The day is finally here. Today, the NFL season starts. It’s been a long, slow, dragging offseason. At least that’s how it feels after a season like Atlanta had last year. They pulled out an improbable amount of game-saving wins. They beat the odds so many times and when it came to 4th and only a couple yards to go to the Super Bowl, they just barely came up short. The entire season came crashing down and it pulled on the hearts of excited fans all across the southeast.
But the loss was not without a glimmer of sunshine. Even the darkest of clouds that loomed over heads of bitter fans had a silver lining. As Marty Schottenheimer may have said: There was a gleam.
The Falcons have a safe home nestled in the heart of Atlanta, but the rest of Georgia has other things on their mind. Many pay more attention to Braves Baseball but almost the entire state belongs to the UGA Bulldogs. The south loves college football, that’s no surprise, but UGA owns the loyalty of football fans across this state.
Last year, something happened. “Go Falcons!” “Beat the 9’ers!” “Rise Up!” I began to see little slogans popping up. Under the Taco Bell sign, at Chick-Fil-A, accompanied with bank signs, local companies and businesses were supporting this team and were actually being vocal about it. Soon I saw billboards, posters, lawn signs, car flags, all over the place. The Saturday before the championship game, I couldn’t drive through Oakwood or Gainesville without seeing the community cheer on this Atlanta team. It was the first time I have ever seen so much support anywhere outside of Atlanta. But after the Falcons missed their ride to the Super bowl, some of the hope stayed.
“Go Falcons!” “Beat the Saints!” I started seeing it again. Except this time, the season hasn’t even started yet. Record numbers at training camp, a sold out regular season. I went to the UGA game yesterday and I actually saw a hand full of people wearing only Falcons clothes. Things are happening and it’s not only taking place in flowery branch.
Some call it bandwagon fans, fair-weather fans that only get on their feet so long as the team is doing well. That may be true. Should the Falcons go 7-9 this season, these fans may disappear into college football and Major League Baseball again. Despite the consistency, Atlanta is building a fan base that is growing each day. We are excited, we are hopeful, and believe it or not, we are optimistic.
The Success Atlanta has finally been able to bring to the field every Sunday is paying off. They have a chance to create a more permanent fandom in Georgia. If they bring home the Lombardi–if they prove themselves to be the world’s greatest football team, these fans may never go away. If Atlanta can stay successful for the next several years, the NFL may ring louder in the state of Georgia.
This is a new era in Falcons history. It may be the most important. True fans will always know the names of Bartkowski and Tuggle. Anyone who has a television will know the name Sanders, but Falcons fans for years and years will always speak of and compare this generation of Flacons. In 2036, when Atlanta is going into the playoffs with only three losses, fans and pundits will ask how closely they resemble the Falcons of the 2010’s. The dirty birds are making history.
The Atlanta Falcons are on the brink of creating a brand new enthusiasm in Georgia that could last decades. Keep an eye on these Falcons. You may remember them for the rest of your life.