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Reconciling the Falcons devastating loss with their amazing season

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The scars are deep. Were they worth it?

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Eric Seals-USA TODAY Sports

As a Falcons fan since 1980, I’ve experienced my fair share of disappointment over the years. Playoff losses coupled with miserable regular seasons never broke me the way this Super Bowl loss did. It was one of the most emotionally wrecking moments I’ve ever experienced in sports. I’m still having a hard time with it, and I imagine many of you are as well. I can only imagine what those players are feeling given the pit in my stomach that forms whenever I hear about that game.

I’m struggling to reconcile that painful loss with what was arguably one of the greatest seasons of Falcons football I’ve ever witnessed.

Deeply rooted emotions

I’ve noticed quite a few people who feel the same way I do, while others have found a way to quickly “move on.” Many are already talking about free agency or the draft, while others are looking forward to the next season. Yet, I’m stuck trying to quell the multitude of emotions I’ve felt since that day. Anger, frustration, disappointment all barrel together and flood my mind.

It may seem silly to some, but in many ways becoming a fan of a team connects you to them emotionally. It’s like a relationship. You invest your time and energy into it and it is capable of showing you incredible highs and devastating lows. Often, our deepest and most painful wounds are given to us by those we care for the most. Why would it be any different with the team many of us have invested so much time in?

I’ve heard people say they can’t make themselves vulnerable like this again. Allowing yourself to be hurt by something outside of your control can produce a dark hopelessness that is hard to recover from. Yet, nearly any deeply rooted relationship is capable of doing this to us. As you get close to someone, you make yourself vulnerable to them and their actions. You empower them with the ability to impact you, whether good or bad. The question is whether that risk is worth it. I can understand those who need to move on. Sometimes, the pain caused by those we love is too much to tolerate. Why would it be any different when considering your emotional investment in a team?

Seeing the good

Herein lies the problem. As is often true in any relationship, the pain is normally preceded by emotions on the opposite end of the spectrum. Joy, happiness and fulfillment are often precursors to disappointment and loss. The recency of pain can often blind us to the good that we experienced and our gut reaction is often to pretend none of it happened. We do it to protect ourselves. While ignoring all of it can help in the short term, it’s often how relationships are irrevocably damaged if you can’t find a way to move on and reconcile the bad with the good.

The Falcons gave us some incredible moments this year. Matt Ryan’s MVP season shouldn’t be discounted, while watching our young defense grow has been so encouraging. Seeing guys like Alex Mack and Taylor Gabriel relish being on a winning team can’t be overlooked, while seeing a veteran like Jonathan Babineaux experience his first Super Bowl is incredibly powerful. It’s also easy to forget that no one would have predicted a Super Bowl berth this soon, and if this team can build on this success, there’s no reason they can’t go back.

Even still, speaking of the great things we experienced reignites the flames of hurt. It’s a necessary part of the healing, but I’m not even sure I’m ready for it yet.

Moving on

I’ll be honest: my first reaction after the loss was to be done with all of this. I seriously contemplated walking away from football altogether. The thought still crosses my mind, though it has eased as time has passed. This isn’t a relationship I can give up on - not yet, anyways.

For now, I’m going to stick by this team despite the hurt. I’m going to continue rooting for them and pouring my heart into them. It hurts like hell and I’m still struggling with it, but I have to believe it will all be worth it in the end.