The Atlanta Sports Experience in 60 Minutes


Anticipation. Hope. Buzz.

Three words that accurately described the mood inside (or even outside) the Georgia Dome prior to the contest between the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers on Sunday. However, those positive feelings and emotions evaporated in short order, and even if it did not take place in a traditional hour, it took only 60 minutes of scoreboard time to accomplish the task.

By now, you undoubtedly realize that the Falcons suffered a 34-3 defeat at the hands of the Panthers. Coming into the Week 17 contest that doubled as the NFC South Championship Game, it would be aggressive to state that Atlanta was “likely” to win, but the pundits (in Las Vegas and otherwise) installed Mike Smith’s team as a small favorite, and with that, it felt like an event was about to take place in the Dome.

Anticipation. Hope. Buzz.

I was in the building on Sunday afternoon, and it wasn’t with the benefit of a media credential. Fandom is an odd thing in that it takes us to places that we probably wouldn’t go if remaining centered was the real focus of the day. As a credentialed media member for other sports, I consider myself capable of remaining “down the middle” and even “level-headed”, but with a ticket in my hand, that unbiased, media-based attitude often evaporates.

With that on the table, there was real excitement here. I talked myself into the Atlanta Falcons, both in print and otherwise, and even in the first few minutes, that optimism remained prevalent even as Cam Newton and the Carolina offense seemed undeterred as they progressed down the field.

The “uh-oh” moment happened in the second quarter, when Matt Ryan issued a pick-six to Roman Harper, who did little to “earn” his big play. That made the score 17-3, but with only a two-score deficit, positivity had not fully evaporated, but rather, it was simply tempered. However, that did not last long, as Ryan was quickly intercepted again, leading to a 4-yard touchdown drive to make the score 24-3, and that was basically that.

Things went downhill quickly in the second half, but this isn’t the space to dwell on that. The 21-point deficit felt like a death sentence because it was. This was what we do.

“We”, in this case, is the collective of Atlanta sports. At the moment, I can safely state that only one of the three professional teams that occupy our city should be classified as “above-average”, and with that team being the Atlanta Hawks, there is even the built-in skepticism of that franchise on the whole. More than that, though, the city seems to breed moments exactly like this.

Anticipation, hope and buzz can quickly turn into fear, terror and even bargaining, and that was the case in a hurry on Sunday afternoon. It is fair to say that the city of Atlanta and its fans have been kicked much harder and more pointedly in other events, and frankly, that is undeniable. We are talking about a city who has endured the “infield fly game”, Jim Leyritz, Eugene Robinson, a would-be pass interference in the 2012 NFC Championship Game and countless other letdowns.

If we’re honest, a 6-9 Atlanta Falcons team being soundly embarrassed on its own field should not have come as a surprise, but it did. I don’t know if it is stubbornness or simply stupidity, but my guard was down for this one, at least to the point where it wasn’t fully vested above my head. Mike Smith will be gone later today (if he isn’t already as you read this), but getting rid of a successful head coach won’t fix this problem.

We should be gun shy. We are gun shy. It is a running joke among the diehards that we are really just waiting for the other shoe to drop at all times, but is it really a joke? Obviously not. This is what we are conditioned to think, and games like Sunday are the reason.

60 game minutes in late December didn’t break us, but it was Atlanta sports personified.

Until next time.