Fans of the Atlanta Falcons have had a bumpy ride with the team over the years, and members of the media have had more than their share of material to use as a source of hilarity or just general fodder. But over the past four-plus seasons, there has been a morphing of a franchise happening in Atlanta, and even the biggest skeptics are slowly becoming believers.
One of the biggest skeptics? Me.
My family moved from New Jersey to Atlanta in 1972, and I come from a long line of NFL-addicts, so learning to love your home team was engrained into my northern immigrant blood from a very early age. As a kid and pre-teen it was just natural. You didn’t care how bad the team was, they were your team. Arguments with school mates generally centered around helmet logos or which mascot would win in a real life fight.
Once I reached my teens and slowly (very slowly) moved in to adulthood, I began to break down the game, the players and the decisions of the franchise. It was clear to me if I were going to remain a fan of the Falcons, I would need to seriously build up my alcohol tolerance. Lucky for me that also that comes very naturally in my family.
So forgive me if after the heartbreaks of 1978 and 1980 I didn’t think that Dan Henning, Marion Campbell or Jerry Glanville would turn things around. A thousand pardons if I didn’t really buy into the “Too Legit to Quit” Falcons of 1991, or if I wasn’t surprised when Deion Sanders bolted Atlanta for greener pastures.
Even in 1998 I never really truly had faith in a team I thought had been extremely lucky throughout the year. Let’s be honest, I never really believed Chris Chandler and Steve DeBerg were the tandem of play-callers who would bring the Lombardi Trophy to Atlanta.
When the Falcons drafted Michael Vick I told my family to lock up the sharp objects in the house, and as the team picked up and drafted player after player, and coach after coach with questionable character, I was on the verge of just giving up. After all, how much heartache can a fan take? I was ready to just be one of those floating fans, who cheered for a successful team with space on their bandwagon.
Then, it happened.
Thomas Dimitroff, Mike Smith, Matt Ryan and a renewed feeling of positivity entered the picture, and I decided to wait it out.
This current core of Falcons players, coaches and front office has been able to wipe the idea of Atlanta as a once a decade one-hit wonder away for good. The Falcons are now always in the mix, and attract a lot of positive attention.
Where this current group has continually fallen short is in the postseason. Good, but not great. Able to get into the dance, but doesn’t get out on the dancefloor to show off the moves. Just another sequel to the first movie. The metaphors can go on forever, but they all equal one thing…can’t win in January, can’t get real respect.
So why should this year be any different? I’m not sure. I just know it is.
Something about the 2012 Falcons tells me this team is different than any other contender this franchise has ever put on the field. It’s not about them dominating the league (even though they are 11-1 as this column is written), it’s not about one star who carries them week to week. It’s about this team. They are different, very different.
The one thing that jumps out at me the most as I review every game played in 2012 so far is that this team doesn’t panic, and doesn’t quit. They go about their business and just win games. They aren’t worried about what the rest of the world is saying, or where they fall in the latest power rankings. They don’t care who is on the other side of the field, they just adjust and adapt to do what’s needed to win that game.
You know who else had a very similar modus operandi? The 1995 Atlanta Braves. Remember them? The guys who finally silenced their critics after several failed attempts and won it all.
Yeah. I like what I see with these guys. Once skeptic, now cautious believer. For the first time in 40 years of watching this team I can honestly say I think this team could be the one.