USA TODAY Sports
A season away from writing can bring a new perspective for the distracted blogger. I found this out the hard way two weeks ago.
Many of you may not know me or my writing. I've seen the site grow exponentially from the shadowy corners of the periphery. I have a feeling a lot of you are so satiated by the absolutely breathtaking wealth of quality content Dave and his merry band of writers have laid upon your fan feasting tables that you haven't had time to delve into the cavernous archives of this site. Who could blame you? With writers like The DW, James, Alex , Jeanna, Caleb, and Andrew fulfilling your every need when my favorite New Hampshiran isn't clickity-clacking away, who needs the past? Besides, this is the most exciting and heartrending time to be a Falcons fan. Why look back on those darker days?
I'm a product of those darker days; days when Dave was writing two act plays weekly to somehow attempt to salve the wounds created by the comedy of errors performed in the Dome on Sunday afternoons. The echoes around here had echoes it was so hollow and lifeless. From that husk of a blog, Dave built one of the most entertaining, on point, and (most importantly) fan-oriented blogs on the then-fledgling SB Nation group of sites.
I still remember (and read, on occasion) the email Dave sent to me shortly after the 2008 season ended, asking if I was interested in taking my weekly fanposts and stat analysis into the realms of "Professional." Or at least as professional as it could get with SB Nation back then. He had pegged me to start writing for the site to give him some assistance in generating content for an ever-growing base of readers. You see, despite Dave's objections to the Matt Ryan pick and my befuddlement at the Mike Smith hire (who?!), the Falcons went from 4-12 to 11-5 with a wild card playoff birth. That kind of turn around just doesn't happen in the NFL, even in today's Not For Long landscape. It just doesn't. We knew something special was happening, but being the jaded and ever-disappointed Falcons fans that we were, we just couldn't believe it. Still, the team was winning and the site was growing. I happily joined.
From 2009 to 2011, I helped cover the Falcons' seasons for the site, though my output grew more wordy, less statistical and newsy, and more fan-perspective'd. A lot of things were happening in my life in 2011; I had finally landed a good job in the actual city of Atlanta (Midtown say hey!), my wife and I started looking for homes and thinking about starting a family. I was moving forward as my Falcons continued to be perpetually good. Good, but not great. They weren't quite there yet. I was cautiously optimistic about 2012 and was looking forward to once again helping to cover the team for the season.
But then life happened. I was going to be a father. I was promoted at work. We bought and moved into a nice home. My priorities started shifting. I was so distracted by life that I failed to pay much attention to the draft. The only real story in the NFL I half-followed was Nike's grand takeover and I provided coverage of that whole event for the site. After that, crickets from my fingers. Not a word escaped me until I wrote a piece regarding my thoughts on becoming a father and helping pass on my Falcoholism. I then wrote a rah-rah piece about the Koetter and Nolan hirings and called it a year. I would not publish an article for the rest of the year.
I didn't come to the decision abruptly, but I hadn't given it much thought either. It just sort of happened. After my daughter arrived in July, my usual nervous/excited pre-Falcons/Bama season demeanor just wasn't there. Bama had won the 2011 National Championship so I knew that 2012 would be an off year for them (glad I was wrong on that one) and my jitters for the new-look Falcons' season dwindled. I was interested, but much more mildly than before. I had lost my will to write and every time I opened the editor to write an article here, I just couldn't come to hitting that publish button.
I tried for the first few glorious weeks of the season to pen some words on how different this Falcons team seemed, how special it was starting to look. I couldn't get through the first few sentences without losing the yearning to write. Meanwhile, Dave was dealing with the system-wide format switch and was adding top notch talent to fill out the gaps in coverage so that you, the reader, didn't go a quarter of a day without your Falcons fix. I was overwhelmed by the format change, fatherhood, and the quality of writers that had taken the reigns here. My tweets of the week, game recaps, and rare (and likely inaccurate) statistical analysis seemed out of place or superfluous in this new world. I would either have to up my game, find a new niche, or stand back and let the new blood shine.
I stood back. For the first season since 2009, I have been able to truly be a fan with every pro and con that comes with that. I even stood back from commenting. I took a total hiatus from commenting or writing here and anywhere else. Outside of two Canadian radio appearances, I analyzed nothing of the Falcons outside of the outcome of each and every play I heard Wes Durham skillfully call out to me each week. I dove into this freedom wholeheartedly. I had a daughter I could share this fandom with; and I did. Like her father, she's a lover of all things red. During games she would park her head on my shoulder, stare at the screen as the Falcons pulled victory from the jaws of defeat, manhandled the reigning Champs, and gave us all heartattacks and strokes. If football was on, she was watching it, and she was watching it with me. I reveled in this, week after week. Both of my teams were doing amazingly. A Falcons team that was adjusting to new coordinators and a new system on each side of the ball was flourishing in its first year. An Alabama team that was supposed to be rebuilding from losing a billion starters to the NFL was on their way to posting four shutouts, participating in the most exciting SEC championship I've ever watched, and throttling a supposed Title Contender. We were fans together, and though I felt guilty for my silent, unannounced absence from the Falcoholic, I was in football heaven. For the 2012 season, I felt truly a fan again. No analyzing, just football. Twice a week.
