What does a 13-3 regular season and a thrilling win over the widely proclaimed hottest team in football get you? Cries of lucky wins and outright dismisiveness.
Everyone outside of the Falcons fanbase is tired of hearing how much the Falcons have been disrespected. Half of the fans in the fanbase are tired of hearing about the lack of respect. I respect that, but coming into Sunday's game against the 49ers, it's an unavoidable storyline.
Take this post from Pat Yasinskas. While he's picking the Falcons to win, he's absolutely right that he's largely alone. Everyone from ESPN to our own SB Nation bloggers have said the Falcons have little to no chance of winning. Many said the Falcons were lucky to beat the Seahawks, just like they've been lucky to win all season. They're the largest home underdog in conference championship history.
You may be tired of the disrespect card, but this is horseshit. The Falcons have done nothing but win football games all year. They won that elusive playoff game that everyone professed would change the team's perception, and they did it against one of the most promising young teams in the NFL. And as anticipated, pundits and media types have moved the goalpost again. Nothing short of a Super Bowl win will convince them, and even that could be declared "lucky" depending on the mood.
If you compare this to the Manti Te'o story and Tim Tebow's yearlong journey through ESPN's headlines, you begin to understand why this disrespect has continued even as the Falcons have smashed every barrier put before them. In Tebow's case, the narrative of a charismatic Christian athlete with an unorthodox throwing motion and an underdog story was so powerful that ESPN continued to treat him like a starting quarterback, though he threw but seven passes in 2012. Te'o's story of a dead girlfriend who was in a car crash and suffered leukemia during his potential Heisman season was so compelling that no one really wanted to check it carefully. And the Falcons are not a media anointed great team, and the Seahawks, 49ers and Redskins offered up great young quarterbacks and coaches who are perhaps more compelling than Smitty. Thus, the Falcons beating any and all of those teams must be luck, not confirmation of their status as a great team.
Once you start looking (cynically) at these stories, it begins to feel less like true disrespect for the Falcons and more like a kind of willful ignorance and stubbornness. The Falcons aren't good because ESPN told us they aren't, and for that to change, ESPN would have to be wrong. They would have built a narrative around something patently untrue. Why admit that when it's much easier to cling to the idea that the Falcons are a lucky team playing a weak schedule, which admittedly is tinged with just the merest stain of truth?
The disrespect can and will continue no matter what happens this weekend, and we have no hopes of slaying that particular dragon minus a Super Bowl win. It's the lot of the Atlanta fan, but it's a lot we're accustomed to by now. All the Falcons can do is take care of business. All we as fans can do is lend our support and, for those in the Georgia Dome, scream like crazy.
Let's talk about respect, and then our focus will turn totally to the game ahead.