I'm an Ohio State Buckeyes fan, a rare and not particularly winsome trait for a midwestern expat living in SEC Country. There's nothing to be done about it, though. I was born into Buckeye fandom. As a small child, I could get away with saying "damn" in front of my mother with no repercussions just as long as the profanity was uttered in the context of singing, "We don't give a damn for the whole state of Michigan." Ohio State football is part of the culture in central Ohio, where I spent the first 29 years of my life, and when my family moved to Georgia in 2005 a few weeks before the season began, I missed it.
Our home is situated just ten short minutes from the Falcons' training facility in Flowery Branch. "The Falcons are pretty exciting," my husband told me, knowing that I missed being in Columbus on game days, surrounded by kindred spirits in scarlet and gray who would gladly answer "I-O!" when I yelled "O-H" and who also did not give a damn for the whole state of Michigan.
When the 2005 season kicked off, we started watching the Falcons, and my husband was right. The Falcons were exciting. They had this quarterback, Michael Vick, a dynamic athlete who was a lot of fun to watch. At a Chamber of Commerce event, my husband won tickets to see the Falcons take on the Vikings at home in week four. It was my first live NFL game, and the Falcons won 30-10 even though Vick had to leave the game with an injury. I was hooked.
The moment I realized that my feelings for the Falcons were on par with my love for the Buckeyes was when I recognized the depth of my rage about the officiating in the first game back in the Super Dome after Hurricane Katrina. I had a couple of years of fandom under my belt when Michael Vick was arrested for dogfighting. Man, that broke my heart. Vick was a big part of the reason I became a Falcons fan, and while we were all somewhat accustomed to his boneheaded life choices (Ron Mexico, flipping off fans, etc.) the details of that one really hurt. "Don't read the police report," my husband said. I read it anyway. All these years later, I still wish I hadn't.
The 2007 season may have driven away some Falcons fans, but not me. 2007 galvanized my fandom. Hey, Vick was gone, but the Falcons had Joey Harrington! And Chris Redman! And Byron Leftwich! I carry a deep, abiding hatred in my heart for Bobby Petrino and I always will. I'll never forget how sick I felt seeing players talk about his abrupt departure on local news, juxtaposed against footage of Petrino doing that stupid hog call at his introductory presser at Arkansas. I nodded in emphatic agreement when I saw the image of Petrino's letter, the one that was left in Lawyer Milloy's locker, on which Milloy scratched out Petrino's signature and replaced it with "COWARD" in red ink. The Falcons finished 4-12 and were in need of a new coach and a new quarterback. I expected a long road back to being competitive.
Then 2008 exceeded everyone's expectations. Matt Ryan's first pass as a pro was a touchdown to Michael Jenkins, and Mike Smith's Falcons finished the season 11-5 with a wildcard playoff bid. The Falcons missed the playoffs in 2009, but did finish with a winning season, giving the team consecutive winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. I was experiencing something new, something I hadn't really experienced in my short time as a Falcons fan. I was experiencing hope that this quarterback and this coach might be special.
And they were special. The Falcons secured the top seed in the NFC in 2010 and 2012 and made the playoffs in 2011. It was an easy time to be a Falcons fan, especially in 2012. After the loss to Green Bay in 2010 and the embarrassment against the Giants in 2011, Falcons fans desperately wanted a playoff win. We wanted it for Smitty and Ryan. We really wanted it for Tony Gonzalez. We wanted it for ourselves. Being in the Georgia Dome for that win over the Seahawks will forever be one of my favorite memories as a Falcons fan. Being ten yards from the Super Bowl will forever be one of the most painful.
Past a point, thanks in large part to The Falcoholic, I became not just a Falcons fan but a member of a great community of Falcons fans. These past two seasons haven't been easy, but we've gotten through it together. We became so accustomed to the expectation that Mike Smith and Matt Ryan's Falcons should be perennially good that it was impossible to be prepared for what happened in 2013. It was easy to expect a return to form with healthy players in 2014, and that didn't happen.
The Falcons swept the Saints, though. That will also be one of my favorite memories as a Falcons fan.
We said goodbye to the coach who led the team through its most successful period in franchise history, and now we're on the cusp of a new era. Maybe they turn it around quickly like they did in 2008. Maybe it'll be a longer road back to relevancy. Regardless, I'll be here. We'll all be here. We're Falcons fans.
How did you become a Falcons fan? Share your story in the comments.