After decades of disappointment fans finally believe in ATL

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After decades of disappointment fans finally believe in ATL

Postby Pudge » Sat Jan 19, 2013 11:46 am ... 24710.html

Broken city: After decades of disappointment, Atlanta's fanbase finally believing in Falcons
By Jay Busbee | Yahoo! Sports – 23 hours ago

ATLANTA – With one of the defining games in Atlanta's history only days away, there's a shirt making the rounds in Atlanta that sums up the city's mood effectively enough. It's a stark black-and-white picture of local product Samuel L. Jackson as Jules from "Pulp Fiction," with Afro and huge pistol at the ready. Bracketing Jules are three words. "Rise up," the Falcons' 2012 motto, are two. The third? Well, it starts with an "M," it's got 12 letters, and the mid-word "F" is a Falcons logo.
Yep. Rise up, mother... At long last. With the 49ers at the door and possible citywide affirmation just beyond, that's where Atlanta's at right now.

The city of Atlanta is beginning to believe in Matt Ryan, left, Jason Snelling and the Falcons. (Getty Images)
To understand how Atlanta is approaching this Falcons game, you have to have an appreciation for where this city's been. Long derided as one of the worst sports towns in America, Atlanta fans have more reason than you can imagine for not showing up to playoff games, for not out-shouting the opposition, for giving up and going home in the seventh inning. In 154 professional seasons across baseball, football, basketball and hockey (twice), Atlanta has exactly one championship: the 1995 Braves.
One. ONE. That in itself is enough for Atlanta fans to be skeptical. One hundred fifty-three times bitten, 154th time shy, you know. But what's been worse is the heartbreaking, fan-devastating way Atlanta's lost out on championships, or even opportunities for championships.
"This is one of the most fragile fanbases, mentally, in the country," says John Kincade, who hosts a sports talk show on Atlanta's 680 The Fan. "Not just the Falcons, Atlanta as a whole. There's a dark cloud, an insecurity, a feeling that the national media doesn't love us. Every time the fans have bought in, Lucy has moved the football. It's scarred this community."
The Braves story, you already know. Over a decade and a half, they reached the postseason every single year and came away with exactly one championship, brought low by a different villain every time: Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield, Jim Leyritz, and so on. They've squandered chances like no team in sports history.
[Infographic: Did Spygate really help the consistent Patriots?]
The Hawks had the misfortune to have one of the best players of the '80s in Dominique Wilkins playing at the exact same time as one of the best players in history in Larry Bird. The Flames and Thrashers played hockey in a town that, transplants aside, honestly couldn't care less about hockey.
So it falls to the Falcons, who have their own history of astonishing collapse. They've surrendered in-game playoff leads to the 1980 Dallas Cowboys and the 2010 Green Bay Packers. The night before their lone Super Bowl appearance, their moral and spiritual leader, Eugene Robinson, was caught soliciting an undercover cop for sex. One of their two most electrifying players ever, Michael Vick, broke his leg just as he was becoming a superstar, and then had a little problem with dogs come to light. Last year's team couldn't even manage a single offensive point in the postseason, the third straight playoff loss in the Matt Ryan-Mike Smith era.
You see what we're dealing with here. This is a town that doesn't just expect to lose, it's certain of it. So as Russell Wilson led the Seahawks from a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter of last week's divisional playoffs, the prevailing emotion wasn't, "How can this be happening?" but "Of course."
"There's an entire generation of fans here who has no reason to believe good actually happens in Atlanta," says Chris Dimino, sports talk host on Atlanta's 790 The Zone. "There's a bona-fide beat-up factor here. The transplants have their own teams to root for. This win galvanized the long-time Atlanta fans."
So with that in mind, the fact that the Falcons won means that, for this week at least, Atlanta is playing with house money.
"Last week, it was relatively quiet on the phones," Kincade says. "Not in terms of volume, but people were cautious. The doubting Thomases were front and center."
"There was trepidation," Dimino agrees. "People wanted to buy in. But the sins of the father, the sins of the self with that 0-3 history [under Smith] – people wanted to get that one win under their belt."
You see where we're headed here. For the rest of the country, the Atlanta-Seattle game was just a batcrap-crazy playoff. For Atlanta, it was a defining moment. A short (very short) list of great Atlanta sports games would probably run something like this:
1. 1995 World Series, Game 6: Tom Glavine pitches Atlanta to its only world championship.
2. 1999 NFC Championship: Atlanta defeats the 15-1 Vikings to reach its only Super Bowl.
3. 2013 NFC divisional playoffs: First playoff win in nine years.
4. 1992 NL Championship Series: Francisco Cabrera's two-out, bottom-of-the-ninth miracle to defeat the Pirates.
You could throw in the Braves' division-clinching game from 1991 (the worst-to-first year), Hank Aaron's 715th home run in 1974, the Falcons' 2003 playoff win at Lambeau Field … and not much else. The list of gut-punch losses runs far longer.
So how do Atlanta fans keep coming back, albeit in not exactly sellout numbers? For starters, it's a lot easier to be a fan when fandom isn't all you've got. "We expect to lose, but if we lose, there's mitigation," says Larry Wachs of Rock 100.5's The Regular Guys Show, which brought the Sam Jackson T-shirt to the city's consciousness. "It's a nice area here. In New York, I get it: in the winter, it's tough sledding, it's depressing, there's no quiet, you're stuck indoors with your asshat family. Here, when the Super Bowl's over, you've got about three weeks and you're out in the sun."
"At least we ain't Cleveland," Dimino adds. "We've had one parade." (Three, technically: The 1991 Braves and 1998 Falcons got parades for their losses. But you get the point.)
[Infographic: Bruce Arians accepts head coaching position with Arizona Cardinals]
Still, it's normal enough for Atlanta's pro sports fans to want more, particularly as they see the many college football fans in their ranks revel in seven straight SEC national championships. Thus it's impossible to overstate the importance of the Falcons' win over Seattle. Had Atlanta tripped once again on their first steps onto the red carpet, the Falcons would have lost the faith of a huge swath of their fanbase. Confidence in Smith, Ryan, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and even owner Arthur Blank would have vanished. Blank's goals of getting a new stadium off the ground in the coming years would have taken a huge hit.
Now, though? Now, with just one kick, the Falcons have bought themselves some more time, and perhaps much more than that.

