In 1968, the St. Louis Hawks moved to Atlanta. Since then, stars such as Pete Maravich, Dominique Wilkins, Dikembe Mutombo, Joe Johnson, and Al Horford have suited up for Atlanta. Yet, the Hawks have never advanced to the NBA finals since their arrival in Atlanta. Recently, the Hawks have been swept in back to back seasons by the Cavaliers in the playoffs to end the season in deflating fashion.
In 1972, Atlanta got its first NHL team, the Atlanta Flames. Even after moderate success for eight seasons, the Flames couldn’t draw a big home crowd. As a result, they were sold in 1980 and became the Calgary Flames. However, professional hockey returned to Atlanta in 1999 as the Atlanta Thrashers. The Thrashers made only one postseason trip in their entire tenure in Atlanta: the 2006-2007 season, only to be swept by the New York Rangers. As a result of lack of attendance, the team was also eventually sold, becoming the Winnipeg Jets. Atlanta remains without an NHL team to this day.
In 1966, Hank Aaron and the Milwaukee Braves moved to Atlanta. The eventual Home Run King electrified Atlanta, but the team failed to win a title with Aaron like they did in Milwaukee. However, media mogul Ted Turner acquired the Braves in 1976, giving the team a national fanbase by way of the Turner Broadcasting Station. Unfortunately, the Braves saw little success through the 80s, but Atlanta did get some stellar performances from players like Dale Murphy and Phil Niekro. Thankfully, the 90s were a different story. The Braves won their division from 1991-2004, advancing to the World Series in 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996, and 1999. Atlanta won it all in 1995, with help from the one of the best pitching lineups in MLB History, including John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux. Yet, after all the success in the 90s, Atlanta seemingly fell flat in the 2000s, going one and done in 8 of 9 playoff appearances from 2000 – 2013.
In 1966, Atlanta received the Falcons as an NFL expansion team. The franchise has been criticized as having little history, save for the legendary Grits Blitz defense of 1977 and the 1998 “Dirty Birds” that made a Super Bowl run. Further, the media has dismissed the 1998 team as a fluke because of the following 5-11 and 4-12 seasons. Later, Michael Vick was drafted and filled the Georgia Dome with roaring crowds. His electrifying runs and deep passes made the Falcons offense of the early 2000s a highlight machine. However, as everyone knows, his tenure with Atlanta did not end on good terms. The dogfighting story came out, he was arrested, and head coach Bobby Petrino left like a “gutless bastard.” But the Falcons were able to overcome that. Mike Smith was brought in as a solid replacement at head coach, and Matt Ryan was drafted as the new franchise quarterback. After several one and dones in the playoffs, the Falcons reached the NFC Championship in 2012, only to choke away a 17 point lead and fall to the 49ers. The loss hung around the Falcons like the albatross on the neck of the Ancient Mariner, as Atlanta went 4-12 and 6-10 in the following seasons. Injuries excused the 4-12 season away, but many coaching errors were exposed in the 6-10 season that could not be tolerated. Mike Smith was fired, and the future of the Falcons was in question.
As a city, we’ve seen superstars fall just short of the mark season after season. We’ve seen teams abandon us multiple times. We’ve seen coaches abandon us when things turned sour. We’ve seen careers wasted. We’ve seen sports commentators hound our city for being fairweather and unsupportive. We’ve seen only one championship for over fifty years of professional sports.
But this year, we’ve seen a team that everyone doubted and that no one believed in rally the city. In brotherhood, they silenced the critics and produced one of the greatest offenses in the history of the NFL. Matt Ryan put together an MVP caliber season after being criticized as the worst quarterback in his division, Vic Beasley lead the league in sacks after being called a bust, and Keanu Neal knocked opposing player’s lights out after being called a reach in the draft.
This Falcons team making a run to the Super Bowl is the chance to shut up the commentators. The chance to give Atlanta fans some pride when talking to fans from other cities. The chance to make all the voices lost screaming at the top of our lungs worth it.