28-34: Second-and-goal, James White 2-yard touchdown run, Patriots win in OT
I decided the confetti would not touch me. That was the line I drew; that was the one indignity I refused as an Atlanta Falcons fan. The bags released from the NRG Stadium ceiling the second the review of White’s touchdown was upheld and I started hopping along empty seats, around and through Patriots fans, abandoning the sight of what had happened as fast as damn possible. This manic exit was probably the most athletic feat of my adult life.
The dry heaving started as soon as I got to the concourse. I couldn’t actually vomit — I hadn’t eaten in seven hours, first because of nerves and then because I didn’t want to miss a single play of this, our coronation! But just in case, I stood over one of those trash cans with the recycling dividers on the lid.
I started to gag again.
“Ooooh, oh baby. Baby, you gonna be OK,” a beer lady closing down her kiosk said.
This was the same area in which, two hours prior, I had solicited a high-five from an on-duty Texas Ranger after Tevin Coleman scored Atlanta’s fourth touchdown. This stupefying extension of my white privilege not only didn’t earn me a taser or handcuffs, but the high-fived law enforcement office responded, “Man, y’all sure are laying the damn wood,” with a smile.
I wanted so badly to vomit, hoping that would stop the pain in my stomach. If one of the three Budweisers or the $9 bottle of Dasani came up, I decided I could spit it through either the “plastic” or “landfill” holes on the bin.
A stranger in an Alge Crumpler jersey stopped to look at me while he lit a cigarette inside the building.
“Hey man,” he said. “Cursed. We are fucking cursed.”
28-28: Two-point conversion, Tom Brady pass to Danny Amendola
Atlanta fans are not cursed. No one is. A sports curse is a stupid, lazy way to explain away the failings of millionaire strangers you’re embarrassed to be emotionally invested in.
Besides, I don’t think Atlanta Falcons fans are allowed to claim a curse. Curses are pacifiers for shitty performing teams that have national appeal, and almost every conversation I’ve had with strangers about the Falcons — my favorite team in any sport for my entire life — inevitably arrives at the same question, even after I explain I’m from Georgia: Why the Falcons?
About that: I’m not explaining that anymore, why I care so much about the Falcons. I was gagging into a trash can. No one asks people why they vomit in The Meadowlands.
My family is from Georgia; half from Macon crackers and half from Roswell WASPs. That’s it. That’s why I’m a Falcons fan. I don’t have to justify shit to you, Tampa homeowner in a Steelers jersey.
Here’s where we skip the four paragraphs about ennui and Southern pro sports franchises. And we aren’t going to paint a picture of Atlanta based on an out-of-towner’s gross miscalculation that the city is a cultureless void of white collar migrants and no local identity just because you’re scared of humidity and trap music. But there is a fantastic aquarium; you should try to visit that if you get a chance.
28-26: Second-and-goal, James White 1-yard touchdown run
I shouldn’t care, but it’s hard to ignore that certain fan bases’ misery earns them some kind of certification for national acceptance. For instance, we pause to reflect on the Buffalo Bills losing four consecutive Super Bowls. Woe is the long winter of that city’s Loyal. True. Fans.
Buffalo’s is an “existential pain” and not a joke, because Buffalo is the kind of place a sports columnist can go 20 inches to nowhere with tripe about the hope inside of workaday Springsteen characters roaming the cheap seats. You know, in the America that used to be great, except America actually sucked as much then too, which is why all those people moved South to take jobs.
Now — if you’re the Houston Oilers, lol, you’re not a city yearning to rally around a championship: Oh no. You’re just some assholes who blew a 34-point postseason lead back when Matt Ryan was 7 years old.
If most people laugh at the idea of an Atlanta Falcons fan base, surely no one is going to respect how bitter a Falcons fan still feels after Feb. 5. But knowing that actually helps, at least for me. The only thing worse than being made to feel like your fandom is somehow invalid in comparison to a Green Bay or a Pittsburgh is humping a Super Bowl loss for sympathy points from media and other fans.
The NFL has enough problems without creating its own Cubs fans.
28-20: Two-point conversion, James White 1-yard run
The Atlanta Falcons blew a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl. At some point in the proceeding seven months, realizing that fact felt slightly less than devastating. That’s it. That’s all the misery you’ll get from me.
