As I write this, I'm watching Aaron Hernandez as he's being taken into police custody. Surely, this story will dominate headlines in the 2013 off-season, and thrust the Patriots franchise into the limelight, for better or worse. But lost in the shuffle will be a far more positive and inspiring story that is developing slowly in Flowery Branch.
For a franchise that was decimated in the 2007 season, it's remarkable to think about where we are just 6 years later. A perennial contender, and infamously "10 yards away" from the Super Bowl last year, this is a franchise that has experienced some amazing highs and lows in the last decade. But 2013 - on paper - is shaping up to be a powerful story with themes that resonate with our deepest hopes and dreams. In particular, three elements of this season strike me as incredibly powerful and say much about this franchise, it's players, and the leadership of this team.
Few Falcons fans will forget Tony's locker room interviews after the loss in the championship game. The realization that he was likely done was just beginning to settle in, and the emotion he carried on his face was heavy and undeniable. Many fans believed that this was it - we'd be entering 2013 without our Hall of Fame tight end. But as the off-season progressed, and the fans and players and front-office all reached out to Tony, a glimmer of hope emerged. Maybe that 5% was more in play than we anticipated.
When Tony announced that he would return for one more season, every Falcons fan celebrated that we'd get one last chance to say goodbye. For a player who spent his career being a model citizen and the epitome of hard-work and dedication, the dream of finally winning the Lombardi trophy was too hard to walk away from. And what fan doesn't want that for this future Hall of Famer? What fan doesn't want to see a player of this caliber end his special career with the ultimate prize?
The 2013 season will be made that much more special by having this player back for his one last hurrah.
Forget the statistics. Forget the pictures that show this running back is built like a linebacker. Forget all of those things and remind yourself that this great player has never been on an NFL team with a winning record. Never. He's only played in two playoff games, when as a rookie in 2004, the 8-8 Rams won their wild-card game only to lose in the divisional playoffs to none other than the Falcons (47-17 no less). He's never been back since. All while putting together amazing rushing (and receiving) numbers on teams that were remarkably weak on offense. For years, he shouldered the load of being the only offense the Rams had, and still put up impressive numbers.
Jackson wanted to come to Atlanta. He saw a team that he could help, but also one that could help him. Help him experience the taste of the playoffs again - and hopefully much more. And while the talk of the dreaded "30 wall" hovers over this man, there's no denying his drive and passion to win. He could have signed elsewhere for more money, but in the last years of his great career, he wants what every true competitor wants: the chance to win the big one. Like his new teammate Gonzalez, Jackson fits the new Falcons mold. He's a giving person: a leader on and off the field. He's also in remarkable shape for a man who has been hammered relentlessly for the past 10 years. There's not a single Falcons fan that doesn't want to see Steven finish on an amazing high note.
This story has been covered before, but there's a reason: it speaks to our intrinsic sense of justice and redemption. A wrongfully accused and convicted boy is finally vindicated and set free after 10 years. With every right in the world to complain about his lot in life, Banks instead chooses to press forward with pursuing the dream he once held as a young man: to play in the NFL. In focused determination, he trains and trains, just hoping for the opportunity to prove himself. He asks for nothing more than a mere chance. And in the Falcons, he finally finds it.
There are no guarantees that Banks makes the roster. Even if he does, he's likely to see the majority of his time on the bench or on special teams. Unless there are some injuries ahead of him, Banks may not take a snap as a linebacker in 2013. But none of that matters. The measure of success is not in what you accomplish, but in what you overcome. For Banks, he overcame anger, injustice and lost time to get to this point. When others would have chosen bitterness and the battle-cry of the victim, Banks has chosen to fight and to try and make something of himself. He took the harder path - and continues to stay on that path, and in those choices, he's already emerged victorious.
These are just some of the stories that are rising up during the Falcons 2013 season. Others may yet emerge. Will the franchise QB use the championship game loss to inspire him to take his team all the way? Will an older defensive end prove that he's still a top producer in this league? Will a new superstar receiver emerge in an even bigger way?
These stories are still in progress - the final chapters will be written over the coming year. But in light of the negative news that dominates our headlines, we need to look towards those stories that may emerge as powerful and uplifting. The stories that motivate us. The stories that inspire us. The stories that remind us that we are all capable of amazing things. And while it's easy to get lost in the scandalous stories, I'm choosing to believe in the inspiring and redeeming one of the 2013 Falcons.