Falcons fans are shaking off decades of disappointment. (Getty Images)
"If the Falcons were to win a Super Bowl, they could harvest an entire generation of children who would grow up to be season ticket-holders," Kincade says. "Atlanta loves nothing more than to jump on a bandwagon, whether it's a new restaurant, a new bar, or a sports team. There's really a golden opportunity at hand here."
"[49ers QB Colin] Kaepernick can be had," says Wachs. "He's had a couple good games, and he runs like a gazelle. But he said this week that he looks up to Vince Young and Mike Vick. Who does that?"
"San Francisco has a better roster, sure," Dimino says. "But people are rearing up against the media and the perception that the 49ers are going to walk over Atlanta. There's almost a calmness, a peace – 'Say what you want. Line 'em up at 3 p.m. Sunday, and we'll see who's talking at 6:30.'"
Rise up, y'all.
"Vincere scis, Hannibal, victoria uti nescis" -- Maharbal, 216 B.C.E.

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Re: After decades of disappointment fans finally believe in

Postby fun gus » Sun Jan 20, 2013 8:01 am ... n-who.html


The man who has witnessed more Atlanta Falcons games than anyone on Earth can see them no more.

Oh, he can watch them a little when he scooches his leather easy chair within a couple of feet of the big screen in his apartment at Macon’s Pinegate retirement home.

But the players are blurs from his perch in the stands, 32 rows up on the 50-yard line, where Joe Curtis has seen more Falcons home games than any human being.

His blue eyes don’t work like they used to. Like they did in the late 1930s when he was a basketball player at Indiana State University, setting a free-throw mark that, as he recalls it, stood until a fellow named Larry Bird came along. Or the way they did when he was piloting P-47 Thunderbolts in World War II. Or, say, when he was checking out Miss West Virginia and, later, Miss Oklahoma, escorting them to military balls.

Since Atlanta first fielded a team in 1966, the Falcons have played 738 games. Curtis has attended 553 of them -- all 367 home games in the team’s history, and 182 on the road. (That’s not counting preseason home games. He’s been to every last one of them, too, including one in Japan.)

For him, going to games ceased being about a fanatical streak ages ago. “It’s in my blood,” he says. It is no longer a question of if he will get out of bed Sunday mornings and make an hour-and-change pilgrimage that predates Interstate 75. It’s a matter of what time he’ll depart. He prefers 10 a.m. -- after some oatmeal and a banana.

His is a quest for the NFL zealot’s ultimate bragging right, one that has proven elusive for him and the rest of Atlanta’s pro-football flock.

After all the wrinkling campaigns, nearly half a century of crumpled hope, what he seeks is an Atlanta Super Bowl triumph, something to wash away 413 losses, 29 losing years, decades of empty seats, and punts -- all those punts.

But 94-year-old Joe Curtis is running out of seasons.

* * *

It is no stretch to suggest that the Falcons have had a hand in keeping Curtis alive. When you think about it, he has done the same for them.

Curtis has been there for the Falcons when few others have.

