Dominique Wilkins, The Human Highlight Film, was an amazing talent to watch. The playoff battle with Bird in the Garden and the Dunk Contest with Jordan are two epic moments that stand out in my mind. Unlike Jordan, Bird, Magic and other heroes of that era, ‘Nique never brought home a title to Atlanta.
Watching Super Bowl 51 made me think of all the great Sports Stars that Atlanta has had over the years, but only 1 Major Professional Sports Title, ever. The 1995 Braves stand alone as the only team to ever bring a Championship to Atlanta.
Deion Sanders may have been the most electrifying player to ever step on an NFL field. The Falcons of the early ’90s with Deion and Andre Rison were fun to watch, with the black jerseys and showboat attitude. Jerry Glanville and his black trench coats hanging with MC Hammer on the sidelines. Despite the National attention and excitement, that team never won the big one. Deion left Atlanta to win titles in Dallas and San Francisco, but never made it happen in Atlanta.
The late ’90s Falcons with Dan Reeves coaching and Jamal Anderson breaking team records out of the backfield got the city fired up again. After Minnesota’s Gary Anderson missed his 1st field goal of the season, the underdog “Dirty Bird” Falcons danced their way into their 1st Super Bowl in team history. After starting Safety Eugene Robinson was arrested for soliciting a prostitute the night before the big game, seems like it went all down hill for the birds. Dan Reeves former QB John Elway walked off the field that day as a back-to-back Super Bowl Champion and Atlanta once again faced the disappointment of a great run falling short.
In the early 2000’s Atlanta drafted Michael Vick, the most athletic QB to ever play the game. Like Dominique Wilkins, Vick was truly a Human Highlight waiting to happen. Watching Vick move with the ball was like poetry in motion, he seemed unstoppable at times. He took the Falcons into Lambeau Field and gave Brett Favre and The Packers their 1st home playoff loss in team history! The Falcons seemed poised to be the team of the future. Then came the dog fighting allegations, followed by indictment, conviction and two years in Federal Prison. Atlanta was once again at rock bottom.
Dale Murphy, Joe Johnson, Steve Smith, Stacey Augmon, Mookie Blaylock, Mutumbo, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Jessie Tuggle, Morton Anderson, Tony Gonzalez and many other great players have played here in Atlanta, but only Bobby Cox and those 1995 Braves finished the job.
That brings me to Matt Ryan, Mr. MVP 2016. Matt was a high 1st round draft pick (#3 overall) and was tasked with leading the Falcons out of the dark shameful place where Vick left them. It took him years to earn the fans respect in Atlanta, regardless of what he did, it never seemed good enough. But this year (2016) was different, the Falcons offense was playing at an all-time high. Even when star receiver Julio Jones missed time with Turf Toe, the offense appeared to not miss a beat. Still I felt a level of disrespect from the National sports media when it came to the Falcons. Matt wasn’t Rodgers or Brady, he wasn’t feared like Ben, Brown and Bell, and there wasn’t an unexpected excitement about his accomplishments like Dak & Zeke. I rarely heard people pick the Falcons to go the distance, but despite all odds, they did it.
Three and a half quarters into Super Bowl 51 the Falcons were securely in the driver seat. Finally they were going to finish the job. Ryan was set to be that Hero that this city has always lacked. Not the shiny object that puts up numbers and lets you down, but the guy that actually closes things out (like he did vs Green Bay 2 weeks prior). Memes were flying around and FB Trolls were having a field day at Brady’s expense. Then the sack fumble happened. Ryan didn’t protect the ball when he needed to most. Atlanta’s hero once again fell short. 31 unanswered points by the Patriots and a 25 point lead by the Falcons erased.
Many people say the Falcons will be back next year, but hey, that’s what they said about MVP Cam Newton and the Panthers two years ago. That’s what they said about Dan Marino after his 1st Super Bowl. The truth is, it isn’t that easy! Kyle Shanahan is leaving, the Bucs are on the rise, Brees is still in the division and the Panthers are still dangerous. Not to mention the Seahawks, Giants, Cowboys, Vikings, Cardinals and Packers are still ready to fight for NFC playoff spots as well.
This was an exciting year for the A, but it also had a strangely familiar ending. I hope the wheels don’t fall off the truck after this defeat, as the have in the past.
Somebody Save ATL! The City of Stars needs a Hero!