At halftime of yesterday’s Falcons-Seahawks playoff game, I ran into Thomas Lake, former Atlanta magazine writer and now Sports Illustrated senior editor. The latest issue of SI has a great story by Tom about his unrequited love for the Falcons over the past twenty years, how the unflagging devotion he’s had for the team has ended, without exception, in disappointment. Would this year be different? When I saw him in the entryway of section 322, the Falcons were up 20-0, and had played as close to perfect football for thirty minutes as any fan could reasonably hope for. We both grinned.
Within ninety minutes, of course, I had keeled over into the stinking vat of self-pity that is never far from any fan of Atlanta professional sports. Tweets from my row high up near the roof, over the span of just a few minutes, include the following:
It’ll be a black Monday for mike smith if the falcons lose this one.
On second down on his own 31-yard-line, protecting a 13-point lead early in the fourth quarter, Matt Ryan throws deep left to Roddy White. The Seahawks intercept! And in just four plays, Russell Wilson leads the Seahawks to a touchdown. The Falcons are still up, but now only by six points.
With nine minutes to play in the game, Ryan goes three and out. An anemic Falcons punt puts the Seahawks at their own 40-yard-line—excellent field position. But the Falcons’ secondary hangs tough, forcing three consecutive incompletions. The Seahawks punt. So now Matty Ice has the ball, a six-point lead, and just over five minutes to play. A couple of first downs and this thing is over. Right? My next tweet:
Matt Ryan needs to step up.
Michael Turner, out of the limelight for so much of this season, rushes for twelve yards on the first play of the drive. That’s one first down. But then Jacquizz Rodgers is stymied twice, and Ryan fails to hit Roddy White on a short pass that, even if he’d caught it, wouldn’t have been enough for a first down. The Falcons have to punt again, and the Seahawks are again near their own 40-yard-line, with just three minutes left in regulation.
Matt Ryan has checked out. Not sure that’s a contract worth renewing.
Wilson and the Seahawks drive into Falcons’ territory with the inevitability of death, until Marshawn Lynch breaks through for a 24-yard gain, putting the Seahawks on the 3-yard-line. The touchdown is a formality. After the kick-off to Jacquizz Rodgers, in which he burns up something like six seconds getting to the Falcons’ 28-yard-line, there are now just thirty-one seconds left. In the game. In the season. In my reservoir of patience, which evidently is nowhere near as deep as Tom’s. Actually, no. My well is dry.
Fire them all, I tweet, trying to evoke Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.
On the bright side, I will be saving money next year by not renewing my falcons season tickets.
Well, we all know what happened next. In just eighteen seconds and two passes, Ryan moves the Falcons to within field goal range, and Matt Bryant wins it. Which led me to one more tweet:
The definition of needless drama.
Because here’s the thing. Much has been made of Matt Ryan’s last-second heroics, but what I’ve been having trouble wrestling with all along is why those last-second heroics are even necessary. It reminds me of the guy who leads you to a crisis so he can save you from it. Did we really need to get to that point? I mean, c’mon! We had a 20-point lead with barely a quarter left to play! Why do Atlanta teams insist on looking for ways to lose?
Later I called Tom to chat about the game. He wasn’t interested in my complaints. All that matters, he said, is the final score. Nothing more.
I wasn’t convinced. It seemed bizarre to me that what separated our elation from a citywide handwringing and a Falcons’ front-office housecleaning was a few feet of air between the football and the goalposts. When our $12 million-a-year quarterback could (should?) have kept us from that position in the first place. I’m just not sure, I said, that Matt Ryan would be on my list of go-to quarterbacks.
"Well," Tom said, "maybe he should be." (See Tom's profile of Matt Ryan here.)
I guess maybe he should. Then again, who cares about my list? At the end of the day I know as much about the intricacies of football as I do the physics of space flight. And, as if I needed further proof of that most obvious of facts, I came across an ESPN column from last October, urging the Falcons to negotiate now with Ryan to make him the highest-paid player in the NFL. (His contract runs through next season.) "Do it fast," Pat Yasinskas wrote. "Before his play drives up the price even more."
Whoops. Too late.
CODA aka SHORT VERSION: I showed this post to a colleague, who said: "Basically you're saying that the lollipop is that they won, but there's poop on the lollipop and it didn't taste good going down."
To which I said: "Something like that. More like, the lollipop almost made us choke to death, but after the Heimlich (performed by the lollipop manufacturer), it tasted great!"