The more I hear about Sunday night’s game, the more I can’t (For perhaps the first time in my life) help but feel for the people of Atlanta. As Vikings fans we’re perhaps more well versed in the emotions that surround blowing big leads in big games than any other team (Even Cleveland), or at least, we were. Sunday’s historic loss that the Falcons almost willed upon themselves was on such a level that it may have ironically been another example of the Falcons taking a title away from The Vikings. The loss was so bad, and the coverage of it so mean spirited that it has done something I thought impossible, it made me forgot a lifetime of disdain for the city that was formed in the fires of my youth (As I formed my sports identity) and thus I do believe that we as Vikings fans can do some good by reaching out to Falcons fans and letting them know that we know how it feels and perhaps even give them some tips on how to get through the grief cycle faster/With less alcohol.
I was born in 1984, one of my first major sports memories (Outside of playing hockey at VMIA Arena in North Minneapolis) was hearing my dad rip on Mark Lemke, the diminutive (IIRC) second baseman from the Atlanta Braves during the 1991 World Series. I remember a few things from that World Series, Kirby Puckett, obviously, Homer Hankies, of course, Jack Morris and that chant. That god awful, racist in retrospect chant that Braves fans used whenever something good happened. Thankfully, the Twins had my childhood hero in Kirby Puckett and thus the Twins did something that has seemed impossible since, brought a Championship to Minnesota (I know, the Lynx, but… No). Apparently, Kirby Puckett was the 90’s version of what Tom Brady will be forever in Atlanta, something that I hadn’t realized up until reading it yesterday in one of the countless “Atlanta WILL NEVER RECOVER!!! AHHHH!” articles that were written after Sunday night’s game. So, as someone whose hero ruined a Southern version of himself in the early 90’s, I feel compelled to reach out to that now 32 year old Southern Man and say that while that it must’ve hurt to lose to us in ’91, as a market they more than made up for it in 1998.
Ugh. 1998. A year that proves that the above headlines really weren’t written as hyperbole. I never got over the other 90’s interaction that we had with Atlanta. A game that was mentioned multiple times this past week, and even after the game on Sunday, as an example of the Falcons being on the right-side of a choke job (And I don’t mean Eugene Robinson… Ayo!). Even Pro-Atlanta writers talk about the 1998 NFC Championship game as an example of the better team losing, which I’m not sure will be the narrative of Sunday’s game (Was Atlanta the better team that simply got too cocky after going up 28-3? Or did the Patriots simply start slow?), I think that on paper at least, the Patriots were the better team (Edging out the Falcons mainly by having the more experienced/”better” defense) so perhaps that my take some of the sting out of things once the “Falcoholics” do regain feeling.
Either way, because of my inability to get over the game in ’98, the day that I became a “True Vikings fan” (According to my dad), I initially reacted to Atlanta’s historic choke-job with as much glee as is possible while my body was fighting to stay alive after I consumed enough shrimp to make a baleen whale reconsider it’s life choices. However, after reading/hearing/watching the tidal wave of reaction from the “objective” national media, and the narrative that was forming (More of a blame the Falcons than elevate Tom Brady to deity status, which isn’t necessarily wrong but how about some diversity in takes?), I began to feel for my former third most hated NFL Franchise (Perhaps they were the fourth… Green Bay, New Olreans and Dallas are ahead of them, in that order), or at least it’s fan-base.
Because of that and perhaps because of the guilt I feel for my initial, aforementioned glee… I do believe it’s a good time for us to send out an olive branch to our winged brethren, or rather for me to bring it up in an attempt to guilt you into doing so. If you know any Falcons fans, let them know that you feel their pain, maybe even add up the years of each of our sports franchises and let them know that while we have one more championship as a market (Depending on what teams you include, and from when), we still have many, many more high level choke jobs (Depending on whether or not you consider the 90’s Braves as choke artists). Something that, I explained to the Falcons fans on Reddit after the game, can be used as a way to bond just as a championship can. I essentially said, following up on a comment from another Vikings fan that was there to share his condolences, that while it hurts now and will probably hurt forever, eventually they may be able to all at least grow from it as fans. It’s still a “Where were you when?” type of moment and, as we have found as Vikings fans, can even bring (Super, super dark) humor or as I’ve found as a website owner, a (Super, super dark) website.
So, while the road ahead is going to be arduous and the history of teams that have lost a Super Bowl returning the following season dismal, don’t give up. If nothing else you still have a young team that honestly should have beaten a team helmed by the best QB/Coach duo of all time, if nothing else that’s something. So, look at us as a great example of a market that’s fan-base thrives despite never winning a Super Bowl, and even losing the only Championship Trophy that it had (The Ed Thorpe Trophy from the ’69 season). Or, you can always fall back on the fact that you live in the “Good” Georgia, the one that isn’t constantly afraid of being invaded by Russia, or I guess with the way things are going and the fact that Georgia is a Red State, the one that at least welcomed it?
The fact does remain that you have one another as fans and that times like this can prove who the REAL fans of a franchise are. As a market that has it’s fair share of fair weather fans, I always do find a silver lining in losses like these as it helps weed out band-wagoners who are only around when times are good. So, while this sounds petty and vindictive, I do believe that at least one of those words is a stage in the grief process, so remember who stuck around. Remember it forever, so when your team is back on top you have extra leg-room on your couch. But, remember the one’s that did stay and rest assured that eventually your team will be back in the big show and it will have learned from this experience and will be able to take advantage of that knowledge by winning… Probably over the Vikings in the NFC Championship…