February 5th, 2016 was one of the most difficult days of my life. That’s super cheesy to say. After all, there are plenty of things in life that are worse than losing the Super Bowl. I’ve been lucky enough to have been spared many of those hardships, but that doesn’t mean I’m not acutely aware of their existence. It sounds silly and even a little bit insulting to put a football game on par with some truly horrible things. Let me make it clear that I’m not trying to compare Super Bowl 51 with any of those events.
The truth of the matter is that, for Falcons fans—true Falcons fans—that day will be long remembered as one of great suffering. Yes, in simple terms it is just a game, but to many of us it’s far more than that. Being a Falcons fan is like being a part of a family; a huge family that includes people from all walks of life and brings people together from across the world. We feel like we’re a part of something bigger than we are. Somehow, through a game, we all share a connection to this team.
When the Falcons blew that 28-3 lead—a fact that we’ve been reminded of daily since it happened—it was more than just a loss. It wasn’t just the simple fact of being defeated on the biggest stage, it was how they lost. Embarrassed, destroyed, devastated. It felt like a betrayal of our trust.
We treat this team like our family, and in some ways it has become a part of our family. It feels very crazy to type that out, but I know you all understand what I mean by it. When the team lost, we lost. Atlanta lost. Our family lost.
That makes it all the more painful, because we care about our family. We want to see them succeed and be happy. Their success lifts us all. In the same vein, their failure hurts us. We support them and cheer them on and believe in them. The way February 5th, 2017 ended felt like a slap in the face.
As painful as that day was, however, it ended. Months passed. The draft arrived and new talent was infused into the roster. Training camp has come and gone. Now, after the conclusion of the preseason, we stand at the precipice of a new season. 2017 is a new adventure that will be fraught with challenges and difficulties, but it also brings hope. Hope that the Falcons will once again reach the Super Bowl, and this time, conquer it.
Despite how painful this loss was to us as fans, it was infinitely more painful to the Falcons. This game is their livelihood. They poured their blood, sweat, and tears into it. The players risked mind and body to get there. In many ways, that trip to Super Bowl 51 was the culmination of their life’s work. It should have been their magnum opus—their greatest, crowning achievement.
Instead, they failed—horrifically. Their life’s work culminated in an embarrassing and soul-crushing defeat the likes of which the NFL had never seen. It doesn’t matter that the loss was at the hands of arguably the best player in NFL history, or that the Falcons soundly outplayed the Patriots for nearly three full quarters. The only thing that people will remember is that they failed.
Think about the pain you feel reading that paragraph. It was painful for me to type it out. Now multiply that by a thousand, and you have the way that the actual players and coaches felt immediately after the events of February 5th, 2017.
That type of pain can mess a person up. It can affect them mentally and physically, for years. If the pain isn’t dealt with effectively, the person might never fully recover. The darkness might linger and follow them, in some way, forever. Even if it is dealt with, a little tinge will always be there—a scar of an injury suffered a long time ago.
If you stuck with me this far, good. That means that you—like the Falcons—are ready to move on. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t fun, but it is necessary. If you want to “climb the mountain” again, as Quinn likes to say, you can’t do it while bearing the weight of a colossal failure on your shoulders. The Falcons seem to have succeeded in letting that weight go. It’s time for us to join them.
I’m not saying you should forget about February 5th, 2017. That isn’t possible, and it isn’t helpful either.
The Falcons haven’t forgotten. The world hasn’t forgotten.
Moving on is different. It’s analyzing what went wrong, determining what steps you can take to prevent the situation from happening again, and then giving yourself permission to stop feeling guilty. To stop feeling the pain, and instead feel something else.
Hunger, and a powerful drive to fix what was broken.
The Falcons have taken this approach. Instead of wallowing in the pain of defeat, they are harnessing it. Matt Ryan’s Gatorade commercial is cheesy, but I believe what he’s saying is the truth. If you can truly make defeat into something positive—into motivation to be better—then your chances of future success are much greater.
Our failures in everything we do are learning experiences. If you treat them like that—as opportunities to get better—then they don’t seem quite as detrimental. That doesn’t make them go away, and it doesn’t make them painless. It can, however, make them useful, because everyone fails from time to time. I know I have, and I know you have.
We can’t run from Super Bowl 51. We can’t hide from it. We can’t bury our heads in the sand on Sundays and pretend that the announcers and commentators and idiots on social media won’t make endless, unfunny, and unoriginal jokes about “28-3”.
There’s something we can do, however: move on.
There is an excellent quote from the ultra-popular show Game of Thrones by perhaps the best character, Tyrion Lannister, that applies nicely to this situation.
“Never forget what you are—the rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.”
He, of course, was talking about being a bastard and/or a dwarf. Not exactly the same situation, obviously. But, it’s true nonetheless.
Never forget that you are a Falcons fan. You’re a part of the Falcons family. Yes, the Falcons blew the biggest lead in NFL history. So what? That doesn’t change our fandom, and it doesn’t change our belief in this team. This is what we are, and it is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. So, don’t be.
Be proud of your fandom. Be proud of your belief in this team. Be proud that you’re a part of the Falcons family, and not some empty bandwagoner following a “good” team around like a lemming.
We’re here for this team, no matter how badly they lose or how pathetic they look at times. We’ve watched them in years where they sucked, and in years were they were terrific. The truth is that if you’re still here after that abomination that we witnessed on February 5th, 2017, then you’re not going anywhere. You’re hooked, and you’re a part of this family for life. Don’t worry, we’re all in this same boat of crazy, illogical fandom together.
There are many reasons to be excited for the 2017 season. This may be the most talented, deep, and versatile roster that the Falcons have ever assembled. They have some of the greatest players in the league entering their primes—Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman. Atlanta has a coaching staff full of master motivators and creative tacticians. This team is absolutely ready to compete for another chance at the Super Bowl in 2017.
For what it’s worth, I think they get there. I think our faith and patience is finally rewarded—in the best possible way—at the conclusion of the 2017 season. But even if it’s not, I know we’ll all still be here. We’ll all be back at this time next year, talking about the upcoming season of opportunities and coming together as a Falcons family in excitement and pride.
I love you all, and I’m so incredibly excited for the future of this team. I’ve moved on from Super Bowl 51, and I’m ready to focus on the future. Maybe you are ready to move on, too. Maybe you aren’t quite there yet. That’s fine—everyone is different, and we all experience and process things differently. We’re still with you now, and we’ll be here when you’re ready to let go.
Welcome to the 2017 season. The time has come for the revenge tour. Buckle up.