The Falcons Need Support Now More Than Ever

Kevin C. Cox

The season has gone from one of hopes and dreams to one of survival.

Yes, I've said repeatedly the season is over. Yes, I have said many a time that Thomas Dimitroff made a mistake by not shoring up our lines on either side of the ball (I don't count just Osi though he has played well).

But the fact of the matter is the team now needs our support more than ever. We're teetering on a season that not only could net us a coveted top 5 pick, but also drive us back into the rut of "typical Falcons".

As typical as the Falcons have been in previous years when it comes to Atlanta failures, they've always been the one Atlanta team that really, truly felt like they'd break the mold of ATL postseason failure. For those unaware, Atlanta's WNBA team was just swept out of the finals for the third time in four years.

Want a championship? Play Atlanta!

Among all the lame players in Falcons history, there have been some great players to wear a Falcons uniform. It was as recently as the beginning of last year that some people felt that Bartkowski was still a better Falcons QB than Matty, and deservedly so.

But each year we lose now is a year we lose off of the career of the best QB we've ever (and maybe will ever) have. Each drop back by Matty has once again turned into a heart attack, though this time it's for a different reason.

I've been as hot as any fan, if only because I was angry at the fact that I knew the team could play better, but now I know the team probably won't play at its best this year. A revolving door at seemingly every position is going to cause growing pains.

I entertained the idea of throwing a "let's tank" idea out there, but then my memories of an athlete kicked in, and I realized that the vast majority of athletes wouldn't dare tank intentionally, unless there was serious money involved. Athletes are very prideful, and even once the "season is over", many of them will play for pride.

I had a personal instance in my life where my "season was over", but I played purely for pride. My senior year of high school, I was a pretty good track athlete. My favorite event by far is/was the 4x400 relay. I ran the anchor leg my entire senior year. (This is a long story, so bear with me).

The conference meet for track (the last meet of the season for almost all of us) was two days long. My high school had the third fastest 4x400 team in the conference that year. We were quite an odd group - started by a freshman we called Sunshine, followed by our best distance runner, followed by a chain smoker that had, literally, run-away-from-the-cops speed, and me, a guy you couldn't have paid to run more than 400 meters. All that said, we were a strong group.

Sunshine and Chain Smoker elected not to come to the second day of the conference meet. Understandable to an extent since there were only a few events and it was a good hour of a bus ride (I was mad), but still not cool. So that left us with our alternate, a solid, well-built ROTC freshman and middle distance guy, and one of my good friends who was a boss discus thrower, but by all accounts, not a runner in the least. No hate there, not his fault, and he volunteered. Nothing but respect here.

My favorite part of the 4x400 was that it was the last event of the track meets, and it usually received a pretty large audience because everyone's loved ones had already finished (but the kids hung around to support their teammates). It always gave me a rush because there was a good amount of cheering.

Before I get into the actual race, I'll add this. My junior year, we (the 4x400 team) came in last every single meet except one. It's relevant.

So we finally get to the men's 4x400, the final race of my life. I'm already mad because Sunshine and Chain Smoker aren't here, but we're going to give it our all anyway. Our alternate (mentioned above) is going to run first. And so he did...

without a baton.

Instant disqualification.

I happened to see him not have one (how in the hell does this happen?) but I couldn't get anyone's attention before the gun went off, so we were disqualified instantly. The last race I would ever run was over before it even started.

The head scorer pulled me to the side and said we could run for time, but we were DQ'd. Amidst my unquenchable fury, I thanked him and managed to hide the steam coming out of my ears.

While ROTC Guy was still running his leg, I pulled Discus Guy and Distance Guy over to the side and told them the situation, but at the end, I told them, "We're running for pride now." They both understood, though I knew deep in my heart that even if we weren't DQ'd, pride would be all we had to run for. Discus Guy's best time in a 400 was in the 65-70 second range, a good 10-15 seconds slower than what we'd need to be competitive. It was just reality. I didn't think any less of him and I loved him as a teammate and friend. He gave it everything he had and I told him I couldn't ask for anything more.

By the time ROTC Guy had gotten around, he was already a few seconds behind everyone. He ran a decent leg, but every other school had sent their best 4 to run this race, and he was passing the baton (not literally, since he didn't have one) to Discus Guy, who was not going to be gaining any ground on anyone.

