I’d felt this kind of dread before. It was the icy morning of the NFC Divisional Playoff a few years ago when the Falcons hosted the Green Bay Packers in the Georgia Dome. The dread was real, palpable, and there was no doubt in my mind that the same feeling sat heavy in the consciousness of every Atlanta sports fan in this city. Murphy’s Law was likely written and conceived in the city of Atlanta and on October 7th, 2013 there were a multitude of things that could, and ultimately did go wrong. This is the recap of the single worst sports day in the history of our solar system.
I knew days before what the evening was going to shape up to look like. The Falcons were scheduled to play on Monday Night Football and the Braves series had them in Los Angeles for what turned out to be an elimination game against the Dodgers. The games would start within an hour of one another and based on timing of football and baseball games would likely be ending at the same time. Adding to the melee was coming into the knowledge that the Hawks first preseason game of the year against the Miami Heat would be taking place as well.
Like every Falcons game day I put on the colors, same as I have since I was a kid. Red Falcons shirt of some kind, black Falcons hat and jeans. I’d been invited to a game party at a friend’s house who was famous for having the hottest of women at his bashes so the gathered eye candy would definitely help. Maybe. I got to the party around 7:45 after picking up some wings and there was some serious talent in the room all in Falcons red. Perhaps this night was going to be a good one after all for us Atlantans. At least for those of us males in the room Just then I looked over at the Hawks game in time to see Chris Bosh score 9 consecutive points against the Hawks followed by a driving layup by LeBron James. A city’s eye candy ain’t got nothing to do with its sports.
The Hawks were down 16 when the big screen TV was changed over to the ESPN coverage of Monday Night Football just in time to see Jon Gruden railing on the Falcons woes in the red zone with his trademark scowl. I immediately thought of his days coaching the Buccaneers and Warren Sapp’s bunny hop booty dance after scoring a rushing touchdown against the Falcons in the Georgia Dome in the early 2000s. The dread started to build. How I kept from vomiting I have no idea. The game starts and the Falcons take the ball to start the game. The offense is moving a little bit but drive stalls and the Falcons punt. The Jets rush makes it to Falcons punter Matt Bosher and the punt is blocked. Falcons backup safety Shann Schillinger grabs the ball and completes a pass to a nearby Falcon for a “gain” of negative-8 yards. Ugh! But a bright spot, the Falcons defense (term used extraordinarily loosely) holds the Jets to 3 points and the Falcons march down the field and score a TD. The U2 hit “A Beautiful Day” starts to play in my head, perhaps this day is going to get better. But then some Jet by the last name of Chamberlain or something otherwise forgettable runs by the Falcon defense (again, term used loosely) and catches a pass from Geno Smith in the end zone and proceeds to do the Dirty Bird, a dance no Falcon has done since the Super Bowl season of ‘98. The Falcons offense fails, and it only takes Geno Smith, FREAKING GENO SMITH, 3 plays to get the Jets back into the end zone. 17-7. Someone at the party looks at their phone and announces to the gathered crowd that the Hawks lost earlier to the Heat by 5 points. Some groans, a few cheers but I made mention that at least we wouldn’t have to scream at Josh Smith this season for shooting jumpers. We all toasted drinks for that piece of good news. Even still, Atlanta is 0-1 on the evening.
The Falcons got the ball back and drove the length of the field at the end of the second quarter and looked good doing it. Matt Ryan was sharp and there was an actual semblance of blocking by the offensive (double entendre) line. But then the Falcons nemesis reared its ugly head, “Fourth and Short”. Fourth and Short has visited us several times in recent years and has proved itself to be pure evil. On October 7, 2013 it was 4th and 1 at the goal line with 1 second left in the second quarter. A touchdown and extra point here would bring us to within 3 points but considering the Falcons abusive relationship with “Fourth and Short” there’s really no need to tempt fate here. Just kick the field goal, be down 17-10 and lick your first half Nationally televised for all the world to see wounds. But the offense takes the field on 4th and 1 from the 1 yard line, and they give the ball to a 5-foot-6 Running Back named Jac’quizz Rogers…behind a line that would have enough trouble blocking for a regularly sized RB. ‘Quizz is stuffed behind the line of scrimmage. The Jets defense celebrates, Rex Ryan jumps and cheers, the stadium crowd boos the home team lustily, the gathered party crowd groans.
