On that final 4th down, I told Mrs. Manning that if we ended up losing the game, I was going to need to go lie down in the dark for awhile. She understood. Once the hook-and-ladder attempt failed, and the clock ran down to zeros, I silently left the living room and walked to the bedroom. I shut the door, turned off the lights, and laid down face-first on the bed.
Thirty seconds later I was back up and in the living room.
I wasn’t going to let this be like the other times I was butthurt over a loss. Not like the time I avoided all ESPN properties for three months after Georgia Tech lost to UConn in the 2004 National Championship Game. Not like the time I swore off Georgia Tech football after Reggie Ball threw the ball away on 4th down against UGA. Not like the time I refused to talk to any of my friends for weeks after the Falcons got blown out in Super Bowl XXXIII.
Time and time again on this blog, I talked about the importance of teams giving their fans hope for the future. And despite the cataclysmic manner in which the Falcons lost to the 49ers this weekend, for the first time ever, I left the season feeling like I had reason to have hope for the Falcons.
Sean Weatherspoon. Robert McClain. Thomas DeCoud. William Moore.
Matt Ryan, Roddy White, hell, even Thomas Dimitroff. The list goes on and on.
Even if Tony Gonzales retires, even if Todd McClure calls it a career, even if I was right and losing that gamed doomed the Falcons to getting the “same old Falcons” treatment from the media and fans alike, I knew in that moment that the future is bright. I could let go of the loss. I even sent my best friend (a lifelong Niners fan) a congratulatory text message. I felt no emotion. I was over it.
Or so I thought.
I spent the rest of Sunday and all day Monday burying myself in other pursuits. Family. Playing 2k. Catching up on “The Office,” “Modern Family,” and “Black Ink Crew.” I mixed myself a few new drinks, tried a new beer, but not in a drinking-to-forget kind of way.
I made it all the way until today before I let myself start reflecting on the game. Ironically, it was a sympathetic, Falcon-friendly, pro-Matt Ryan article by Bill Barnwell (grantland.com) that stirred up what was lying beneath the surface:
You’re really going to argue that the Harry Douglas play at the end wasn’t a catch? You should be thanking the stars above that Douglas falls down on that play, because if he doesn’t get eaten alive by a turf monster and stays on his feet, that’s a lead-taking touchdown. And if that happens, we’re not having this conversation about Matt Ryan right now. So your entire argument about Matt Ryan, then, revolves around the fact that Harry Douglas tripped on the turf and wasn’t able to catch the touchdown pass that Matt Ryan put right in his wheelhouse on what was, to that point, the biggest third down of the game? Does Matty Ice have to catch the passes, too?
And then it hit me.
That should have been it. I mean, I’m not dumb. I knew in the moment that that should have been it. But it wasn’t until a couple of days later that the gravity of that particular failure hit me. That should have been Harry Douglas, in the end zone, celebrating in front of – hell, celebrating WITH – Section 105. That was the Super Bowl right there, snatched away by a turf monster. My heart hurts thinking about that play. Literally, it hurts. It hurts the way your heart hurts when you’re 16 years old and the girl you love doesn’t love you back. Pure, unadulterated heartache.
And then later in that drive, we get to within ten yards of scoring. Only ten yards away from the Super Bowl. Ten. Yards. With one of the best offenses in football. It was Julio’s day – my GOD was it ever Julio’s day! – and they were marching right into an end zone that Tony G had owned all year. And yet: neither of them were to be found on that drive. They might as well have hit the showers already.
I don’t know if they were blanketed (they weren’t), I don’t know if other receivers were more open (they weren’t). I don’t pretend to know the decision making that goes into every play call, but when you watch your favorite team’s season end on a batted-down pass to a covered Roddy White followed by an obvious-but-not-called pass interference to the same covered Roddy White… I don’t even know how to finish this sentence. It stinks. It hurts. And try as I might, I am not over it.
It doesn’t help that I was right. The game hadn’t even ended yet before the haters came out. My friend Toya put it best on Facebook, right after the game:
Y’all couldn’t wait to post these corny statuses. Probably had them typed out hours ago. Haters!
The Falcons didn’t make the Super Bowl, and therefore, OBVIOUSLY, the Falcons are a buncha losers. The Falcons lost to the scariest team in football – a team that every human being outside of the State of Georgia had declared to be The Best Thing In Football, led by The Future Of Quarterbacks, coached by The Harbaughiest Of The Harbaughs. They will be the prohibitive favorites to win the Super Bowl. Kim Jong-un himself said, “Oh wow they are even better than me at football.” But OF COURSE: the Falcons losing to that team is a sure sign of weakness.
Bona fide dummy Pat Yasinskas even took it one step further, proving perhaps he should be Grand Marshall of the Falcons Parade of Haters (from the aforementioned “same old Falcons” article):
Go ahead and fire away with the same old questions and criticisms.
Smith is too nice to win the big ones. Ryan can win in the regular season, but not when it matters most.
It’s all valid. In fact, now the Falcons have firmly earned the right to be questioned and criticized from now until the day they win a Super Bowl — if they ever do.
WOW! Now the Falcons have to WIN A SUPER BOWL to not be total failures. They have to be THE VERY BEST team in all of football before we’re supposed to – nay, ALLOWED TO – think they have had a successful season. Hmm, now where have I heard logic like this before?
So now we on some Ricky Bobby shit, huh? Well damn! That definitely sounds reasonable!
I can ignore the haters though. As damning as that game was, I can ignore the haters and ignore the talking heads just fine. Haters hate, and talkers talk. That’s just what they do. The problem is that I don’t NEED haters and talking heads to suffer. I can do sad all by myself. Just me, my Falcons Starter jacket, and memories of Harry Douglas and Roddy White tripping us right out of the Super Bowl.
Next season IS bright. I’m not going back on that. We put 500 yards on the best defense in football. We’ve got pieces in place at several positions that will keep us in the hunt going forward. We’ve got a GM who knows how to draft (hello again, Julio) and obvious holes that he will be ready to address. Falcons fans have a lot to look forward to.
But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.