To be a Georgia Sports Fan
It’s New Year’s day, 2017. Final week of the NFL season. After a statement win against the rival New Orleans Saints, I have a lot to look forward to. My naive young self is excited about the upcoming NFL playoffs. My team is 11-5, and they had a bye for the wild card round of the playoffs. Only three more wins to be World Champions.
For those who don’t know me, I am a Falcons fan. Yes, 28-3. I get it. Laugh it up. Those of you who understand can skip this paragraph. For those who are still confused, I’ll give a quick recap. After big wins in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Falcons made just their second franchise Super Bowl and played against the legendary Tom Brady and the Patriots “dynasty.” The first half was all Falcons, and the score was 21-3 at halftime. With about 17 minutes left in the game (the entire game is 60 minutes), the score was 28-3 in favor of the Falcons. There was no way they could lose. But with a bit of Tom Brady magic, a series of fatal and avoidable mistakes and a lot of luck, the Patriots came back and won the game in overtime. We could not believe it. We were crushed. We had been winning by so much.
The collapse is still talked about: Tom Brady trolls the team constantly, and every March 28 (3/28), social media wishes the fans a “Happy 28-3 Day.” If I tell someone I'm a Falcons fan, they always have the same response: “lol … 28 to 3.” While it’s become predictable, part of me still hurts from it. I have tried to move past it, but I can’t. Not because it actually hurts that much. It is because I am reminded of it, consistently. Not by fans or sports writers and analysts. But by other Georgia teams.
Everyone who follows sports religiously like me knows what I’m talking about. One word is used to describe Georgia sports: “choke.” This term was tossed around like a hot potato after the Super Bowl loss, and it continues to describe any team or player of any sport that loses control of a game and blows it. After that Super Bowl loss, the whole city was in metaphorical shambles. The day following the Super Bowl, I flew to Israel to visit Yeshivas, and when people met me, their response was always along the lines of “oh. Sorry.”
Just when the town began to move forward, another lead was blown. Just 10 months later in the College Football Playoffs Championship, University of Georgia blew another big lead. It just kept happening. Georgia teams would get as far as possible and then squander their leads. In 2019, the Atlanta Braves held a commanding 2-1 lead in the National League (NL) Divisional Series over the St. Louis Cardinals. They blew a lead in Game 4 and lost in extra innings. They got smothered in Game 5 and lost the series, 3-2. The following year, 2020, the same team got all the way to the NL Championship Series against the juggernaut LA Dodgers. They had a commanding 3-1 lead and were one win away from the World Series. By now, you can probably guess what happened: they lost three straight games and blew the series.
Atlanta sports teams have become the epitome of “choking.” Talk about embarrassing. The Atlanta Braves went to five World Series in nine years, from 1991 to 1999, and they only won once. They won their division 14 years in a row and only had one trophy to show for it. A sad history for a sad town. It was the only championship in any of the major sports that Atlanta had won.
Those of you who do not follow sports might not understand the magnitude of the loss felt by the fans. Maybe this will help: imagine you went to a fancy restaurant where you had been waiting months for a reservation. All your friends had been there and had told you how amazing the food was. “You have to try it,” they’d said. You get there, waiters bring out your food and it looks fabulous. Absolutely to die for. But right before you are about to take your first bite, the waiter grabs your fork, takes away your plate and kicks you out. That is what it felt like, but probably worse than you’re imagining. Well, last week, we got to take that bite. We got to taste that sweet victory everyone had been talking about.
On Nov. 2, the curse on Georgia sports was broken. The jinx was lifted. The Atlanta Braves became World Champions for the first time in 26 years. Many had doubted them and assumed the worst; even I doubted them until the final inning. I always told myself that if I expected the worst, I’d be less sad when they lost and more excited if they won. It was the best way for me to deal with the inevitable failure. I set the bar really low, so I wouldn’t be surprised unless Atlanta won. (Jets fans know what I'm talking about.) This time, however, the Braves exceeded my expectations without question.
Many of my friends came up to me and wished me Mazal Tov, congratulating me on the win, but they had absolutely no idea what it felt like and what it meant to me. What it meant to the city. To the fans. I almost cried, and I know some who actually did. To go from the laughingstock of the sports world to World Champions is the greatest feeling in sports. It wasn’t just that they won. It was when they won as well. What the fans of this city had to endure for almost five years, since that Super Bowl, is different from what fans of eternally bad teams must experience. They have an expectation of losing, so it comes as no surprise when they do. (Again, Jets fans know what I’m talking about.) I don’t mean to say that being bad consistently isn’t a tragic form of loss, but that for us, it was the constant hope that the team put in us that was taken away at the last minute that made it all the more painful. They were never quite good enough to win it all. Now, they have won. Finally, after all the ridicule and jokes, the city can rest. The tension is gone. There's another championship in town and no one can take it away from us. They can’t choke away the World Series anymore.
There is a common word that sports fans use: “we.” They don’t actually mean to say that they are on the roster, or that they work for the organization. They mean that they are deeply connected with the city and the team represents that city. Each and every fan is a part of the fanbase, which is a huge part of the team. “We” is an all-inclusive word that makes the fans feel part of something bigger than any of them as individuals.
So, when I say we did it, I mean we did it. We, the fans, stuck it out, past all the laughter and mockery, to finally say that it is over. “We” are “chokers” no longer. So what does it feel like to be a Georgia sports fan, you ask? In order to not make this any longer, I’ll describe it with one word: redemption.
Photo Caption: Outside the Atlanta Braves’ Truist Park
Photo Credit: Erin Doering/ Unsplash