What a new year badly needs is a new story.
Enough of teams teasing the local audience with the nice win here and there and then puddling up come the first hint of a postseason.
If there is a motto for 2020 in Atlanta sports, might we suggest: “Yeah, Yeah, That’s Cute; Now Win Something When It Profoundly Matters.”
The Braves need to win like a finished product, not a project. The Bulldogs need to take the corset off the offense and beat the best of the West sometime before the ice caps melt. And Atlanta United needs to hurry up and win another MLS title. It has gone a whole year without one, and the hip fan base already is pondering alternatives such as Ultimate Frisbee or the professional Fortnite circuit.
This is the Show Me Year. Pretty much like every other year before it.
A myopic sportswriter peers into a new year, making a stab at 2020 vision, certain of nothing yet expecting so much more.
There’s just a deep weariness that comes with listening to that distinctly Atlanta sporting symphony over and over again, the one that produces sporadically pleasing notes but never a crescendo.
I fear another round of the same refrain: Bulldogs and Braves remain just on the south side of good enough to win it all; Falcons suffer yet another identity crisis; Georgia Tech football is a series of bromides lacking the truth of winning; a Final Four comes to Atlanta, but the host state has about as much competitive connection to that as it does the Monaco Grand Prix. And the soccer team still misses Miguel Almiron.
Looking back on 2019, the most compelling story of victory that played out in Georgia had nothing to do with one of the home teams. Tiger Woods just about brought down the pines at Augusta National with his Masters win. And you know what, he may just do it again (I’m done saying he’ll never win another major, at least until one of his next seven or eight surgeries involves an organ transplant).
That’s the kind of moment we need a lot more of around here, only beneath the collective community banner of Atlanta/Georgia sports.
So, you rightfully ask, who will be the team to write this story?
Working on the premise that Jake Fromm will be back at Georgia, let’s put the Bulldogs at the top of that list. Kirby Smart’s biggest remaining recruiting pitch is the one that will keep Fromm from the Siren clutches of the NFL draft, and it is the only pitch that matters now. Without Fromm, the Bulldogs might not even win the SEC East. With him – along with a young defense that has a chance to be formidable next season – they need to be in the middle of the national championship argument again.
As for the Braves, theirs is now a bullpen as stocked as a good Napa wine cellar. Bullpens are nice. Starting pitching still matters, and the memory of a certain 10-run first inning is far too fresh now to wax encouragingly about this staff. In case you haven’t heard – and skywriters have been etching the message in the clouds every October in recent memory – the last playoff series this team won happened in 2001. Atlanta has come to be known as the place where other teams come to celebrate nailing down a playoff series. The fact is, we all should be so jaded by this point that we disbelieve this team capable of a postseason run until it actually does it. The Cardinals killed the last benefit of the doubt.
Odd as it may sound, the best chance for the Falcons to surprise in the short term might require them to keep Dan Quinn. Changing coaches, especially for a team as cap-strapped as this one, would not portend a rousing 2020.
Maybe a new coach could pull a Matt LaFleur, one of the eight new coaches in the NFL this season to get his team (Green Bay) into the playoff bracket. The odds are slim, though. As for the other seven teams with new coaches, none has a winning record entering the final weekend and are, in fact, a combined 35-69-1.
As for the Hawks, a team as defenseless as a declawed tabby, we’ve already spent too much time on it.
The New Year traditionally is a time to renew hope and to refuel optimism. But we here just want results.