USA TODAY Sports
To the fans who cheered on the Falcons in the Georgia Dome on Sunday--thank you.
I'm fortunate enough to have Falcons season tickets, and I love watching games live--even from the cheap seats, which is where my family sits. We've made friends with the season ticket holders who sit around us, and wouldn't dream of moving our seats. It's a community. We all ride the game day wave of emotion together.
We've seen a lot of exciting moments live in the Georgia Dome--in this season alone, we were there to enjoy Atlanta's defense picking off Peyton Manning three times, that remarkable game-winning drive against Carolina, Asante Samuel's pick-six against Oakland, shutting out the dreaded New York Giants while dominating them offensively, and defensively destroying Drew Brees and the high-powered offense of the New Orleans Saints. It has been a special season.
I've also experienced abject heartbreak in the Georgia Dome, although not very frequently. Frankly, in the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era, we have seen very few losses at home. Losses at home to the Saints always sting. Actually, losses sting, period. The most painful day, for me and many others, was that postseason loss to the Green Bay Packers in 2010, as I struggled, and mostly failed, to be a gracious loser for the sake of my marriage while chants of "Go Pack Go," echoed through the Dome.
I don't think anything could have prepared me for Sunday, though.
We experienced such a complete range of emotions on Sunday--whether we were watching from home, or in the Georgia Dome. From excitement mixed with a little bit of anxiety, to extremes of joy and pride through the first half, to attempts to rationalize what was unfolding in the third quarter, to pep-talking myself throughout the fourth quarter, to repeating out loud like a crazy person, "They've done this before, they've done this before," with :31 seconds of regulation remaining, to thanking God for Matt Ryan and the ice water that seems to flow through his veins, and Jacquizz Rodgers and Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez for executing when they absolutely had to execute on that last return and offensive drive, and Matt Bryant and his clutchness. Then a little more stress--that kick? Why that kick? And 70,366 people in the Georgia Dome collectively held their breath for the last play, a hail mary from Russell Wilson that wound up in the hands of our own Julio Jones.
Then, tears of joy. Not just from me, but from grown men around me. We, as fans, have waited for what feels like ages in the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era for a postseason win, and the players certainly have as well. We stayed to watch Tony Gonzalez leave the field, and seeing him so ecstatic to have earned his first postseason win in his long and illustrious career was a truly wonderful moment.
If you were watching at home, I hope that you could feel the intensity of the fan support in the Georgia Dome. Atlanta has a reputation as a "lukewarm" fan base (thanks, Rob Parker) and a "college football town" and a "baseball town" and many other things, none of them particularly flattering to Falcons fans. The crowd in the Georgia Dome on Sunday made a statement, and that statement was, this is our city, this is our team, and this is our house, and we will do all we can to ensure that the Seahawks will not flourish in it. The fan support in the Georgia Dome has been great all season, but I have never experienced anything like the fan support on Sunday.
If you were in the Dome, if your voice was one of thousands that is still, on Tuesday morning, ringing in my ears--thank you. I kept seeing tweets from the national media about Seattle's offensive linemen having difficulty hearing calls at the line of scrimmage. I watched our defense feed off of our energy. And I experienced a fan base, so often dismissed, so frequently insulted, standing firmly behind our team for four entire quarters, even when things were looking shaky in the second half. I was proud of our team--the proudest I have ever been of this team, honestly. But I was just as proud of our fans.
The Falcons have a reputation as well--how many times have we had to endure the discussion of "one and done" and whether or not Matt Ryan and Mike Smith can win big games? That discussion persisted, even as the Falcons defeated team after team that was picked by alleged experts to prevail over Atlanta. Throughout last week, rather than focusing on Sunday's matchups or anything relevant to the actual game, local media in Atlanta fixated on the number of tickets available for Sunday's game via secondary markets and how that was a reflection on the "lukewarm" Falcons fan base. The Falcons came out on Sunday and proved that they can win a playoff game, even when it looked like it was going to slip out of their reach, even when their opponent was widely hailed as the very best the NFL had to offer. And Falcons fans came out on Sunday and supported the team loudly and energetically for 60 minutes, also contradicting existing perceptions.
The 49ers are an excellent, and very complete, team, and this Sunday's NFC Championship matchup should be an exciting one. Home field advantage will make a difference for Atlanta this weekend. If you'll be at the Dome for the game, please be loud. Please stand behind our team for all four quarters. I will be there, and I promise to be loud, and quite frankly, obnoxious on behalf of all of our readers who cannot attend. With the will to win we saw from the Falcons against Seattle, and that incredible level of fan support, I cannot imagine any scenario other than a Falcons victory on Sunday.