As is the case with most of us here at The Falcoholic, I tend to use my fandom as a way to cope with difficult times in my life. They say football is just a game, but I’ve never believed that notion. Candyland is just a game; football does so much more for us than simply provide entertainment.
No matter what, the Falcons always take the field at least 16 times a year. In a world with so little certainty and so much distrust, that’s something I’ve always been about to count on. For a long while, that was something I needed.
The playoff win in Lambeau, Vick's Superman dive, the '04 playoff game at the Dome, the Opening Night victory over the Eagles in '05...those moments got me through a lot.
My adolescence was not the easiest time in my life, though I suppose that’s far from unique. At 15 I was in the midst of a long, draining battle with depression, and had just transferred schools where I had zero friends.
I could go a whole week without socializing, without having fun, without feeling a sense of worth -- but I would wake up on Sunday mornings with a smile on my face. That might be the only day I’d smile all week, but heck, at least there was something out there that could make me happy.
Living in New England I never had anyone to cheer on the Birds with me, but I often preferred it that way. And without DirecTV, I had no way to watch them on television. For many years, my Sunday afternoons would consist of me lying in bed listening to my Sirius Satellite Radio, eyes closed, with nothing but my imagination and Wes Durham’s voice painting the pictures on the field.
I cherished these precious few hours like none other. They were my therapy, my escape, my medicine.
But after the 2007 season, what was once theraputic was becoming detrimental. As we all remember, the Falcons were pretty damn depressing in ‘07, and seeing the team I loved so much fall into shambles certainly didn’t help me feel better.
So I began distancing myself from football and focusing on other aspects of life. No longer did I spend time every day reading about the Falcons; no longer did I watch NFL Network or ESPN. I just...didn't care like I used to. Sure, I planned on watching Atlanta play every Sunday, but I felt like it wouldn't be the same -- perhaps ever.
This period of time represents my fall from innocence, and what a steep, harsh fall it was. The team I grew up loving, the team that I often associate with my childhood happiness, was no more.
Vick, Alge Crumpler, Warrick Dunn, Rod Coleman, Patrick Kerney: all gone. I swear to you, those were my five favorite players. This felt like a cruel joke.
From January of 2008 through March, I’d often go days without even thinking about the Falcons. As I was turning into an adult, I assumed this was normal. They say your peak of fandom occurs around the age of 16, and I was now heading down the wrong end of that slope.
Since this is the Falcons we’re talking about, I figured a long, painful dark age awaited, so why should I try to care again?
The 2008 draft was the first time I watched anything related to football since attending the final game of the ‘07 season. Everyone said we’d be picking a defensive tackle -- whoopee!!! -- so my expectations weren’t very high.
But we went with the star QB instead, Matt Ryan, a kid many of my friends adored. Shortly after BC’s golden boy took to the podium at Radio City Music Hall, the texts and phone calls started rolling in. People were telling me how great Ryan is, how he’s a winner, how he’s like Tom Brady.
Wow, they think he’s like Tom Brady? Maybe Ryan is just what we need. Maybe we aren’t doomed to suck for all of eternity...
For the first time in over nine months, I felt good about my team. So I started reading about this new guy Thomas Dimtroff, and the head coach he brought on board, Mike Smith. My Boston friends raved about Dimitroff, and said he played a big part in making New England a Super Bowl contender.
Hmmm...something feels right here. This team is starting to feel like the Patriots. Man do I hate the Patriots, but this is a good thing. A very good thing.
Now we had two sharp minds at the GM and HC positions, a potential star running back in Michael Turner and a potential franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan.
Is it possible...no, no way...but maybe, just maybe we could be good this year? I mean, that’s crazy, but there’s a chance, right?
That glimmer of hope was all I needed. For better or for worse, I started throwing myself back into football. I was reading about the NFL every day, watching interviews and highlights, and even writing again.
Could it be that everything that’s happened over the last year, all the crap we’ve been through, was for the better?
In a few short months I’d be jumping up and down again, something I hadn’t done in a very long time, celebrating a 62-yard Michael Jenkins touchdown. Of course, I had no idea this was in my future; I still thought this team was a long ways away from contending.
But that sense of enthusiasm I experienced on draft day, that slight shred of optimism...it was a start.