Working in Midtown has its advantages: most of the people working there are Falcons fans. As the Falcons continued to win, more and more shirts, hats, car flags, and bumper stickers started to appear. Rise Up was echoing in the streets as people in Red and Black passed each other. Being able to experience that every day leading up to the post season was absolutely the best experience I've had in the city. The city was alive, united, rising up together with their team. It felt like 1998 all over again but this time, I wasn't going to experience it from the bosom of my home state of Alabama. No, I was right in ground zero. I was happier than I have ever been in the state of Georgia, and not writing made it sweeter, as harsh as that sounds. I was a fan free to squee all I wanted to about my team and no one was judging me or belittling me or telling me that I shouldn't do that because I had a journalistic responsibility.
And then the Niners came to town.
The day of the divisional round, I had to turn off the TV, the radio, and go up to my office to calmly vent as the Falcons were allowing the Seahawks to come back from a huge deficit. The curse of the Atlanta sports team postseason had struck once again, not long after it had disabled the Braves in the form of the "umpire call that shall not be named." Lady luck was on our side that day. As I watched my Twitter feed from my phone, heart in my throat, stomach clenched tight, my little girl was downstairs, unaware of the heartache her father was about to have. A few tweets later and I'm scrambling down the stairs, hugging my wife, almost crying at the joy of my beloved team getting over the post season hump after a 0-3 run. Destiny had smiled upon the city.
The next week, I was confident. We had this. At 17-0, I was literally jumping up and down in my own living room. The Falcons weren't going to make the mistake of letting the other team come back again. This team was on a mission. They had a Super Bowl to get to...and win. I bought in 100%, let that little analyst shouting that the Falcons weren't quite there yet in my brain fall off a cliff, and knew my Falcons were going to win this. The city needed this. Needed it hard.
And then the Niners came back.
I didn't get upset when Matt Ryan fumbled that snap. I knew what kind of trouble it brought but I also knew we had this. Just knew it. But when I saw him get up clutching his shoulder, I knew the dream had ended. I just wasn't accepting it yet. I truly accepted it when the pass on 4th down to Roddy fell incomplete and the PI call wasn't coming. I turned off the TV, turned off the radio (I always mute the TV announcers and blast Wes and Arch on 790 the Zone; protip), and started walking for the stairs. My wife, holding our darling daughter in her lap, casually asked "are they winning?" I choked back a sob. "They're done. I'm going upstairs for a few minutes."
She nodded. She knew what was going on inside of me; knew that the free, happy go lucky, confident fan had been dealt a blow it couldn't quickly recover from. I fell onto our bed, opened twitter on my phone, and closed my eyes. I still had hope. The Falcons had a few seconds left. They had done it countless times before. Let them do it again. My heart beat in the back of my throat. My eyes closed. I wished and I hoped and I strained and I wept. I opened my eyes. The dream was over. The Falcons would have to try again in 2013, against a monstrously difficult schedule, and a strengthening NFC South.
It took nearly all of the ensuing week for me to get over it. I played that last quarter over and over in my head, wondering if White had been able to free himself of the hold (his left arm was held, you can see it in the game tape) and snatch the ball, wondering if Ryan hadn't had his shoulder steamrolled by a Niner defensive lineman, wondering if he hadn't fumbled that snap...IF, IF, IF. All ifs. I just knew there was an alternate universe Adam that was celebrating an ensuing Falcons Super Bowl appearance. It just did not seem fair that I was the one Adam out of a million infinite possible Adams that was so heartbroken. My heartbreak hardened over the week and I started to think. I reason now that the injury to Ryan is significant enough to force him from the Super Bowl (we all know he would have played in it, though). I reason now that the Niners were the better team, though for over 30 minutes, they certainly didn't seem so.
Now that I'm a hardened analyst again and that free wheeling fan is beaten into submission, can I find that will to return to what I once was? That will to view the game more than just as a fan? To keep my twitter comments from being to voracious and act a proper sports writer? No. No I can't.
I have a niche and Dave himself called me on it after my piece about my forthcoming fatherhood. I am a fan's writer. I write from the fan's perspective and always have. I tried analyzing things; I'm not that good at it. I tried being newsy; I'm not quick enough. I tried a mock draft; suck at that too. I'm a fan, through and through, and I'm here to interact with fans. How I'm going to do that through my writing remains to be seen but I can tell you one thing; I'm going to try my best to get it done.
Here's to a happy, Championshippy 2013.