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The Braves convinced me that the 1996 Summer Olympics curse is real

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I usually don’t believe in curses, but the Braves getting mollywhopped in the first half-frame of a series-deciding game has me on board.

An overhead shot of the Atlanta Braves dugout and several teammates during Game Five of the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at SunTrust Park on October 9, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia.

People complain about the length and pace of baseball games all the time. On Wednesday, the Atlanta Braves did the unthinkable and actually lost a game in the first 20-ish minutes when they gave up 10 runs in the top half of the first inning to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Atlanta sports fandom isn’t easy. I’ve done it all my life, and it has left me immune to truly being upset at anything bad that happens now. It’s not because I don’t care, but rather because I’m protecting myself. Not getting emotionally invested in my teams is a form of self-care that I refuse to not practice.

That said, the city of Atlanta has definitely been cursed since 1996.

This is something that has been widely discussed within Atlanta, but not something I was firm on until that first half-inning of baseball. It begins sometime either during or after the 1996 Olympics. The year before, the Team Of The ‘90s finally got their first, and tragically only, World Series, and things haven’t been great since.

I’m not going to run down every little thing that has since gone wrong for Atlanta sports because nobody has time for that. There’s a laundry list of bad things — big and small — that we’ve been witness to over the last 23 years (and also before then!).

But I will highlight some notable events:

  • In 1996, the Braves were five outs from taking a 3-1 World Series lead before a Mark Wohlers 2-2 pitch was sent just over the left field wall by a guy with this batting stance:

The Braves lost four in a row to give the Yankees their 23rd World Series title.

  • Easily the best team in the National League in 1999, the Braves got swept by the Yankees in the World Series. They were up 6-0 in Game 4 and still lost.
  • The Falcons lost Super Bowl XXXIII 34-19 to the Denver Broncos. Falcons safety Eugene Robinson was arrested the night before the game for solicitation of a prostitute. He won the Bart Starr Award that same day, given to the NFL player who “best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field, and in the community.”
  • The Atlanta Thrashers.
  • Michael Vick, one of the most electric players to ever grace a football field, went to jail for two years for DOGFIGHTING of all things, and we never saw him in red and black threads again.
  • Game 3 of the 2010 NLDS against the San Francisco Giants, specifically Brooks Conrad’s errors.
  • The infield fly rule wild card game in 2012, also against the Cardinals:
  • The 2012 NFC Championship Game.
  • The Atlanta Dream, while good, have gone to the WNBA Finals in 2010, 2011, and 2013, and been swept each time.
  • The Atlanta Hawks have been either incredibly bad or just average enough to get beat in the first or second round of the playoffs since 1996. Yeah, they went 60-22 in 2014-15 and made the Eastern Conference Finals, but then LeBron James happened.

We also knew, as hot as that team was that season, it wasn’t going to stick. They had the first 17-0 record in a calendar month in league history (January) after only losing two games in December. The team wasn’t bad, but they certainly weren’t capable of staying that hot.

  • Bobby Petrino, with his swift escape and 78-word letters left in the lockers of all the players as he made his way to Fayetteville, Arkansas:

“Out of my respect for you, I am letting you know that, with a heavy heart, I resigned today as the Head Coach of the Atlanta Falcons. This decision was not easy, but it was made in the best interest of me and my family. While my desire would have been to finish out what has been a difficult season for us all, circumstances did not allow me to do that. I appreciate your hard work and wish you the best.

”Sincerely, Bobby Petrino.”

  • Y’all seeing what’s happening to the Falcons this season?
  • 28-3.

The Braves losing before they could put their first batter up to the plate in the deciding game of an NLDS isn’t as bad as the Falcons blowing a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl with a quarter and a half of football left. Nothing is ever going to top that, and if your team ever does (gigantic emphasis on the fact that this has not happened and the Falcons wear the Crown Of Sadness firmly upon their head), well, sorry in advance.

I have text receipts of hesitation when people were celebrating at that point in the game. It was the Falcons. It was the Patriots. It was Tom Brady. There was time, and all the bad things that could happen within in that formula, happened. I could also simplify and leave it at: it was the Falcons. The game is not over until it is over, and everybody’s either gone home, or shut off the TV.

However, at no point in my time on planet Earth did I think the Cardinals could hang 10 runs in the very first top half of an elimination game against the Braves. That’s why this particular event did it for me, instead of the worst thing on a field or court that has ever happened to any sports team ever.

Expectations weren’t even outrageously high for the Braves this year. After the way the regular season played out, it seemed reasonable to expect the Braves to at least get to the NLCS. If they lost to the Dodgers, it wouldn’t have been shocking. But that was supposed to be as bad as it got.

Instead, half the lineup went cold as they do when October comes around, and the Cardinals offense bullied the Braves like a team from MLB Slugfest 2003.

I do believe that at some point, this curse will be broken. I don’t know what it’s going to take, or when it’s going to happen, but it will. The Braves have so many young, promising players. Even the Hawks look like they’ll be legitimate contenders one day. [Insert something nice about the Falcons and how things have to go right for them, eventually.]

Until then, I’m going to continue to root for my Atlanta sports teams, even though I know the chances of me being disappointed are high.

I am excluding Atlanta United from this narrative. Our beloved soccer team was birthed just five years ago, and are clearly immune from the poison that has infected the rest of our sports teams.