Hey guys, today I'm bringing you all a bit of a different post. It's something a little different for the middle of the week, and I think it'd be fun to hear some of your stories as well. Plus, you'll get to know a little bit more about the guy behind the name "Caleb Rutherford". That way, everyone wins!
Today, I'd like to share the story of my Falcons fanhood with you all.
There was once a time when this team was nothing more than a passing thought in the back of my mind. Boy, how things change.
Follow me after the jump and I'll tell you the story of how this team went from an afterthought in my mind to a team that I follow and love with just about everything I have in me.
For a long time, I was a diehard UGA Bulldogs fan and a fan of little else. Even today, my car's license plate is "4EVERUGA", and my car's interior has several Bulldog decorations, if you will. To this day, I still bleed red and black, though I bleed those colors for a very different reason now.
I'm 22 years old. In the technical aspect, I've been a "fan" of the Falcons for as long as I can remember. I vaguely remember the 1998 season, though I do remember Jeff Hullinger yelling, "THE FALCONS ARE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL!" repeatedly when Morten Anderson made that huge kick against the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. The Super Bowl itself, however, I do not remember. I was 10 years old at the time, and football was of little interest to me.
I remember when the Falcons drafted Michael VIck. I remember very well how crazy he was in college. He was incredibly hyped. Most of you all that will read this are older than me and I don't need to tell you all about how hyped Vick was coming out of Virginia Tech.
Even as the Vick legend grew, I was nothing more than someone who occasionally watched the games and yelled at them for screwing it up, though in my youth I believe I was inclined to think that my teams were cursed and couldn't win the big game.
Yes, there were some good games and certainly some bad games. Vick continued to do his thing and would constantly get shut down by the dreaded Eagles. The irony of that is somewhat amusing.
Usually I would get bored of the games and end up going to play PS2 or something of that nature. Even though we had Mr. Awesome Michael Vick, I was too young and uninterested to care too much about the team.
I moved to Panther Land aka North Carolina back in the summer of 2004. The Falcons and Panthers were natural rivals, and while it never got ugly between me and anyone I knew, I would certainly tell people where I was from and at least pledge my allegiance to the Falcons. I lived in Georgia for 15 years and was pretty much a fan of all things Georgia.
I graduated from high school in 2007. Yes, that 2007. It makes me feel so old just thinking about it. I moved back to Atlanta in the fall to pursue a degree in video game programming amidst all the Vick scandals and slow decline of the franchise. However, despite what appeared to be the lowest point in Falcons' history, the team had very slightly captured my interest.
Dare I say the reason was because DJ Shockley had a legitimate chance at starting until he blew his knee out. I'll reserve my opinion on "what could have been" with him for another time.
I flew back and forth from North Carolina to Atlanta often, and one day at the airport I saw a magazine with Joey Harrington on the cover with the cover page saying, "Can Joey Harrington save the Falcons at Quarterback?" It was a well written article that gave several reasons as to why Bobby Petrino could revive Joey Harrington's career and could possibly get Joey to play to his potential in Atlanta.
Anyone who wasn't born yesterday knows how that turned out.
I believed the article. I believed it largely in part because Joey Harrington was the QB for the Dolphins when they defeated the Patriots after the Pats had started somewhere in the neighborhood of 13-0. I believed that someone who could defeat the mighty Patriots must surely have some skill in him somewhere.
However, the team stunk. Lackluster offense combined with lackluster defense usually amounts to a disappointing season, and the 2007 Falcons were no exception. It didn't help that the great Coach Petrino decided it would be cute to leave the team before the season had even finished.
I was sorely disappointed. The team had fallen so far from its glory days, even if the most recent days were with Michael Vick at quarterback. By the end of the season, I had just resorted to merely looking at how bad the Falcons lost (or how they won, in rare cases) and calling it good.
2008 brought about a new year for both me personally and for the Falcons. I had decided that programming video games was not what I wanted to do with my life, and I dragged myself back to North Carolina to attempt to gain some form of college education.
Without getting into details, I wasn't happy with my personal life at all. School was terrible and I had to keep grinding it out in order to stay on insurance. 2008 certainly didn't start out as a very good year for me.
But then a funny thing happened. Amidst all the chaos and negative press, Falcons Owner Arthur Blank hired a man by the name of Thomas Dimitroff. "A Patriots' guy, huh. Maybe he'll bring us some of their winning ways." I said half-jokingly. It was hard to believe in a team who had essentially just been sent to the trash heap.
Then, of course, the search for a head coach had begun as well. There were several names tossed around, though for the life of me I can only remember Mike Singletary as one of the names.
They decided on a man named Mike Smith from the Jaguars. Uhh.....who??
