU and lost, costing them a spot in the BCS title game. Or in the 2007 NCAA Sweet 16, when the Vols blew a 20 point lead to Ohio State.
But what Atlanta did was bring their fans to near the mountain top, let them sit at the summit and gaze at a spectacular view, only to push them off the ledge into a live volcano one step from the peak.
Atlanta gets a bad rap as a pro sports town. Some of that is self-inflicted. I remember in 1998 going to Game 2 of the NLCS on a whim, and buying tickets for $10. Thousands of ducats were available. They lost two NHL teams (the Flames to Calgary and the Thrashers to Winnipeg) due to fan disinterest and ownership problems. Opposing fans are known to flood Atlanta during Hawks and Braves games. Seriously, go to an interleague Yankees/Braves contest. You’d think you were in The Bronx.
That said the Falcons have truly become Atlanta’s team. The south will always be a part of the country in which college sports reigns, but the Falcons are different. They filled the Georgia Dome and turned that barn into a real home field advantage. It would have been the first major sports championship for the city since 1995.
But it was not to be, and it is a loss that will haunt their fans and this franchise forever.
So Atlanta fans… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. No one deserves this kind of sports pain.