ATLANTA — At last. At. Freaking. Last.
Red, white and black confetti swirled throughout the Georgia Dome on Sunday night, a fitting sendoff for the final game in the 25-year-old arena. The Atlanta Falcons and their tens of thousands of fans – some in suspiciously new-looking jerseys, but we’ll let that ride — celebrated the team’s first Super Bowl berth in a generation. Quarterback Matt Ryan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan embraced. Kicker Matt Bryant’s family searched for him by holding up a gargantuan poster of his head.
Falcon after Falcon sporting NFC Champion hats and T-shirts embraced with the force of bighorn rams colliding. Up on the makeshift podium, team owner Arthur Blank danced the deliriously dorky dance of a proud father at a wedding, the promise he made to this town 15 years ago finally fulfilled.
Usher floated around the edges of the crowd on the field, sporting a grin and a Keanu Neal jersey. The Hawks’ Dwight Howard towered over the throng, his smile wider than the Falcons’ margin of victory over Green Bay. Samuel L. Jackson, Nick Fury his ownself, laughed like only a righteous fan can. Champion golfer and Olympic medalist Matt Kuchar was here somewhere, maybe the only man in the arena wearing Skechers. And all around them were the Atlanta fans who had waited so. Damn. Long. for this moment. We’ll spend the next two weeks breaking down every conceivable angle of the Super Bowl, but for now, let’s revel in the afterglow of the party.
It’s impossible for fans of more decorated cities – like Boston, which we’ll get to in a bit – to fully grasp the euphoria that comes with a triumph like the Falcons experienced on Sunday. This is a town that is an astonishing 1-for-167 in championships across all the seasons of all four major sports. (That lone win was the Atlanta Braves, way back in 1995.) This is a town that all too often has to rely on “yeah, buts” when explaining away its astonishing dearth of championships:
Yeah, but the Braves have more division championships than any franchise in sports …
Yeah, but we’re really more college football fans anyway …
Yeah, but we have beautiful weather 51 weeks a year …
Trust us, we know how flimsy each of those excuses sounds. (The weather is gorgeous, though.)
This is also a half-century-old football team that didn’t put together consecutive winning seasons until 2009. This is a team that reached its lone prior Super Bowl only on the unluckiest of breaks to a vastly superior Minnesota Vikings squad. This is a team that then played that Super Bowl under the cloud of its team leader getting busted for solicitation hours after winning a Man of the Year award. This is a team that saw one of its two iconic athletes depart in a cloud of dust en route to the hated San Francisco 49ers and then the Dallas Cowboys, and its other depart in handcuffs en route to prison.
But this year feels different in so many ways. This year feels like a revelation, a culmination. At long last, everything, from the “is-he-elite?” quarterback to the franchise-pivoting wide receiver to the scattering-spiders offensive attack is working exactly as the Falcons’ braintrust promised it would. The Falcons didn’t just defeat two of the NFL’s most august franchises over the past two weeks; it dismantled them, plucked them apart at will from every angle. This team is unlike any football team this town has ever seen, a force of nature Atlanta hasn’t seen since the mid-1990s Braves.
The hapless Chicago Cubs and the perpetual loserdom of Cleveland are reigning champions, so why couldn’t Atlanta win it all? The Falcons have earned the shot, and the city deserves it.
Which brings us to the Falcons’ opponents: the New England Patriots and the city of Boston. The yapping has already begun from up Fenway way about how the Falcons aren’t a worthy opponent for the exalted Patriots. It’s straight-up trolling, sure, but every once in awhile you need to wade into the muck and separate the alternative facts from the gospel truth.
Now, we could say “I’m drunk. I’m stupid. I’m a Pats fan” is a triple redundancy, but let’s stick with objective reality. Chick Fil-A and Waffle House are better than Dunkin Donuts. OutKast is better than Aerosmith. Pork barbecue is better than clam chowder. Sweetwater is better than Sam Adams. “Atlanta,” the TV show, is better than every Wahlberg’s career output combined.
Sure, Boston has armloads of championship trophies. We respect that haul. Of course, we’d respect it a lot more if Boston mouthpieces didn’t bleat about said championships at every opportunity. (For the record, Boston, we think Brady got shafted in deflate-gate, and we were pulling for the Red Sox back in ’04, but y’all are impossible to love for very long.)
So, to wrap: we see you, Boston. We know what you’re hiding behind all that bluster and attitude. You’ll never be as lovely as Atlanta in the springtime. You’ll never be as effortlessly cool as Austin, as star-laden as South Beach, as tough as Philly. No matter how many rings you win, Boston, you’ll never be New York.
We’ve got a hell of a Super Bowl ahead, and if Boston fans aren’t nervous, they ought to be. Tom Brady, for one, isn’t brushing off Atlanta; just hours after beating Pittsburgh, he was up late Sunday night studying the Falcons’ roster. He knows the magnitude of the challenge he’s about to face, and in two Sundays, Boston will too. Atlanta’s been waiting 50 years for this moment.
See y’all in Houston.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.