Without football my life is worth nothing.  Cristiano Ronaldo.

One Ring to Rule Them All

Ode to Super Bowl 51


            My Mom still has a photo of me from my first Falcons’ game.  Man, I looked so happy.  Almost giddy.  It’s from 1980.  I’m with my father, my brother, grandpa and my crazy Uncle Rico. I’m holding a Falcons’ pennant in one hand and holding up one finger on the other hand.  We’re number one. I can hear my mother saying, “Say, Go Falcons!” as she squeezes the button on the camera. My grandfather was visiting from Key West and he looks so excited to be going to the game, though he had probably never watched a Falcons’ game in his life.  The Falcons beat up on the Saints with one of the Alfreds, Jenkins or Jackson I can’t remember, catching a long touchdown. 

            We had recently moved from South Florida to the cow pasture, and I was fully prepared to switch my allegiance to my new hometown team, being that the Dolphins were struggling and all.  The Falcons had an up and coming young tosser named Steve Bartkowski and the team went 12-4 and lost a nail biter to the Cowboys in the playoffs in 1980. The Super Bowl was a near certainty entering the 1981 season, and I got a Falcons t-shirt for my birthday and invested $8.50 in a Tommy Nobis rookie card in near mint condition. I figured the card would probably need to be placed in a safe deposit box by 1983.

            The bandwagon had driven by my house like an ice cream truck and I was chasing it in a full sprint.  That’s the story of Atlanta sports, so they say.  Someone moves in from somewhere else and becomes an Atlanta sports fan but only when it suits them.  Only when the team is a contender, which has been about once since that coward Sherman burned Tara.  They say that Atlanta sports fans suck and those Boston types are true fans.  I’m an optimist, so I can say that all sports fans are incredible.  Any team that goes on a decade long winning streak has a rabid fan base, but I also understand that any team that goes on a decade long losing skid will have crappy fans.  The Falcons are ascending so forget that they traded Brett Favre for a box of Gillette razors and RISE UP, ATLANTA!

            It’s amazing how that works.  I remember when the Yankees stunk back in the 80’s.  The most famous franchise of any kind on planet Earth, and the stadium was nearly empty every game.  I remember watching a game and seeing a Yankees fan who looked like Jabba the Hut screaming at a Yankees’ pitcher who had just been shelled.  The “fan” was red from the sun and as he hurled expletives at the hapless pitcher, a half chewed hot dog dropped unceremoniously from his mouth.  That’s what I think of when I think of a town, any town’s, fan base.  And Patriots’ fans are the worst.  In 1993 after posting their 5th straight losing season, there was such a lack of interest by the “true fans” that the team was set to move to St. Louis and become the St. Louis Stallions.  They already had the team logo picked out and everything.  Remember those good ol’ days, you Brady loving animal trough wipers?  They had 26,571 in attendance at a home game that year. Atlanta's new MLS team, Atlanta United FC, has sold more season tickets than that and they haven't even played a game yet.  That's what I call a fan base. 

            People haven’t really focused on the magnitude of Super Bowl 51.  It includes quarterbacks who have had two of greatest quarterbacking seasons in NFL history, and they're playing in the Super Bowl the same year of their historic seasons.  And what is even more incredible is that in spite of their impressive resumes, neither quarterback has ever won a non-cheating Super Bowl!  Put that in your pipe and smoke it Sam Adams. 

            For all the de-doo-doo-doo about the Patsies over the last decade, they can’t say they’ve ever won a legitimate Super Bowl.  Belicheat admitted that he was cheating for the first three Super Bowl victories, but that he had “misinterpreted” the rule.  And if you believe that, I’ve got this football team in Boston I can sell you.  The Patriots are the only team in NFL history to lose a first-round draft pick for cheating, and it’s happened twice in the past decade. No other team. Ever.  Belicheat received the largest fine in NFL history for his role in Spygate and his tosser was suspended for cheating in Deflategate. This “model” organization is the mob of the NFL. They’re a model home in a trailer park.  They are also the only team in NFL history to employ a serial killer, while he was serial killing, and give him a massive contract for his endeavors.  Patriots owner Robert Kraft said of Aaron Hernandez, “he's a great guy. Wow he's a good guy."  Wow is right.  A few weeks ago the organization signed Michael Floyd before he had even sobered up from his DUI arrest.  The Cardinals cut him because of the incident and the Patsies couldn’t wait to get their hands on him.  They are a pathetic excuse for an organization any way you slice it, but they do have some vociferous fans now that they're on a winning streak.  I’ll give ‘em that for what it’s worth.

