Atlanta Falcons: What Championship Week Means for the City of Atlanta
For the entirety of the 2012 NFL season, Falcons fans complained that the media was looking for every excuse and statistic to discredit their regular-season success.
To the national media, that seemed fair. Atlanta had not won a playoff game under the regime of head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan.
Thanks to two exceptional passes by the clutchest quarterback and kicker in the NFL, the media now has to finally pay attention.
Atlanta will not miss the opportunity to put on a show.
This week, which physically spans as the time between the utter elation that flooded the Georgia Dome concourses yesterday and the kickoff of Sunday's NFC Championship Game, means everything to this city.
It's the first NFC Championship Game to ever be hosted by the city since the Falcons arrived in 1966. The Falcons have only played in the NFC Championship twice (won in Minnesota in 1998-99, lost in Philadelphia in 2004-05).
Because the Falcons beat the Seahawks yesterday, the media isn't asking "show me" anymore.
Atlanta's next performance, win or lose, will be to show the country there's more here than just a franchise that had to eke out a victory to prevent from sliding back down into a hole of utter turmoil and teased hearts.
It's time the Falcons are a respected as a professionally run and successful franchise.
It's true that the Falcons were probably the quietest 13-3 team in NFL history. But, why?
They're not based in Boston, Chicago, New York or Los Angeles. As much as media conglomerates seem big enough to cover the whole spread, time after time smaller cities don't get visits from national reporters very often.
Just ask the San Antonio Spurs.
It probably goes without saying that anything said by former ESPNNewYork writer Rob Parker is moot now, but last season, when he was still employed by the worldwide leader in sports, he went on a rant that magnified just how skewed perception of Atlanta can be outside of the city.
Somebody working at ESPN looked over that article and decided it had enough journalistic substance to run. That somebody probably shouldn't be working there either, but I digress.
The article claimed that Atlanta fans didn't deserve a playoff win against the New York Giants because they didn't care. It only took a few hours for the entire fanbase in Atlanta to tear him a new one.
While the article itself was amateur at best, you began to wonder how many people really have been brainwashed as bad as Parker had been.
It's true that the New York Jets will always headline the New York Times, a nationally distributed news paper, and that they will always have a spot in the first 20 minutes of SportsCenter.
The Jets are the most poorly operated franchise in the NFL, but in the end they are more relevant in the media. They have better access to reporters and a greater following, as do the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Cowboys.
While it's fair to say the media can hyperfocus on its more accessible teams, there's no room for assuming a team that isn't in the media isn't worthy of praise.
Especially not when that team and fanbase is of the Atlanta Falcons.
The funny thing about Parker's infamous article, which made him public enemy No. 1 in the city he attacked, is the fact he never actually brought up Falcons fans. Instead, he took stabs at bad attendance at Braves games and Hawks games and the fact Atlanta has lost two NHL franchises.
Yes, Atlanta is full of transplants who think the city's lack of hockey interest is a disgrace. But, it's also full of home-grown football fanatics.
Maybe a hockey or basketball team will never find its footing here, but it only takes a little bit of winning to make a football team the most beloved entity.
Since 2008, the Atlanta Falcons have not only done a lot of winning, but they've also been great within the community and have one of the more likable owners in the league.
There is no such thing as a bandwagon Falcons fan in the same sense that there's obviously bandwagon Clippers fans in Los Angeles.
The Falcons struggled from 1996 until 2007 so much that they never had back-to-back winning seasons. Instead of being the football team this football city would embrace, they likened to the suffering pro sports identity that the Braves and Hawks wore so well.
The truth is this is an NFL town now, but the media outside of Atlanta hasn't figured that out yet.
Now, the entire media has to come here for the NFC Championship Game. Again, that's never happened before.
Falcons fans not only shed tears of joy on Sunday, possibly for the sake of their head coach, but they know very well they'll be the center of the American universe from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Sunday.
The Falcons have the "show me a playoff win" monkey off their back. Win or lose, the country will know on Sunday that city does in fact deserve a playoff win.
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