I had never heard of this man, though a little research would have shown that his Jaguar defenses were solid and that he was on the Ravens' Super Bowl defensive coaching staff. That would have piqued my interest. I stress would have because I was still a skeptical young guy at the time.
Then, in April, the draft came rolling around. I was always fascinated by the NFL draft because I always wanted to see how many UGA players would get drafted. The Falcons had the 3rd overall choice that year, and the experts could not agree on who the Falcons should choose. As an SEC fan, I heartily endorsed the Glenn Dorsey pick. I had seen him play and I could tell you that he was a beast.
However...there was this quarterback that was being thrown around. His name was Matt Ryan. We needed a quarterback, yes, but we had some very capable ones, or so I thought.
They decided to go with the quarterback. He was admired for his intelligence and passing ability, and everyone felt like he'd be ready to play pro ball in a couple years with some good tutoring.
Fast forward a little bit. Mike Smith has just announced that rookie QB Matt Ryan will be starting in week 1. Wait....WHAAAAT?! I thought the coaches had gone loony. How could you start a rookie quarterback when players such as Leaf and Harrington among others had been asked to do the same thing and had faltered. For every Manning, there were several Leaf/Harringtons.
I didn't watch the game against the Lions. Rather...it would be a more accurate statement to say that I didn't follow the game at all. I couldn't tell you why. I don't remember what I was doing then, but whatever it was, it wasn't following the Falcons.
Once I knew the game had finished, I looked up good old espn.com to check the final score. I saw an interesting looking article whose title said something like, "Rookie's first pass goes for 62 yard TD". I thought that would be a neat story to read, and upon my mouse click, I was taken to the game recap of none other than the Falcons and Lions.
I was shocked. The first fling of this young QB's career was a touchdown?!? A 62 yard touchdown, at that?? (If I remember correctly, the last QB to do something similar was Namath) I was struck dumb by how ridiculous that was, let alone on the Falcons!
I somehow wandered onto nfl.com to check the highlights, where I found a video of Matt's first pro pass as called by Wes Durham, the voice of the Falcons. Every time I listened to it, I'm pretty sure I giggled like a school girl. I've probably watched that video 500 times or more with the same reaction. That very play sparked something I had never felt in my Falcons fandom:
It sparked hope.
It sparked hope in a team that, for what it's worth, was at the bottom of the barrel.
It sparked hope in a team that was searching for a way to rid itself of its personal demons so that it could show it deserved to be treated like the rest of the teams.
With what was going on in my life, I could relate to these Falcons. They were fighting for respect. They were fighting to show that the past is the past and that these Falcons were not a joke or a sideshow. These Falcons were for real.
I began to follow the Falcons more closely while watching Matt Ryan and Michael Turner lead the way week after week after week. This story of redemption was one thing, but the charge was being lead by a rookie quarterback and an unproven running back.
My dad took me to the Tampa Bay home game back in 2008. Yes, it was a heart attack. For those who don't remember, the game went into OT and we won on a Jason Elam field goal after sacking TB out of field goal range. The thrill of the last second victory coupled with our nearly guaranteed playoff berth...that's when I knew.
That's when I knew that I loved this team.
Anyone who knows what it feels like to truly embrace a sports team knows the feeling I'm talking about. The rest of you will be like, "What in the heck?" but that's cool, too. We're all fans in our own way.
Since 2008, I've watched the Falcons as much as North Carolina TV will let me. I've started learning about the players, the sport itself, and why teams do the things they do. Football has become a passion of mine. I suppose you could say I've become a part-time student of the game.
I brought up the UGA football thing earlier because for a long time, I followed the Bulldogs without ever really knowing why I followed them. I was born and raised on UGA football. My dad and his friends were all crazy UGA fans. There's actually a newspaper in my attic from the morning after UGA won the National Championship in 1980. I followed the Dawgs because it was in my heritage, if you will.
I still follow the Dawgs. That will not change, however as I've grown older I've learned to love a team that has gone from the lowest lows to the highest highs, much like the way my own life has gone. I've learned to love a team that has abandoned their own shackles of ineptitude in favor of a new style that encourages hard work and humility instead of flashiness and egoism. I've learned to love a team that has used that style to deliver a dying franchise out of the depths of football death and into the elite level of the NFL.
I have learned to love this team.
Thanks for reading, guys. Feel free to share any fanhood stories you guys haven't already shared, and thanks to Dave and Co. for giving me the opportunity to write this story on this great site. I hope we have many more fans that come to love this team in the future, and I hope they share that love with us on The Falcoholic, too!
I may not always be the most optimistic guy out there, but I do believe in this team. They have a chance to achieve greatness, and that thought is incredible. I wear my #2 jersey with pride, and as you all know, I'm right here chatting it up every game day I'm not working. Gooo Falcons!