They’re mostly millionaires. If the truth be known not one of them would likely want to know me or hang out with me.
Few of them are from my home state and only two that I know of went to the same school I attended. I know all these things. I know them with my head. But in my heart the Atlanta Falcons are a part of my life. And on this night, one day before the one win we need to go back to the Super Bowl, I have to admit I have thrown myself into this game as if my own livelihood depended on it. In doing that, I find myself a part of a larger contingent.
Every time I see a Falcon logo I feel a kinship. During trips to the Georgia Dome I felt part of a family. It’s a false feeling really. Many of us that wear the colors wouldn’t agree on many things. In some cases we might argue with fervor on a whole host of topics. Yet for three hours tomorrow, we will be bonded with a common thread. We will live and die (figuratively speaking, it is after all still just football) with every snap, every play, every tackle for we are Falcon fans.
We have lived hard all these many years. My first game was beside my beloved grandfather. The Falcons played the Rams, then in the same division, in Los Angeles. They lost 56-0.
And for some inexplicable reason, I was hooked. I was hooked on a shared experience with my grandfather. The following year the Falcons hired a new coach, went 7 and 7 and introduced the world to something called the Gritz Blitz. They set an NFL record for fewest points allowed in a season. It got better from there. They went 9-7 in 1978 and earned a trip to the playoffs. It all seemed larger than life.
It was 1980 when my Dad was given tickets and we made the three hour drive to Atlanta for my first game. My own children sadly cannot identify with what a big deal this was for me. Just going to Atlanta from my small town was like going to another world. And then, when I walked into Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, having only been to high school football fields with metal bleachers, the experience was larger than life. The Falcons won that day too and in exciting fashion. My Dad, no sports fan himself, mostly watched the crowd. But he bought me a hot dog at the game and we went and got pizza afterward. Pizza was a rare treat too for us. We didn’t have it once a week as my family does now.
I could stop any of the other people that I see this week that are wearing Falcons jerseys and smiling, and I would probably find out that they have a similar story. They too, used to watch the Falcons games on Sunday and then run outside every commercial and run two or three plays of what was an ongoing backyard football game. You could usually get in at least three plays if you hurried before your friends Dad would holler out the door that he was holding open for your, “It’s back on!”.
For years they said we didn’t exist, us Falcons. They said that Atlanta was too much of a transient city. That no one was really from the Atlanta area and thus the Falcons had no established fan base. But that’s just baloney. Falcons aren’t just from Atlanta. They are from all over Georgia, the Carolina’s and Alabama. At one time the Falcons were the only NFL franchise in the region. The bulk of us are from Georgia and we never left the Falcons no matter how bad they were. And most years they were very bad. But we hung around.
We hung around because we knew if we waited long enough we would share an experience once again like Big Ben Right, or Bartkowski to Francis, or the Dirty Bird, or Chandler to Mathis to tie the last NFC Championship game. We went to Six Flags over Georgia when the Dahlonega Mine Train seemed like a big roller coaster, we rode the pink pig at Rich’s Department Store and our Mom’s bought us a warm chocolate chip cookie (and only one because that’s all we could afford) in the Rich’s bakery afterward. We took school trips to Stone Mountain and the Swan House and Fernbank. We watched a former bartender named Mazzetti kick five field goals to beat those same Rams on the real life Monday Night Football. And we got out hearts broken in 1981 by the Cowboys in what was then the biggest Falcon game of all time. But that was then.
We love our team and we always have. In the Deep South we don’t talk about our team as “they” or “them”. In the Deep South the Falcons are “we” and “us”. We know we don’t play in the games but we bleed during them so we’ve earned the right. We may argue over the sorry state of our world on Monday, but not tomorrow. Tomorrow we Falcons will rise up as one. Tomorrow a new biggest Falcon’s game of all time will be played, an NFC championship in our home stadium. We’ve waited all our lives for this moment. It’s our time.