            Anywho, back to our hometown Falcons.  The only other Super Bowl appearance in the team’s 51 years in the NFL was in 1998.  I scheduled a big party at my house after their improbable NFC Championship victory in Minnesota.  The Dirty Birds were preparing to take on a vaunted Denver Broncos’ team when Falcons’ Pro Bowl safety Eugene Robinson, fresh off winning the Bart Starr Man of the Year Award for being a pillar of the community, got busted for soliciting a prostitute.  “I was just showing my pillar to the community,” he reportedly told the cop. The Falcons were throttled 34-17 in Super Bowl 33.  Robinson still had the delousing powder on him when he was burned by Rod Smith for an 80-yard touchdown. He gave back his Man of the Year Award. Welcome to Atlanta where the players play, indeed. 

            But this Falcons’ team is different.  The talk show bobbleheads have criticized the organization for being the anti-Patriots.  The Falcons wouldn’t sign players with checkered pasts, so they’ve missed out on the Pro Bowl serial killer types who could help win a Super Bowl.  The Falcons under Arthur Blank wanted model citizens: Man of the Year types who were photographed eating crumpets instead of cavorting with strumpets.  “The Falcons are too soft,” was the cry of the disenchanted Falcons’ fan.  But Blank stuck with his vision and under young wizard Dan Quinn (Quinndalf we shall call him) the defense is a fast and physical complement to Matt Ryan’s record setting offense.  If the Falcons beat Brady it will be the greatest post-season run ever, considering they have beaten three of the top ten tossers in NFL history in consecutive games.  It will be a sports revolution in Atlanta worthy of the one started in Boston all those years ago.

            It’s one thing to get to the Super Bowl, but winning it is a whole different deflated ball of wax.  Nothing energizes a fan base like winning a title in a sports crazed nation’s most popular sport.  And it won’t stop there for Atlanta.  In six weeks Atlanta gets to watch their new soccer team, Atlanta United FC, kick off.  We know it’s snuck up on some people, but soccer is now America’s second most popular sport and it’s not even close.  Atlanta United will sell more season tickets (they’re already over 27,000!) than the Braves have ever sold in the history of the franchise, or the Patriots had in attendance when they played the Jets in 1993.  Egad!  What a time to be an Atlanta sports fan.  What a time to be alive.

            All the Falcons need is one win.  One ring to rule them all.  Defeat Sauron and all is right with the Atlanta sports universe. Who will be our Frodo Baggins?  Who will be the one who Atlanta fans can remember like Joe Namath’s finger in Super Bowl 3 or Lynn Swann’s leap in Super Bowl 10 or Marcus Allen’s cut back in Super Bowl 18?  Might Atlanta’s Frodo be the diminutive Taylor Gabriel, the guy so insignificant that he wasn’t drafted and was then cut by the Cleveland Browns? The guy who attended Abilene Christian, so he’s got baby Jesus on his side.  And with him on our side, who then can be against us.  Or will it be the spudly but stout Devonta Freeman, or Matt Bryant who was reportedly on the short list to play Samwise Gamgee?

            So I’m giddy.  I’ll be in Vegas for the Super Bowl with my Tony Gonzalez jersey on.  I know everyone expects me to know exactly what’s going to happen, but I don’t. The suspense is killing me, I hope it lasts.  But what I can tell you is that I’ve been having this dream the last few nights. I’m floating over the field while Uncle Rico drops back to pass in a Falcons’ uniform.  He launches a fully inflated football sixty yards downfield and Taylor Gabriel runs into the end zone and celebrates with a new dance he calls The Frodo Shuffle.  The dream skips forward, and I float through a prison where Michael Floyd now lives.  He’s lying on his cot next to the Unabomber with a pink Patsies hoodie.  They snuggle as they watch the video of Martellus Bennett dancing to, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”  I float over to the Patriots game and watch as Ignatious J. Reilly tries to sell hot dogs to a sparse, disinterested group of Bostonians.  The attendance is announced as 26,571, which is, ironically, also Michael Floyd’s inmate number.   I’m ten years old and in the stands holding my Falcons pennant.   “They’re filming you!” my Mom screams.  “Wave to the camera!” She’s frantic now.  I stand up and wave my pennant and hold up one finger.  It’s my middle finger with a Patriots Super Bowl Ring on it.  I take it off and toss it into the molten pit of Mount Doom as the camera pans away.

P.S. Divine Provence