He has spent upwards of $500,000 on tickets and travel. The preseason trip to Tokyo in 2000, where he was the lone Falcons fan, set him back $2,500.

At the final game of the 1989 season, a home loss to Detroit, he was one of 7,792 in the house. The place held 60,000.

“I think there were really only about 2,000 there,” Curtis says.

When he dies, his most trusted friend, Atlanta’s former all-pro center Jeff Van Note, a Falcon for 18 seasons -- longer than anyone else -- will be executor of his estate.

“I think we all try to hang our hat on some things in life,” Van Note says. “The obvious ones are family, friends, your religion, your faith. But then there are things that you find interest in that maybe fill the down time.”

He says Curtis, who grew up in Indiana, is “the greatest sportsman I know.”

Curtis’ basketball coach at Indiana State, Glenn Curtis -- no relation -- had been UCLA legend John Wooden’s high school coach.

Curtis, or “Col. Joe,” as most everyone calls him, was an Air Force colonel. He flew missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The day he was stationed at Robins in the mid-’60s, he bought 10 Falcons season tickets. And he never stopped buying them.

He has been to 20 Super Bowls. He made it to every Indianapolis 500 and Masters golf tournament for half a century. In 1974, Curtis was in the crowd the night Henry Aaron belted home run No. 715 to break Babe Ruth’s record. It was the only Braves game Curtis has ever attended.

He was a vocal member of Arnold Palmer’s “army.” A 1996 USA Today story from Augusta noted Curtis’ “ear-splitting,” “Give ’em hell, Arnie.” Curtis befriended Palmer and his late wife, Winnie, and visited them yearly in Florida.

“I think that was one of the great joys of his life,” Van Note says, “to attend sporting events to get to know people.”

Curtis once arm wrestled then-rookie Brett Favre at Falcons training camp. He used to chat up Deion Sanders before games. He was pals with more coaches than most fans can remember. He knew original owner Rankin Smith. He sometimes calls current honcho Arthur Blank to congratulate him on wins.

He used to fly on the team charter to away games. He endeared himself to the players on those trips. When games ended, he’d be outside the stadium with a grocery buggy full of iced-down beer. “Players would grab as many as they could before the bus left,” Curtis recalls.

He bought New Orleans season tickets for more than three decades, until he couldn’t travel anymore, just so he’d have a seat when the Falcons played the hated Saints at the Superdome.

At Falcons home games, his seats have always been behind the visiting team’s bench. People wonder why he doesn’t sit on Atlanta’s side.

“Hell,” he tells them, “I don’t want to watch their hind ends. I want to see the front of them.”

* * *

It was freezing. The sun wasn’t up yet. The line seemed to stretch around Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. It was late December 1980. I was 12. I’d ridden up from Perry with my cousin Steve to buy tickets to the Falcons-Cowboys playoff game.

The game was but the third postseason tilt in Falcons history. You had to have a ticket just to get in line to buy tickets. We left, ticketless. I remember stepping on a doughnut someone had dropped. It was so cold the doughnut crunched.

It’d be a better story if someone had seen my disappointment and come to the rescue.

But they didn’t. That’s the icy truth of Falcondom, or it was. There were no Band-Aids back then, just another crop of promising, high-dollar draft picks who rarely panned out.

My cousin, who was 24 and could chunk a football farther than anyone I knew, had turned me on to the Falcons a year or so earlier. Before then I’d rooted for the Dallas Cowboys.

I had a Cowboys book satchel, a ring with their logo on it, team pajamas. The Cowboys always seemed to be on TV back then. They had style. I was a sucker. I fell for the flash. I didn’t know any better. As a boy you don’t understand regional allegiances or the agonies that can accompany them. You know zip about the joys of savoring long-awaited success.

The first NFL game I ever saw was an Atlanta-Dallas matchup in 1976. I got tickets for my 8th birthday. My parents took me, but we only had two tickets. When we couldn’t find a third, my mom ended up watching from the lobby of a nearby motel.

The Falcons won 17-10 and I cried on the way home.

Within two years, Atlanta was in the playoffs for the first time and I was in the Falcon fold.

Steve Bartkowski, Atlanta’s cannon-armed quarterback, could heave the deep ball, the bomb. When you’re 10, the bomb is better than girls; the long spiral more thrilling than a first kiss, but only because you don’t know about kisses yet.

I came to despise other teams, especially ones that didn’t lose as much as the Falcons.

On Sundays when I was in junior high, I’d ride around Warner Robins on my bicycle with a couple of buddies. One had a radio bungeed to his handlebars. We listened to the Falcons as we made the rounds: Dry Lake Park, Kmart, the Houston Mall, Western Sizzlin’ steak house.

