The city of Atlanta, despite popular belief, tries so hard to be considered a professional sports town.
As a native of Atlanta, I wont lie, I cant help but to notice the overwhelming advantage college sports have over professional sports in Atlanta. And in the past year, professional sports here have shot themselves in the foot.
The primary areas of interest down here are Georgia and Georgia Tech football. Then you have the Atlanta Braves, usually. And then its a toss up.
But let me review the reader on how awful professional sports have been here in Atlanta.
Our most popular team this season was the 37-45 Atlanta Hawks. They made the playoffs, and played three amazing games here at Philips Arena.
The Braves just had their worst season since I have been alive, by far. The next best thing would be considered to be the Atlanta Thrashers, but people down here didn't even know sports could be played on ice for the longest time.
But in 2002, I couldn't help but notice how the city of Atlanta embraced the Atlanta Falcons. Arthur Blank came in, and said "I will not rest until I bring a Super Bowl ring to the city of Atlanta." (Just for note Arthur, everyone gets one.) Michael Vick came in, and so did a winning attitude. After the Falcons 9-6-1 2002 campaign, the entire town got Falcon fever!
I, personally, love Falcons football, and I will once in a blue moon not watch or at least listen to the game. I think I share the sentiment with a lot of fans down here in believing that our hearts were broken into pieces with all that unfolded with the franchise over the past year!
Seeing a role model for every kid in the city all of a sudden going to jail? Seeing a coach literally quit on his team!? I couldn't believe it!
From 2002-2006, every fan here thought we had a Super Bowl caliber team. Seeing the team fallout was emotionally exhausting. Sundays weren't fun anymore—not only did we lose Vick, but losing the basis of the franchise in players like Warrick Dunn, Rod Coleman, Grady Jackson, and Alge Crumpler had me questioning a lot. Even seeing D'Lo Hall leave hurt! At least he was fun to watch.
The Falcons came into this season with absolutely no expectations. Magazines were picking us to go 4-12, 2-14, a handful had us at 1-15. I even saw 0-16!
The fan base disappeared. The Falcons failed to get two games on TV last season. I didn't even know it was possible to not make local television. And, the home opener this year vs. the Detroit Lions barely made it on TV!
But I found the time, and the commitment to watch the Falcons this preseason, and I started to immediately notice something...different. I knew the team was full of youth—young guys who haven't made names for themselves. On top of that list was a rookie QB in Matt Ryan. I knew starting rookie quarterbacks was a bad idea, I thought this scenario would just be too tough.
Our replacement at cornerback for DeAngelo Hall...Brent Grimes, a 5'8", sub 200-pound cornerback from Shippensburg? Is that like a city in Europe? Apparently, its a college.
But Ryan and, especially this guy Grimes have been really impressive.
Fans immediately starting watching this guy at corner, and you started to hear "wows" in the stands again. You know that same sound you got when Vick ran for eight seconds behind the line of scrimmage. Grimes was leaping around and playing like a man possessed. But, I thought one thing when I saw Grimes, "He plays like a kid." This guy has passion!
I got the same vibe from Matt Ryan. He would get really bug eyed! You could see him thinking, "Holy crap! I'm in the NFL?!" I began to pick up on the youth of this team, and how it had energy!
Half the time I didn't know the guy's names, but I knew they were loving it out there! You could see it on Mike Smith's face. You could see it on the player's faces. It was only preseason, but these guys were having fun.
Good thing the Falcons sold out and got on TV for their home opener vs. Detroit, because it was worth watching. The Falcons have done way more than expected so far this season.
You don't even know how important it was to have two HUGE home wins in front of that crowd in Atlanta. Those games were so fun to watch, and I would pay top dollar to go watch them play. The team fought so hard on the road. And then, this week they won in Green Bay?!?! Matt Ryan are you kidding me?! This is awesome!
All of a sudden Matt Ryan looks like a veteran. Michael Turner leads the NFL in rushing, Roddy White is third in the NFL in receiving, and John Abraham leads the NFL in sacks.
But here's the primary reason why the Falcons are worth watching again: They are playing hard, and playing to win!
There aren't any extraordinary stories in the media anymore. There aren't players having run-ins with the law. The players are working hard, staying quiet, being professional, but laying it all out on the field.
I don't care if Atlanta loses the majority of their games this year, with a team rebuilding and learning as they go, the level of passion and intensity they are playing with, is worth watching in itself.