The television was quickly turned away; we needed a break from the spiraling doom at the Dome. The TV was switched over to the Braves vs. Dodgers game just in time to see a replay of the Dodgers’ Carl Crawford taking a Freddy Garcia pitch over the right field wall for a solo home run. 1-0 Dodgers. The perfect storm was building, the aforementioned dread was thick. I knew what was coming. I grabbed my keys and told everyone good night. I blamed my exit on an early morning, I had a job interview, needed to iron a shirt, all things true but not the real reason I left. I left that party because I knew it was all going to come crashing down tonight and I didn’t need to be amongst strangers when it did. I needed to be home where I could wail and moan and scream in privacy, where I wouldn’t be seen as a loon. I made my way to the door and drove home. I didn’t turn either the Braves or the Falcons on the radio on the ride home. I listened to Christopher Cross’ “Sailing”, the most tranquil and peaceful piece of 80’s Yacht Rock to ever be created, all the way home. When the song would end I would replay it, over and again I replayed it in the car letting it wash over me in efforts of forgetting the building sports armageddon surging over the state capitol.
I was halfway through my 5th listen of “Sailing” when pulled into the garage. I stepped in the house, turned on the television, and then decided to do a load of laundry thinking that it would be better if I diverted my attention rather than diving headlong into pending sports ineptitude, though I was tweeting all the while about the game so I’m never really fully detached. I turn to the Braves game and just as I make it upstairs to start separating clothes a roar from the crowd comes from the TV speakers, I run out just in time to see Carl Crawford’s second HR clear the fence. 2-0 Dodgers, and I descend the stairs to see if there’s any Vodka left. There isn’t. Definitely Armageddon.
Or is it?
The night begins to turn. The Braves start stringing hits together and the Dodgers start throwing the ball all over the yard. Matt Ryan starts going all 2012 and finding Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, and the offensive (double entendre) line makes holes and the 5-foot-6 RB named Jacquizz scores a rushing touchdown, a RUSHING TD for Heaven’s sake! Then he scores another! My goodness! Then a Falcons rookie tight end with a name that would be pronounced three different ways if you asked three different people (Levine Toilolo) catches a TD pass with 1:58 left on the clock to give the Falcons a 28-27 lead! Then over at Dodger Stadium you have Elliott Johnson, a guy who hadn’t gotten a hit in seemingly a month, triples down the right field line and he’s singled home by Jose Constanza who had played the majority of the season at the minor league level in Gwinnett to give the Braves a 3-2 lead! And I allowed myself to think maybe, just maybe Jesus doesn’t hate us. Perhaps the whole of this city wasn’t built on an ancient burial ground after all. Maybe this city, despite everything, can overcome the horror of its past. But then, my eyes were drawn to the scroll at the bottom of the screen like a ship following a siren’s song toward a rocky shored death. The scroll reiterated the score of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals game between the Minnesota Lynx and…the Atlanta Dream. The Atlanta Dream were beaten soundly by a score of 84 to 59. And then, like Simba in the Lion King I heard the booming voice of his father Mufasa as he implored him to “REMEMBER…”
Remember no matter how good this looks, you’re still a fan of these Atlanta teams. In this city you watched your Falcons blow the #1 seed in the NFL playoffs twice in 3 years, once in a blowout, and another in a game you had won after three quarters. You watched your Hawks come to within seconds of upsetting the Celtics and making their first Eastern Conference Finals only to leave the possible winning basket in the hands of Cliff Freakin’ Levingston; then a few years later you watched them work their tails off on their way to a #1 seed in the Eastern Conference only to trade the greatest Atlanta Hawk in history, Dominique Wilkins, for Danny Freakin’ Manning…they lost in the first round to a #8 seed. You watched the Braves stink out loud as a child only to grow up and see them make the playoffs 14 consecutive years and only get one ring to show for it. One. In your lifetime you’ve seen two different hockey franchises in this city fail: The Flames in 1980 because of the owner’s financial losses and the Thrashers in 2011 because the owners flat out admitted that they didn’t really know hockey. You are still in Atlanta, you are still intrinsically tied to her teams and, yes, this can still go very wrong for you. Rememberrrrrrr…..
