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The 1998 NFC Championship: Origins of a Falcons Fan

John McCurdyCorrespondent IMay 8, 2009

17 Jan 1999:  Jamal Anderson #32 of the Atlanta Falcons runs during the NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings at the H. H. H. Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Falcons defeated the Vikings 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel  /Allsport

It's a funny thing, the human memory.

It's selective: It allows me to remember the seemingly trivial, yet occasionally forget the important. I mean, why do I remember how bad Joey Harrington was in Week Five of 2007 (2.81 yards per passing attempt!), yet forget how to conjugate Spanish verbs on my final exam?

And the human memory also has no regard for time: Hell if I could tell you what I wore yesterday, but if you want a description of my first time watching a Falcons game in person, I could even give you the details of how the air conditioning felt on the back of my neck in the Georgia Dome.

So I guess it's just good luck that I remember the beginning of my, shall we say, "NFL consciousness." Not all the details, mind you, but certainly the most important ones.

It was mid-January 1999, about halfway through my fifth grade year. My boy, Jay, and I were at some girl's house working on a group project for school.

That is, the girls were working on the "group" project. My main and I were holed up in the basement, glued to the tube. Our freakin' hometown Atlanta Falcons were in the playoffs, and even though we were both just discovering the wonderful world of sports at that age, we had to watch.

At the time, I couldn't have told you that the Falcs had posted a 14-2 record during the regular season and had won the NFC West for only the second time in franchise history.

I only knew that we'd had an aberration of a season (they'd won games!), that we were already a lot further in the postseason than we were supposed to be, and that my eyes could not be pried from the "NFC Championship" against some "Minnesota Vikings."

I also knew that, for that Sunday afternoon, Chris Chandler was darn near the best quarterback in the league. Only now can I truly appreciate the numbers (340 yards passing and three touchdowns), but even back then I could have told you that he was doing everything right.

And I was pretty sure Jamal Anderson was the most exciting player I'd ever seen. Too bad I hadn't had the good sense to watch earlier, as his entire season had been tremendous; he finished '98 with 1,846 rushing yards, 319 receiving yards, and 16 TD.

But perhaps what I was most certain of was that I truly cared how this game turned out. It was a heck of a nail-biter, an epic overtime thriller, and the start of something grand for both the city and for me.

I'll cut to the interesting part, though, as I'm sure you're tiring of all this reminiscence.

The entirety was back-and-forth like few other contests, but shortly before halftime, Atlanta grabbed the momentum. Still, they needed a 16-yard Chandler pass to Terance Mathis for a score to tie it up with just 49 seconds left in regulation.

In the extra minutes, nobody seemed capable of putting it away, as three consecutive possessions resulted in punts. But then a limping Falcons signal-caller just plain willed the ball downfield, setting up a field goal for Morten Anderson.

I'll come totally clean: In my elementary school years, I was so ignorant of the athletic realm, I'm not positive I knew how many points a boot was worth in the game of football as Anderson kicked it.

All the same, I saw Mort knock it through from what had to have been a mile, and I knew something serious had gone down. The gridiron was only starting to become familiar to me, but I definitely knew the words "Super Bowl."

Yes, the next day, I begged my father into buying me a khaki Falcons logo cap, which I believe I wore for two weeks straight once he brought it home.

And yes, our activity in P.E. at Annistown Elementary for the next few class sessions was learning Anderson's celebratory "Dirty Bird" dance.

I'm not positive, but I bet I could still do it.

Jay and I watched the Falcons' first appearance in the big game, and sure, we were disappointed with the outcome (for you young guns, that Elway character took the Lombardi once more). Still, I couldn't help but feel a tad bit optimistic.

I'd found a new passion: football. I knew what needed to be incorporated into my life: sports.

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