NFC Championship: Atlanta Falcons' Cinderella Story Fueled by Doubters

Mike Foster@michaelsfosterCorrespondent IJanuary 18, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 13:  Tony Gonzalez #88 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates their 30 to 28 win over the Seattle Seahawks during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Georgia Dome on January 13, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Earlier this afternoon ESPN radio host Scott Van Pelt added himself to the short list of national media icons that believe the Atlanta Falcons will participate in the Super Bowl in February. The always-explosive conversationalist Stephen A. Smith is also backing them.

But, Van Pelt made an interesting comment in his short segment on the Falcons when asking, "What's the story in Atlanta? I don't know."

The root of his question stemmed from the prefacing statements he made about the intrigue of a Harbaugh Bowl and the possibility of the New England Patriots further cementing their dynasty.

It goes without saying that a first-year starter like Colin Kaepernick, whose promotion sparked heavy criticism of his head coach, Jim Harbaugh, brings quite a story to the championship round table as well.

But, are there really more people out there that believe the Falcons came to the table without a portfolio of any sort? Does the average, non-Atlantan see no substance?

The truth is: It's possible.

Yes, right now the front article on is a piece by Ashley Fox on Matt Ryan. The reason it's there, however, is because there's only four teams left in the NFL. The company would be a sinking ship if it didn't send a crew to Atlanta.

Local radio hosts Jerome Jurenovich and Jamie Dukes went on quite a rant during their slot this afternoon, highlighting the national media's fallacy, and claiming the only reason Joe Buck and Troy Aikman are calling the game for FOX at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday is because they have no choice.

That comical statement couldn't actually hold more ground. The Falcons failed to draw FOX's marquee broadcast crew for the entire 2012 season, despite winning 13 games. One would assume, since head coach Mike Smith is 56-24, that Atlanta earned the honor of being considered a premier team in the NFC.

Yet here they are, a home game in a stadium they've gone 8-1 in this season and 34-7 in since 2008, with the national media not wanting to give them the light of day.

What Van Pelt, who gets the benefit of believing Atlanta has a shot, should have mentioned was the fact the greatest tight end in NFL history, Tony Gonzalez, is a game away from playing in his first-ever Super Bowl.

Never in Gonzalez's colorful career had he ever won a playoff game until Sunday, when the Falcons used one of his amazing touchdown catches to earn a two-point nail-biter against a Seahawks team that had already been written in as the proverbial counterpart to San Francisco for the conference title.

Gonzalez shed tears after the win, and the cameras caught it. Yet, that footage has barely made it outside the confines of I-285.

Here's where the ugly truth rears its head. If Gonzalez gave that speech in a Giants or Jets uniform it would be airing on every television all week.

We know this to be certain because Ray Lewis, who has been the darling of NFL Network and writers trying to create headlines, has a Super Bowl, playoff wins and was charged in a murder case.

Both Gonzalez and Lewis have declared this to be their final season, yet the man who's done everything right has been overshadowed by a man that was pardoned by sensationalism.

That statement is a microcosm of how the national media has seen this city. The Falcons, just like every other Atlanta team, have never been able to grab the media's attention. It has not helped them that they are a blue-collar, business-only organization and not hosting a clown-fest like the Jets are.

In this day and age the media is nothing more than lazy. Instead of digging deep into the confines of a quaint area to build a story that deserves attention, the practice is more about beating what's readily available to death.

It's why the Jets get attention. It's why Ray Lewis is seemingly a saint. And, it's exactly why the Atlanta Falcons have not been given a breath by the majority of the "experts" out there.

There's a story here in Atlanta, and it's huge.

The Patriots have won Super Bowls. The Ravens have won a Super Bowl. The 49ers have won Super Bowls.

Atlanta hasn't.

Just getting into the big game is enough of a Cinderella story for this team and this city. But, there's more to the story than that.

Atlanta is hosting its first-ever NFC Championship on Sunday. 70,000 screaming fans will have a hand in deciding whether or not the Falcons will fuel the age-old mantra that Atlanta teams choke, or whether this football team, in this desperate football city can get what it deserves and give to the fans that cherish it.

This story is, in fact, about a desperate football town. It's about one of the greatest football players in NFL history. It's about a team that has better character from top to bottom than any other team in the NFL.

And this story, strangely enough, is about the fact that it apparently isn't a story to the rest of the world.

The emotion that Atlanta has felt this week has been incredible and increasing. The level of emotion in this city, and with these players, is higher than it is in either of the three other cities still waiting for their team's to take the field.

There's no disputing that claim. Could you honestly think a Patriots fan, who has seen Super Bowl titles come at a dime-a-dozen, will feel anything close to what a Falcons fans will feel? Do you honestly think Ray Lewis, who has won a championship, will feel what Tony Gonzalez feels?

If this scenario were happening in Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago or New York the media would be drooling over it.

The best story left in the NFL season is in Atlanta. It may not be good enough to headline a national newspaper, but if the Falcons win it will definitely be a story told by loyal Falcons fans for years to come.

Michael Foster is an Atlanta Falcons Featured Columnist for BleacherReport. He also served as Sports Editor of The Sentinel (Kennesaw State University's student-run newspaper) for a year and a half, has co-hosted a radio show for KSU Owl Radio and has worked as a sports correspondent for the Marietta Daily Journal and Cherokee Tribune, covering high school football in northwest Atlanta.   


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