Discus Guy ran as hard as he could, but by the time he got to Distance Guy, we were way behind and without much hope. He passed the baton (again, not literally) to Distance Guy. Distance guy (who was above average, at worst) didn't have any events aside from the 4x400 on that day, so he was able to expend a ton of energy he wouldn't have otherwise had.

That ended up being rather important, because I don't think I've ever seen Distance Guy run as fast as he did. Most of the other teams were way, way out of reach, but there was one other school that had started to fall behind a little. Not way behind like my school, but easily still out of contention. Distance Guy, whether by faith in me or faith in himself, ran possessed. I think he believed he could catch the guy (who had to have been at least 70-80 meters ahead, maybe more, memory is fuzzy).

I grabbed a baton from one of the coach's bags and got in place. The other school's 3rd leg was worn out coming down the last stretch (the contention teams were at least on the backstretch already) and Distance Guy was closing the gap as best he could.

I was jumping around and yelling and waving at Distance Guy, partly encouraging a strong finish and partly celebrating the courageous effort he'd given in a meaningless race. I guess he felt that running for pride was important too.

That was probably as cranked up as I've ever been for anything, too, because Distance Guy had pulled my school to within 30-35 meters of Other School.

(Fun tidbit: The anchor leg for Other School beat me in the 100 by about a tenth of a second in the County Meet.)

Other School went on ahead, and I waited patiently for Distance Guy. All I could think was, "This is it." You know, that feeling you get when "All good things come to an end" happens.

So Distance Guy slaps my outstretched fist, and off I go. I came out of the exchange blazing, trying as hard as possible to get to top speed to establish a good base speed. Other School felt so far ahead, and the two of us zipped around the first curve.

At that point, I hadn't made up any ground on Other School, and doubt was starting to creep in. But a funny thing happened as we went into the backstretch. A voice so loud in my conscience, it was like it was stirred up from the deepest part of my soul. It said...

"No. I will not come in last."

All the doubt was instantly erased from my mind. I wasn't catching Other School, but suddenly I was shouting "I will not come in last!" at myself in my head. I hit full stride cruise control on the backstretch (I'm maybe 5'11", so it's a stride, but not much.) but by the end of the backstretch, I hadn't made up much ground on Other School, but I had made up some ground.

Prior to the meet, my football coach had told me that I needed to kick it (as if I hadn't already) with 200 meters to go. At 200 meters, I was starting to wear out, but I knew if there was any chance of me winning, I had to tap into that, "After today, I don't get to do this anymore" level.

The junior year thing is relevant because finishing strong wasn't new to me. I always, always, always sprinted to the end no matter how far behind I was (I ran anchor most of my junior year as well), the difference is that I did that from about 100 meters out, not 200. Remember, I'm <=400 Guy.

So at 200 meters, I lower my head and really start grinding. Each step progressively became heavier and more painful, and I still wasn't making up any ground. Then, with about 150 meters to go, I noticed something funny from Other School. Their guy took an awkward step while rounding the curve, much like one you'd take when you're out of gas.

I noticed his awkward step, and it was like a shark smelling blood in the water. I knew he was tired, and I knew I could catch him. I was probably within 15 meters at this point. I lowered my head again, grinding out each painful stride, and with each stride, I gobbled up a small piece of track separating Other School and myself.

At this point, the crowd started going bonkers. I had teammates all up and down the front stretch screaming for me, and the crowd was cheering for an exciting, close finish (the contenders had long since finished).

110 meters left, and now I'm almost out of gas. I was within 5 meters of Other School at this point, but I was so tired, I couldn't make a conscious effort to switch lanes. I had to let my momentum of turning carry me into the second lane as we rounded into the last stretch.

We were both running as hard as we could, and we both had barely anything left to give. I was still screaming "I will not come in last" in my head, and with each step, I slowly pulled alongside Other School. For a few steps, he and I were neck and neck, and then each step past that pushed him slowly out of my peripheral vision. I refused for one second to slow down, because losing that way would've made me hate everything, though I was told later that Other School guy had given up once I passed him. While I technically did finish in last, I didn't finish in last in my book.

Now you might wonder how this is related to the Falcons. Well, we have some good players that have fallen on some unfortunate and perhaps stupid situations, but I know that no matter what happens from here on out, even if the season ends, they'll play for pride, and they need our support. If I wasn't totally broke, I'd go support them.

There are some good players, even some great players, who will be playing their asses off even with the only thing to play for is pride, and we should remember that.

No matter how maddening it gets, they won't give up, and neither should we.

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