This is one of my rambling essays about being a Falcons fan. If you hated previous versions of it, you'll also hate this one. Fair warning.
I was reading through the archives today of this very site, going back to the days of Mike Smith's hiring and Bobby Petrino's departure and Michael Vick lighting up the Bengals. It made me feel like I was disturbing some ancient tomb, and a mummified Quentin McCord was going to pop out and drag me into the underworld.
I was a lonely fan in those days, writing for an audience of maybe ten "regulars" who sometimes would only appear once a week. I suppose I could've railed against that, but I understood. You weren't a Falcons fan by choice. Even some of the faithful had abandoned ship a long time ago, sick of giving over their Sundays to misery.
I go back to one moment in high school, a strangely memorable one, when my buddy jabbed a finger in my chest during lunch and sneered. His Patriots had just won, my Falcons had—as usual—just lost. He was crowing.
"Who the f--k is a Falcons fan, anyways? Why don't you root for a real team?" he asked.
I shrugged. I've spent a lifetime shrugging about it. There's no glory in being a Falcons fan, nothing sexy, nothing to separate you from the echelon of fans who spend their lives rooting for the NFL's dregs.
Except these days, there is.
There shouldn't be a stigma associated with being a new fan. If you've just joined on with the Falcons in the last two to six years or so, I certainly don't consider you any less worthy. Everybody has their origin story.
I do wonder if some of you appreciate what it meant to be a Falcons fan from the 1980's onward, the same why fans who have been there since 1966 probably wonder if I really know. The Falcons of 2010 are light years away from the Falcons of 1992, of 1999, of 2007. There was a time where we weren't even good enough to be a laughingstock of the NFL, like the Saints were for so many years.
We were just perennial mediocrity personified. After 1998, the Falcons sank back into the mire, and the NFL's pundits showed a strange sort of relief about it. The natural order had been restored.
These days, the Falcons are riding a wave. We not only expect them to win games, but we virtually demand it. It's not a dynasty of the Patriots' caliber (yet), but it's a winning team with a good attitude, a lot of likeable players and a fan-first perspective that's amazingly refreshing. Sometimes, after we lose a game, I sit down at the keyboard and wait to summon the demons that plagued this fanbase in 2006 and 2007, when I first started writing at The Falcoholic, and they won't come to me. If you think my occasional angry rants are reactionary, you should've seen me in 2007, when the veins were practically popping in my forehead every other day.
In my rambling way, what I'm trying to get at here is this: These are the good times to be a Falcons fan. Sure, none of us are all that fond of Mike Mularkey or Sam Baker right now, but they don't define these Falcons. Somebody like Roddy White, a man who I angrily referred to as "Dropsy" for the better part of two seasons, has become the brilliant performer and team-first player that defines today's team. Matt Ryan is growing into a great young quarterback. It used to be that Todd McClure was the class act and steadiest performer for the team, but now he's got a lot of company.
When you're feeling down about the Falcons this year—and you will, because there's no way they're running the table from here on out—go back and remind yourself of what it used to mean to be a fan. If you're new, read back through the team history, our archives and watch some old YouTube and get a sense of just how dejected you could become by following the Falcons for 16 games. It casts the team's recent success in a much more pleasant light, even if Sam Baker bear hugs every defensive end that comes his way one week.
But be a fan in your own way. If you're a realist, you gotta be you. If you're a Pollyanna, you gotta be you. Just appreciate these Falcons. Their success, however limited, may not come our way again.