I was slow to warm to the show The Walking Dead initially. It seemed nothing more than an honorable band of individuals exhibiting feats of bravery and brutality while staving off the flesh-thirsty zombie horde out to make a meal of their arms, legs, or whatever other body parts their rapidly rotting molars could sink into. The show was about 3.5 seasons when I started watching and it wasn’t long before I was a fan of the show, not a hardcore fanatic – I’m not online the moment an episode ends looking for theories nor am I in the bookstores sitting cross legged in the aisles flipping through every TWD graphic novel – but a fan nonetheless. As a person that needs to have things ironed out and tied up in a nice little bow in the shows I watch, the main issue that I have with the show is that I have no idea of the origin of the show’s apocalypse, dude just woke up one day and the country was just overrun with these things out and eat and maim. For years this bothered me, even as I watched and enjoyed the twists and turns of the show, I needed to know where this virus, this plague, originated. Little did I know that the origin story was aired on Fox last Sunday night ahead of the TWD midseason premiere coming up on the February 12th.
We don’t know what year the zombies started doing their zombie thing but I’m thinking if TWD is true events, and I’m here to say that it is, we recently hit zero hour. I’ve lived in Atlanta and been an Atlanta sports fan since I was a child so The Walking Dead being featured and set here in the city of Atlanta should have been an origin story giveaway. Citizens of Atlanta that are tied to the teams housed in this city have been privy to some of the most gut-wrenching, heart wringing, agony etched in the innermost parts of your brain with a dull letter opener type losses in the annals of sport. Other cities, New York, Dallas, Boston (ugh!), Los Angeles, Chicago, for instance have story after story after incredible story of success that are told over dinner and boardroom tables. Mark Messier promising and delivering a Stanley Cup to NYC. The Cowboys running roughshod over the NFL high on coke and still sticky from Metroplex-area hookers. The Celtics, Bobby Orr, and the Red (bloody) Sox. Magic, Kareem, and James Worthy. And fadeaway jumper after fadeaway jumper, even with the occasional push off, from Michael Jordan in Chicago. These are happy memories, the kind that a father on his deathbed can recall with his son just before he goes on to Glory with the family surrounding him:
“We’ll always have Magic playing center against Philly in the NBA Finals won’t we, Timmy?”
“Yeah, Pop. We will.”
*father flashes faint smile at son, closes his eyes and passes away* [end scene]
There are no such stories here in Atlanta. You don’t tell Atlanta sports stories happily as final tales on a loved ones deathbed, you tell Atlanta sports stories to send them there. The only similarity is that the horrific memories are just as vivid as the happy ones described above. In my decades on the planet here’s a sampling of the cinema of grotesque I have knifing through my brain:
Isaiah Thomas scoring the winning basket and doing a victory dance in the lane while John Battle futilely attempts to call timeout during the 1987 Playoffs.
The Braves up 2 games to 1 and leading 6-3 in the game and well on their way to a commanding 3-1 lead in the 1996 World Series. Jim Leyritz comes to the plate with 2 on and 1 out and this happens.
The Braves lose the game 8-6 and the 1996 World Series four games to two
I’ve seen Atlanta lose not one, but TWO hockey franchises. First, the Flames in 1980 after owner Tom Cousins was forced to sell the team to avoid personal bankruptcy. Right on cue, they moved to Calgary and had immediate success and went on to win the Stanley Cup in 1989…of course. Then Atlanta lost the Thrashers in 2011 after the comedic ownership group, The Atlanta Spirit Group, sold the team after 12 Three Stooges-like years of ownership. They now reside in Winnipeg renamed the “Jets” and I pray nightly that they never win anything of significance and the people in that town never have hockey happiness. I’m petty but I own it.The Canadian snowbunny bastards even devised a “Thank You Atlanta” game or something showing gratitude for us losing teams for their benefit.
The Hawks got good again recently and even got so bold as to win 60 games two seasons ago only to face LeBron James in the NBA Finals and get swept 4 games to 0, then for an encore got swept again the next season by the same team.
And providing the bookends to this Vincent Price narrated slasher flick are two of the worst losses in the history of not only Atlanta sports, but in all of sports period, both provided by the Atlanta Falcons. The first was in January 1981, the Birds were in great shape up 27-17 with a little over 6 minutes to play in the NFC Divisional playoff game, then Drew Pearson caught one touchdown, then another with 1 minute and change left in the game to win 30-27 and rip the collective souls out of the city. And just when I thought my sports fandom couldn’t get mired in the swamp of life any deeper Super Bowl 51 happened. Blowing a 25 point lead to lose the Super Bowl to the New England Evil Empire in overtime was the spoiled cherry on top of Atlanta’s sports Shit Sundae.