As a fan I have chosen to survive this and not out of some attempt at altruism. Nah. I’m still here, still signed up for 16 games and God-knows-what-else-come-January because it’s all house money now, and forever: I’ve seen the absolute worst thing that could happen in a game to my team. Ever.
Not Eugene Robinson. Not Brett Favre. Not Bobby Petrino. Not Bad Newz Kennels. Not marrying into a Saints family. Not getting my ass whipped by Washington fans on a school bus in Virginia in 1992 for wearing my team’s Starter jacket.
Imagine knowing that your fandom has found absolute bottom. Imagine knowing nothing else can hurt you as much as it already has.
28-18: Second-and-2, Tom Brady touchdown pass to Danny Amendola
This might actually be the most watchable, most enjoyable Falcons team in the history of the franchise. And in 51 years that’s not as bold a statement as it should be, so it’s even that much more enticing to watch.
A few months ago, a college head coach described Dan Quinn’s Seattle-Atlanta defense to me: “I mean, don’t write it like this because it’s not appropriate anymore, but we love it because they can trick you just enough to put a ball carrier out in space to flat knock you the fuck out. On purpose.”
I know my silent admiration for that quote is the root of what might end the violent sport of football entirely, but I am a weak person who loses moral calibration every time Keanu Neal tattoos someone.
Go back and watch that Seattle Super Bowl over Denver. If you don’t like defense, if you were weaned on Steve Spurrier or Bill Walsh, go watch that game again. Watch the things a defense can do when it wants to be fluid and graceful and not the 1985 Bears.
In the space between talking about New England, our fan base has managed to develop excitement about the young players designed to overcome the fourth-quarter evaporation that allowed* the Patriot comeback.
(*The preceding statement, however tacitly, technically acknowledges that Super Bowl 51 was not the entire fault of former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. However, it is still the unwavering belief of this writer that Mr. Shanahan should at some point in the near future go fuck himself forever.)
28-12: Fourth-and-goal, Stephen Gostkowski 33-yard field goal
Julio Jones glides just off the ground. All the time: He even glides when he’s run blocking, when he went in motion in the damn backfield to pull safeties away from a touchdown run by Devonta Freeman in the Super Bowl.
Julio Jones is a 6’3, 220-pound, living action verb whose default setting is “General Lee, midair” and sometimes when I’m having a bad day I watch this play on repeat, because ahahahahahahaha there’s no league policy against using a Kaiju at wideout:
When I watch that clip, it occurs to me that my fixation on winning a Super Bowl might cause me to miss the joy of watching what will almost certainly be one of the genuinely fun NFL offenses of the last decade.
Some people ruin their fandom trying to sort their quarterbacks or defenses in the pantheon of greatness. My failing has always been the reduction of every single moment to a binary: Championship / No Championship. That’s always been it. As a fan I have never stopped to appreciate the single moments of satisfaction along the way.
28-9: Second-and-goal, Tom Brady touchdown pass to James White
I love that Deion Sanders is still the greatest cornerback in history, even if he went to San Francisco. I love Jerry Glanville. I love the Grits Blitz. I love Valdosta State’s Jessie “The Hammer” Tuggle. I love “Big Ben Right.” I love that Michael Vick ran 46 yards for a touchdown in overtime and scared the ever-loving shit out of White America for a decade. Hell, I still love Michael Vick, and I adopted a pit bull and named it after Matt Ryan. I love breaking Minnesota’s soul in 1998 to repay the Twins in 1991. I love Dan Reeves. I love MC Hammer and Migos album artwork on cleats. I love the “Dirty Bird.” None of these things, built over 36 years of my life, were context for what happened vs. New England.
If you met a Falcons fan in a sports bar tomorrow and you couldn’t rile them about the Super Bowl and they still expressed genuine excitement for the 2017 season, you would be terrified of what would be an obvious sociopath. This is the kind of fan I have to be now to keep going. The guy you don’t want to fight in that sports bar because you know they wouldn’t just swing a few times, they’d bite you in the face.
I will bite you in the face. At no point in this Godforsaken experience of losing a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl have I stopped loving the things about this lampooned, derided sports team that makes a grown man dry heave in anger.
If that’s true, if Super Bowl 51 can’t separate me from this stupid team, then I will surely die with them. Because nothing can be worse.
I seriously think we’re going to win the Super Bowl this year.