The City of Atlanta, and her sports fans, have traversed and travailed many ups and downs in the last 12 months. Are they prepared to risk another heartbreak? Yes.
Let’s face it. In a town that is known more for its sports teams’ futility, and for being a “bad sports town”, when it comes to fans, the last 12 months have been incredibly harrowing and odd for Atlanta Sports. The last 12 months have featured Atlanta teams winning at very high levels, while earning near unanimous national respect. These last few months have also scarred many a fan with heartbreaking losses and ignominious defeat. Can Atlanta Sports fans get invested and risk another heartbreak? It is a fair question.
In quick reflection, one doesn’t have to think long to know to what this is referring. Last February, our beloved Atlanta Falcons had a season to remember. They were one-quarter of play away from beating the greatest dynasty in NFL history in the Super Bowl. Doing so would’ve placed Atlanta in rare company and removed the awful tag and stench of past failures. We all know what happened. It wasn’t that.
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The Georgia Bulldogs football team brought in a young son, a former player, and tasked him with the job of taking that program to the next level. Instead they lost 2 more games than the previous year, with three of those losses coming by a combined 7 points. One was a “hail mary” loss at home to one of the most obnoxious, yet vocal, fan bases around.
Atlanta United FC had a remarkable season. Broke all kinds of attendance records for MLS (so much for the bad sports town opprobrium). ATL UTD is only the 2nd team in MLS history to make the playoffs in its first year of existence. Awesome stuff. Then, inexplicably, the team that led the league in scoring for much of the year, couldn’t get a goal after multiple looks in a home playoff game. They, then, lost on PKs.
The Braves and the Hawks were looked to as possible relief form the agita and apprehension that the football season afforded. Neither accomplished that, and frankly, with off-season upheaval, both look to be in full-blown rebuild mode. At the very least, it will take time to get post-season joy from those two beloved franchises.
The Georgia Swarm did win the World Championship of the NLL in lacrosse. They broke records in doing so, and gave the city and state something to cheer. And we’re thankful. That was edifying.
The lurking dichotomy in all of this is that you have to be really good to get to a place to lose a playoff game or a championship. Most teams don’t ever get a chance. National relevancy is a costly commodity. One not often afforded to Atlanta Sports teams, historically.
So, here we are again. The Atlanta Falcons went (10-6) on the regular season and play in the Wild Card game this weekend. The Georgia Bulldogs won the SEC Championship, just won the Rose Bowl in a game that many consider already to be one of the greatest bowl games of all time, and are poised to face big, bad Alabama in Atlanta for a National Championship.
It is natural for those who get their hearts broken to close off and approach future opportunities with a weary eye and closed arms. But I don’t get that sense from Falcons and UGA fans.
For the record, I understand fully that those two groups aren’t necessarily one. But I’d bet that a venn diagram would show a bunch of intersection. The pain and/or joy from one can carry over to the other.
It speaks volumes that fanbases, like those of the Falcons and Dawgs, can be resilient and full-throatedly line up behind their teams without hesitation, in spite of still feeling recent pain.
This weekend the Atlanta Falcons and the Georgia Bulldogs have a chance to make history for their respective franchise/program. Were they both to lose, it would be the sports equivalent of a forced ipecac session followed by a root canal for literally millions of people in the City of Atlanta and around the state.
But the fans will be there. Faithful, joyous, and in number. Are they prepared for another heartbreak? No. Is anyone? Are they willing to risk it? You’re dang right they are.