The Jets got the ball back at their own 20 yard line with 1:58 remaining on the clock. The crowd at the Dome was at deafening levels as the stadium video boards insisted on “NOISE!” The Jets’ rookie QB was supposed to be shaken, bothered even, by the throng cheering against him but something in me believes that Geno Smith said to himself, “I know where I am. This is Atlanta. They’re not supposed to win. We’re supposed to win!” And with that, he morphed into Joe Montana, completed pass after pass to receivers nobody knew and ran for yards when the Falcon defense (term used ridiculously loosely) flailed and chased until there were three seconds left and the Jets saw the ball resting comfortably at the Falcons 26 yard line. From that point the ball was snapped, the kick was up and the kick was right between the uprights and the Falcons had, for the 7,214th time (hyperbole, but I’m entitled) snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in losing to the Jets 30-28. I’m surprised by how little it even hurt, the numbness these teams have caused me is frightening. I simply grabbed the remote and turned the channel. Atlanta is now 0-3 on the evening.
The TV is on the Braves game now and the announcer says, “…and Yasiel Puig will lead off the bottom of the 8th for the Dodgers.” The same Yasiel Puig who was hitting nearly .500 for the series and proven to be a thorn in the sides of the collective Braves pitching staff in games 1, 2, and 3. The onset of full scale armageddon is resting on the shoulders of the Atlanta Braves which, given playoff history for the Bravos, ain’t real good. Yasiel Puig has been in the major leagues for 3.5 months and doesn’t speak English. Somehow though, word got out to whatever island Puig grew up on that Atlanta isn’t meant for sports happiness and said to himself “Estamos jugando Atlanta. Que no se supone que ganar. Vamos a ganar!” (broken Spanish brought to you by the little I remember from 11th grade Spanish class) Then he doubled down the right field line. Of course. The next batter was Juan Uribe who was TRYING TO GIVE THE BRAVES AN OUT by sacrificing and bunting Puig over to 3rd base. Uribe couldn’t get the bunt down so with two strikes against him he said “the hell with it, I’ll swing away”. That’s when Charlie Leibrandt, I mean mark Wohlers, I mean David Carpenter got a fastball up and Uribe sent it soaring deep into the Los Angeles night giving the Dodgers a 4-3 lead. Of course, the Braves failure wouldn’t be altogether complete without an Upton (Justin or BJ, either will do) striking out with the game on the line and that’s what Justin did sending 54,000+ in Dodger blue to delirium and the whole of Braves fandom to consider the taste of new and improved Clorox. Atlanta is now 0-4 on the night and the worst night in the history of any city not named Pompeii or Chernobyl was complete.
I wonder sometimes how I’ve done it all these years. Carrying around love for sports teams that don’t love me back. Ultimate sports success in this city is elusive on RoadRunner vs. Wile E. Coyote-like levels. It is a tease. It’s the aroma of great food with no plate for you forthcoming. It’s a top of the line smartphone with no network or wifi connections (nope, not even roaming), and it’s the hot girl at the party who sits in your lap and flirts with you while thinking about another man sitting at the bar 20 feet away and knowing full well she has no intentions of letting you know what key she screams her orgasms in. But every year we rush back to the party where that girl will be there waving and opening her arms for a big hug before sitting in our laps and twirling her pretty long locks. She’s at the same party every year and so are we Atlanta fans. But maybe there’s hope for us, this city has risen from ashes before and we can do it again; we have the resilian….
Wait, what’s that? The Falcons’star receiver Julio Jones likely out for the season with a foot injury?? Aww, f*ck, never mind…