The Despondent Nature of Sports in Atlanta 

I leave my AP Environmental Science homework and go downstairs to find that my dad and sister are still glued to the TV as they have been for hours. My sister has been recently indoctrinated by fantasy football as another way for her to feed her competitive nature. The Bears trail the Falcons by 10. We joke about the Falcons blowing their lead as they always seem to do and share a good round of laughs. Twenty minutes later my father abruptly turns off the TV and retreats to his office to be alone with his emotions as the Falcons have blown their double-digit lead once again. This is the painful game that sports fans in the state of Georgia play: whether or not to believe in a team that repeatedly lets them down.

My first serious Falcons-caused heartbreak happened in the eighth grade. The 2017 Super Bowl. The whole country seemed to be rooting for the Falcons. It’s one thing to upset your loyal fan base, but the whole country? The underdogs had the Patriots trailing the whole game, promising the win of the century. Until the fourth quarter, when the Falcons gave up a touchdown and the Patriots came back to win the game. This inspired the Falcons’ habit of “choking.” This season, the loss in the 2017 Super Bowl has been mentioned in all of the broadcasts of the Falcons’ 2020 season. The Falcons will never live it down as long as they continue the same behavior. So why do Atlantans continue to root for them?

The problem with the Falcons is that all the right pieces are there for them to win. Matt Ryan continuously proves his athletic capabilities when he leads drives resulting in advancements or even a score. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are two of the best receivers in the league. Yet, the team cannot put the pieces together. 

Against the Packers, Ridley, who averages around 20 yards per play, averaged zero while being on the line up for the majority of the game. Ryan threw for three plays that resulted in the grounding of the ball. That’s what makes watching the games so heartbreaking. They could pull through, but they just don’t. At the same time, when the third quarter rolls around, all bets are off as to if they are going to completely blow their lead or not. Leaving those games disappointed is no longer a rare occurrence, it’s routine. Still, there’s not much else to root for in Atlanta.

We shouldn’t even talk about the Hawks, one of four teams to not even make the playoffs this year. Their failure is not as sharp a blow anymore as they have not made the playoffs since 2017. I cannot even speak on the specifics of the Hawks gameplay with much certainty, as my family members refuse to watch their games. My father, who has lived in Atlanta his whole life and had season tickets to the Hawks in the 2000s, refuses to even look at their scores anymore.

We had a short reprieve with Atlanta United. The new soccer team started out its run with a bang, winning the MLS cup four years into their charter. Many people flocked to the team as the players were some of the best in the league and provided a new sensation for many Atlanta sports fans: winning. My father even tuned in. Following a sport he knew nothing about made him happier than having to watch the Falcons lose yet again. It seemed like there was a new sport for everyone to come together and enjoy, but all good things must come to an end, as many of United’s best players have moved on and their record is on the decline.

Don’t even get me started on our not one, but two failed hockey teams. The departure of both teams was just a problem of circumstance and corporate squabbles. The Atlanta Flames left for Canada in the 1980s as hockey could not pick up as much steam in the south, where not many people played. Later, hockey was on the rise in the 1990s, due to fan-favorite players like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, spawning an expansion of the NHL and the return of hockey to Atlanta. But like the first attempt, the people who enjoyed watching hockey were not buying tickets, and eventually the franchise was sold to Winnipeg. The feeling of disappointment was not a new one for Georgia sports fans– it seems like the state is cursed sports-wise. All the right things are there, but they work in all the wrong ways.  

College teams and the Braves are a little different. The University of Georgia football team provides an alternative route for sports enthusiasts. People who have no connection to the school are able to root for them like they are a pro team. Their Rose Bowl win in 2018 was one of the best college games that season, attracting many Atlanta residents to root for them in their most recent national championship appearance. Watching them be crushed by the University of Alabama returned that familiar feeling of disappointment. 

The Braves, I will argue, are the light in the dark tunnel that is sports in the state of Georgia. Dansby Swanson, Ronald Acuña, and Ozzie Albies are some of the best players in the league, and their win last year in the National League East championships provided a short reprieve from the hopelessness of rooting for Atlanta sports teams. They have also found much success this postseason with heroic performances by rookie pitcher Ian Anderson, in addition to production from more experienced players like Acuña and Freddie Freeman. 

The problem with sports in Atlanta is not that they are bad– Atlanta sports teams actually have some of the best talent in their respective leagues. However, they tend to blow leads at the worst possible time in the game. They get your hopes up and then crash and burn. 

Will I continue to watch every single Falcons game thinking that they will win with a double-digit lead at half time? Yes. But will I also watch as they inevitably blow the lead and loose? Most likely. It’s hard not to root for them when they seem poised for success, but disappointment is always a nagging side effect.