I’d imitate Falcons play-by-play guys Brad Nessler and Steve Holman.

I perfected Nessler’s going-to-commercial-break line, “Back in a moment on the Falcons Football Network,” which he could spout in about 2 seconds.

My buddies and I were at the Krystal on Watson Boulevard one Sunday afternoon in September 1981. The Niners were down 24-10 in the third quarter, but quarterback Joe Montana had them driving. He threw into the end zone. Atlanta safety Tom Pridemore swooped in, intercepted the pass and rambled 101 yards for a Falcons touchdown. For years after that, my friend Paul and I would re-enact the radio call, howling, “Tom PRIDE-MORE! ... Ho-ohhhhhh!”

The victory was the team’s third in a row to start the 1981 season. But the Falcons would win just four more times that year.

In 1986, the Birds started 4-0. I taped a Falcons pennant to the hatchback window of my ’77 Pinto. Atlanta missed the playoffs.

After I started working for The Telegraph in the 1990s, aside from covering the police beat, I wrote a weekly sports column. I always referred to the Falcons -- even during their Super Bowl run in 1998 -- as the “Foulcons.”

Luckily, Joe Curtis didn’t read my column.

I met him in 2005 when I did a fan piece previewing the season opener, a Monday-nighter against Philadelphia, a rematch of the previous season’s NFC Championship. I asked him how hard it was to root for a team so blighted that it had never managed to string together back-to-back winning seasons.

“My hopes,” he’d said, “have been up and down so many times that everybody says to me, ‘How in the hell have you stayed with them this long?’”

He couldn’t come up with a good answer. At least not one that made much sense, not after enduring that much losing.

He still can’t explain his devotion.

I can’t either, and I’ve been driving him to games since 2006.

* * *

Curtis is the nearest thing the long-trampled franchise has to spectating royalty.

Women stop by his seat on Aisle 136 and plant smooches on his cheek.

On Sundays, he shakes more hands than a Baptist preacher.

Fans buy him beers, but these days he is more likely to sip a vanilla Ensure.

Now that his vision is fading -- he says “very depressing” macular degeneration has him blind in one eye and nearly blind in the other -- he tunes in to Falcons radio broadcasts on a headset.

Riding up to the Georgia Dome last season for the Saints game, he gazed out the windshield of his Nissan Titan and noticed the moon, still out late morning. “It’s funny,” he said, “I can see the moon that far away, but I can’t see the players on the field.”

In seven seasons, I’ve never heard him talk trash at games. He hardly reacts to disastrous plays or bad breaks. He has been conditioned by disaster.

The closest he comes to bad-mouthing the team is when, every other game or so, he unleashes his best Vince Lombardi bark: “What the hell’s goin’ on out here!”

His black walking cane has a spaniel carved in its handle. Curtis calls the dog “Sport,” and during games pets him for luck. He even has me doing it.

The Falcons are 68-48 since I started driving him, so maybe it works.

We’ve spent hours together on the interstate. I’ve asked all about him -- his flying days, his ball-playing days in college, his eons as a Falcons fan. I’ve never asked how he affords to go to so many sporting events. I figure it’s none of my business.

His wife died in 2007. He never had children.

“I know that I’m getting near the end of my life,” he says, “and football and the Falcons have been a very important part of it. I never could’ve imagined this little kid from Valparaiso, Indiana, attending all those games.”

On a recent morning at Pinegate, in a private dining room, he mentions that he’s been having nightmares.

“Terrible, ugly ones. Things from the past,” he tells me. “Nothing about football, though.”

He thinks it might be his medicine.

Then he changes the subject.

He wants to know what time we’re going to the big game in Atlanta, the first NFC title bout to be settled on Georgia soil.

We decide on 11 a.m. for the 3 o’clock kickoff. It is a high-stakes showdown -- at home, no less -- that Curtis has dreamt of since LBJ was president.

He sees me to the door, padding along behind his wheeled walker. The walker is red with Falcons stickers on it.

As I’m leaving, he says, “I pray that I’ll live until Sunday.”

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Re: After decades of disappointment fans finally believe in

Postby Nuccah » Sun Jan 20, 2013 9:10 am

I am shaking just waiting for kickoff..

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Re: After decades of disappointment fans finally believe in

Postby samedi » Sun Jan 20, 2013 9:28 am

Following a team is about so much more than championships.

Great article, Fun.

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Re: After decades of disappointment fans finally believe in

Postby Spanky Ham » Sun Jan 20, 2013 12:06 pm

I enjoyed the article about Curtis as well. After watching Fringe, this guy kind of reminded me of that show. I am probably reading a little to much into that, but I am still a little sad by the ending of Fringe. Now, the Falcons can remove that feeling with a win. :D

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