Today is a day of opportunity.
An opportunity to right a wrong from four years ago, a wrong that left many of us in shambles, shells of the happy fans we had been just four short hours before.
The disappointment was a strong blow and a bitter taste. It crushed what had been a bright awakening for a football team that had just recently experienced its first pair of back-to-back winning seasons since its inception, its first ever back-to-back postseason appearances. Things were looking up.
And then a pass on 4th down, just yards away from a chance at greatness, fell to the ground, uncaught. The weak but persistent wind that had been lifting up a city ceased its blowing and the collective heart of a fanbase deflated.
Indifference set in. An organization struggled. Back to the status quo when we had just been at the peak of the mountain. I am guilty; I stopped watching. I barely listened. I lost my will to research, to write, to immerse myself in the flailing wings of a falling bird.
Yet I persisted. Falcon fans kept their jerseys. They kept their car flags. And they moved on, knowing that they had once again entered an underground fandom. And through a four, six, and eight win season, a new coach, and a new philosophy, we persevered.
Over this season, as Matt Ryan has set records, burned defenses, and finally garnered the attention of the fickle sports media, something has happened. Atlanta has started to buy into a new concept: brotherhood.
It was a private movement at first, a unifying of a team that had once been compartmentalized to its pockets of job roles. The old locker room system of having everyone in their own role-based groups was thrown out. Everyone was paired with a new, non-role-related locker partner.
Words started to appear on t-shirts: Family. Brothership. Brotherhood. We saw them through the coverage of the team this season, but we didn’t really catch on. Even as the team started to gel and win, we didn’t really catch on.
And then they let us in. They started to ask the fans to join in on the brotherhood. And we did. We joined it in droves. Rise Up may be our slogan, something we’ve been told to use since midway through Mike Smith’s tenure, but Brotherhood defines this specific team and our connection to them.
This attitude is pervasive through the entire team and coaching staff. Dan Quinn’s comments are mirrored by Matt Ryan, who is mirrored by Julio, who is mirrored by Beasley and so on. This team is a brotherhood, bonded by their brothership, and their support of one other feels like something we’ll see on a 30 for 30 film in the future.
This team, the 2016 Atlanta Falcons, is special. By all accounts, 2017’s team will have to be different but still very much the same. Dan Quinn has given this team, and by proxy this city, something we haven’t yet had under any other head coach: a connection to the Falcons. They are not an NFL team. They are our Falcons. They are as Atlanta as peaches, rap, and chicken n’ waffles.
This is a city of people from many different backgrounds, many different places, all working together in harmony. That ideal is reflected in this 2016 Falcons team. They support one another, love one another, and truly seem to enjoy bringing this city happiness. The fans have been the most supportive they’ve ever been since I moved here nearly ten years ago.
My daughter was born the year the Falcons last went to the NFC Championship. She’s nearly five years old now. As I was leaving for work this past friday, Matt Ryan jersey on over my red polo, she asked me if I was going to go play for the Falcons now. I smiled and told her that I was showing my support for my football team. She gave me a smile and a “Rise Up.” We hugged and I left and for the first time in nearly ten years, I was not the only Falcons jersey wearer at work.
I got calls in the street Friday. Nods at stores. Smiles at drive thrus. Long drawn out talks about the game with people I never even knew liked football. What this Falcons team has done for this fanbase is incredible. No one seems to be afraid to show that they support the Falcons anymore.
It's time to cement the goodwill of the fans. It’s time to take the next leap for this team and to start an era of Falcons football where arguments will center on which Falcon is better rather than who’s worse. Time to start looking at drafts in a whole new light. Time to start wearing our Falcons colors throughout the year, proud and straight-backed.
It’s all up to our team now.
I don’t know if I will be smiling or frowning as the sun sets this evening, but I do know that I feel privileged to have witnessed and played a small part in what has been a phenomenal Falcons season. These haven’t come often for us. Let’s hope this is just the beginning.
In Brotherhood, We Rise.