The Greeks had Sisyphus and his rock. We have Atlanta pro sports and the Big Game.
The rational part of me knows that what befell the Braves in Game 7 in Minneapolis (Lonnie Smith pausing) had no connection to what happened to the Falcons on the eve of the Super Bowl in Miami (Eugene Robinson arrested). But when we note that major Atlanta teams are 1-for-168 at winning titles — and the “1” was achieved against a team from Cleveland, which has had issues of its own — and when so many postseason losses have beggared belief, can we be faulted for wondering if Somebody Up There really does hate us?
Hope: “I think we’re cursed by a lack of confidence. Clearly the Falcons were on a roll in the Super Bowl, but you could feel it in the fourth quarter. They were thinking, ‘We don’t belong here’ … And the (coaching) calls in the fourth quarter: In a normal game, those probably would not have been made. You’d have been thinking, ‘Don’t blunder your way of it.’”
Blunder they did. Blunder we do. There was no way the Falcons could have lost that game, just as there was no way the Braves could have lost the 1996 World Series. We’re Atlanta. Blunders ‘R’ Us.
Full disclosure: Early in the third quarter, these fingers typed the first paragraph of what was intended as a Falcons-win-it-all missive. I’ll remember the gist, relegated by shifting reality to the dustbin of history, the rest of my life: “For once, an Atlanta team met its moment and performed better than we, in our wildest dreams, believed it could.”
Banks: “There’s a saying from a movie: ‘Don’t blow out the match until the candle is lit.’ I had blown out the match … I have a framed front page of the paper from when the Braves won the World Series. I had already pictured getting this front page framed and putting them side by side.”
Hope: “I was sitting at home thinking, ‘This is just a blowout.’ … It was like a NASCAR race. You’re way ahead and then the wheel falls off.”
Banks — I feel funny referring to him as such, seeing as how he’s universally known by his first name – said the giddy doings of the first three quarters made him think the same thing I was thinking from Row 1, Seat 80 of the lofty press box: “This is our time.” But no. Not our time, not this time, not for a very long time now.
And so, to borrow a line from a Nick Lowe song made famous by Elvis Costello: “I ask myself, ‘Is all hope gone?’ ” Rationally the answer is no, but the rational invariably takes a hike when it comes to the A-T-L and its teams.
Hope: “The (Falcons) team is probably as good as it was in the first half. You’ve just got to convince them of that. What happened was just insane, but the good side of it is that they were there. Next time will not be so overwhelming.”
Banks: “I’ve still got my Falcons flag flying outside. I will for the rest of the month. If you’re my friend and you’re down, you’re still my friend.”
Contrary to how it seemed that dark night in Texas, the sun has since come up. The Falcons have new offensive and defensive coordinators. Pitchers and catchers report to Lake Buena Vista on Valentine’s Day. The Braves have taken steps to ensure that Banks, who’s 77, will work at SunTrust Park on opening day and many days thereafter. No matter how badly a season ends, there’s always another. (Unless you were the Flames or the Thrashers, gone to Canada.)
Even by Atlanta standards, the Super Bowl was the most cosmic of crashes. But we — lifting not from Lowe/Costello but Fitzgerald — beat on, boats against the current, hoping Atlanta’s time will come. Hoping, it must be said, against hope and experience and every darn thing.