If you live in the state of Georgia, even if you aren't a football fan, you probably know the Atlanta Falcons are headed to the Super Bowl today. The city is electric with excitement. Schools and employers are encouraging kids and adults to wear their jerseys and team colors. The local media has a new angle on the event every few hours. Businesses are offering related sales and deals. Digital signs across town offer encouraging messages to players and fans. I could go on.
Heck, just making the playoffs was a big deal for the locals. A friend and long-time season ticket holder who was at the Georgia Dome for those games said the atmosphere was unlike anything he has ever experienced. On the day of the divisional game when the Falcons beat the Seahawks, I went to pick up some football food at a local wing place, and everyone I encountered, from the middle aged moms to the teenage delivery guys, was talking football. People in the parking lot, people who were obviously from different walks of life, were patting each other on the back and making comments about how the Falcons would "Rise Up" and how they had to watch Richard Sherman. There was a sense of unity I haven't experienced since the days that followed September 11. That alone makes me love this sport.
You see, the Falcons don’t do this sort of thing often. The last time and only other time they were in the Super Bowl, I was in high school. And forget Super Bowls. The Falcons haven't had tons of great seasons period. Throw in the fact that they will be playing the team that approximately 99% of America loves to hate, and suddenly, they are everyone's favorite.
So, what do I think about all this? Honestly, I'm a little excited. Call me a bandwagon fan if you want, and that's probably a pretty accurate description, but I'm having a hard time staying off of it. Once upon a time, I was a big fan. I went to games. I joked to anyone who would listen that Jamal Anderson was my cousin. I went to autograph signings and Falcons parties hosted by local radio stations. I have all sorts of memorabilia packed away somewhere.
But then some things happened that I didn't like. A lot of that had to do with Michael Vick. I was never a fan, even before all the dog-fighting stuff. He was constantly in trouble before that, and I felt like the team deserved better. I even met him once at a music video shoot and was less than impressed. I also hated some of the moves the team made in order to draft him. I felt like Matt Schaub deserved a better chance during those years or that the powers that be could have drafted someone (or several someones) even better for that amount of money. It didn't help that a young man named Peyton Manning, a guy I'd been madly obsessed with since he was in high school, had also reached the NFL and I could cheer for him properly without offending any of my fellow Georgia fans by singing "Rocky Top" occasionally.
And so, I became a Colts fan. I only attended Falcons games when the Colts were in town. I wore Colts hats and cheered them on to the playoffs and Super Bowls and lost myself in a haze of Peyton Manning glory. And then in 2012, I became a Broncos fan. I'd always liked John Elway, and some of my Georgia guys, like Champ Bailey and Knowshon Moreno, were there, so it was a perfect fit. The only time I thought about the Falcons was when I was playing fantasy football and needed a kicker. Matt Bryant's been pretty good to me.
But as it happened, Peyton — I'm pretty sure I can call him that — was most likely going to retire last year after he won the Super Bowl, and I began to panic. I decided I'd audition new teams to be my favorite. I was leaning towards Carolina because I do a lot of work for people in Charlotte, it's close, and I was becoming a big fan of Cam Newton off the field. But then they did some great things, and I felt like the worst kind of bandwagon fan of a team that already has quite a few of them. I briefly considered following Georgia's own Todd Gurley to the Rams, but let's face it: You can send the Rams to Hollywood, but they are still the Rams.
So, all year I've been a bit homeless. I thought of pulling for multiple teams. If Peyton's pizza commercials with the mascots for both the Broncos and Colts are to be believed, there's no shame in that. I knew who I wouldn't pull for: the Patriots, Seahawks, and Steelers in that order. They are all the worst, mostly because of the havoc they've wreaked on my Peyton — okay, the "my" might be stretching it a bit —over the years. I continued to cheer on the Broncos this year for as long as you could do so with any dignity, and by default I always pulled for the Giants. Hey, at least they have a Manning. But then something crazy happened. Falcons' games became something worth watching. Before I knew it I was getting excited about Matt Ryan, Julio, and Devonta. And Sanu, Coleman, and Beasley. I mean they even had Matt Schaub back.
After years of shunning them, I found myself secretly wanting them to win. I wanted them to get into the playoffs. I wanted them to show cities with rabid sports fans, like Boston and New York, that Atlanta can be great, too. And if the city's reaction to it all is any indication, I'm not alone. So, call me a bandwagon fan if you must. I'm willing to admit that I sort of fall into that category. And unless Peyton gets all Brett Favre-like and comes out of retirement, I'm probably going to stick around this time. Even throughout the seasons when the guys don't beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Yeah, it's so gonna happen.