And that’s where The Walking Dead origin story comes into play…
Imagine you’re me. You’ve seen all of this starting from the Falcons debacle in 1981, you’ve seen Cliff Levingston’s failed left handed hook with Game 6 vs. the Celtics on the line. You’ve seen Kirby Puckett, Robbie Alomar Jr, and an Infield Fly rule ruin the Braves. You’ve seen the Thrashers’ star hockey player and league rookie of the year wrap his Ferrari around a wrought iron fence in Buckhead which killed his passenger and teammate. You’ve seen Dominique Wilkins traded to the Clippers for Danny freakin’ Manning.You’ve seen Warren Sapp, a defensive tackle for Tampa Bay, score a touchdown and then do this in the Georgia Dome…
For Christ’s sake, you’ve seen a championship parade in Cleveland, the one city you tried to convince yourself you were better than; and another for the damn Chicago Cubs, the team EVERYONE in EVERY sport thought their team would get a ring ahead of. And with every one of these instances, every embarrassing loss, every mean spirited ESPN quip during SportsCenter aimed at the city, every vision of opposing teams celebrating playoff series victory on your home field/court:
The Astros, Bulls, Cubs, Pistons, 49ers, Blue Jays, Marlins, Cavaliers, Pacers, et al…
And then the ultimate middle finger, a Super Bowl you once lead by a whopping 25 points, one quarter away from sending the city into DEFCON-1 delirium and converting every ATL radio station from Classical to Jazz to Gospel into a 24-hour All Trap Music format for at least a week, dramatically morphs into an inexplicable overtime loss to the aforementioned Evil Empire from Boston.
Think after the sum of all that tragedy you wouldn’t want to up and bite a muhfucka? Huh?
After the game last Sunday I remember walking outside and just standing in the yard. It was cold and a little foggy out, looked a little like the Thriller video set, but even as I stood in the damp grass wearing a pair of long white basketball shorts and a Matt Ryan jersey I didn’t feel the cold, couldn’t process the neighbor’s dog barking in the distance, I just stood in the yard numb. My best friend who watched the game with me and my family exited the house, looked in my direction but said nothing, and just walked away slowly up the street in the cold. Across the street, the neighbor walked out of his home stood on his front step and just screamed, a guttural roar that could only come from having, only half an hour prior, visualized himself and his child at a Falcons Championship parade on Peachtree Street then having that exultant, victorious possibility brutally ripped away by a snarling shadowy beast in a #12 jersey.
In 5 minutes’ time there were grown men up and down the street, milling around in their yards and driveways, eyes likely glassed over, souls unraveled from the rest of their bodies and that’s when I knew this is how the Zombie Apocalypse began. The thousands upon thousands of Atlanta fans (and don’t believe the media hype, there are people that are passionate ATL fans across the board), especially those in the 30-45 age group who have experienced the aggregate mental effect of this town’s sports brutality, are Patient Zero. It started Super Bowl Sunday. My best friend finally ambled back to the house about 10 minutes after he disappeared up the street. Who knows who he bit or scratched? I fully expect my neighbor across the street, driven by Falcon-fueled angst, at least nibbled on one of his family members. No one spoke on Monday after the game, people just shuffled their way to work, assuming they made it in at all, and if they did make it in they half assed it because half their brain had been eaten away by the 4th Quarter from Hell’s Bowels. The weather was better Tuesday but people were still grunting at one another and shuddering from flashbacks. Personally, I didn’t speak a complete sentence until midday Wednesday, I wish I were exaggerating.
The impetus of the Walking Dead Apocalypse and the story origin I was looking for was right in front of me all the time: The Hawks, Braves, Falcons, Flames, Thrashers, and, hell, probably the early 80’s NASL Atlanta Chiefs. Should you be out in the city and see a slightly disheveled man or woman in Falcons gear do not engage them. They’ve been wandering aimlessly since Sunday night likely muttering “25….25….25” to themselves. The worst has passed for now but be forewarned, the Hawks are due to make the playoffs again in late April, Atlanta’s new MLS team starts play March 30th, and the Falcons will be back up and running in August. Just to be on the safe side, I would steer clear of Northside and Centennial Park Drives for the foreseeable future. I hear zombies will be shuffling out of Philips Arena and a brand new billion dollar Zombie creating laboratory in the coming months. You would be wise to start gathering supplies, or buddying up to that Negan guy early.
~Thanks for reading