Weatherspoon’s injury marks yet another Atlanta man down

Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and wide receiver Julio Jones during team practice Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in Flowery Branch. Weatherspoon later left the field after rupturing his Achilles tendon. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

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Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and wide receiver Julio Jones during team practice Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in Flowery Branch. Weatherspoon later left the field after rupturing his Achilles tendon. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Sports involve movement and collision. Pair those and you get injury. We all know as much, and we around here know better than most. Herschel Walker broke his thumb in a Georgia scrimmage. Dominique Wilkins tore his Achilles and wept in the ambulance en route to Piedmont Hospital. Michael Vick broke his ankle in an exhibition game. And who among us knew what an oblique was before Chipper Jones started tweaking his?

Having seen so many Atlanta athletes waylaid by body breakage – from William Andrews’ misstep in training camp to Bob Horner’s broken wrist in a pennant drive to Jamal Anderson’s stumble on Monday night – we should have grown uncomfortably numb. The past year, however, has seen the losses mount to such an extent that we have to ask: Is there something debilitating in our water?

The Georgia Bulldogs began the 2013 season picked to repeat as SEC East champs; they finished 8-5. The Atlanta Falcons began the 2013 season as reigning NFC South titlists; they went 4-12. The Atlanta Hawks were third in the NBA East on Feb. 1; they scraped into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed. Each of those promising seasons was compromised by injury, and the cavalcade continues apace.

The Atlanta Braves won 96 games in 2013 behind a pitching staff that led the majors in ERA; within the span of 24 March hours, they lost starting pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery. On Tuesday, in keeping with that we-can’t-even-get-to-Opening-Day without-losing-somebody motif, the Falcons annouced that linebacker Sean Weatherspoon had been lost for the 2014 season.

Some have taken the Weatherspoon injury as further proof that Atlanta teams are indeed cursed, although it’s hard to know by what entity. Did the removal of Chief Noc-A-Homa’s teepee from the old stadium somehow put a hex on a team that plays its home games 75 miles away between famous hedges? Are our teams jinxed or just unlucky? Do those who play for these teams need more support for their arches? More fiber in their diet? What in the name of Dr. James Rheuben Andrews is going on?

As much as coaches like to say, “We can’t use injuries as an excuse,” those words are often voiced while using injuries as, ahem, an excuse. We shouldn’t give teams a pass because someone gets hurt because someone always does. But losing one player isn’t the same as losing a slew of men at the same time, which happened last fall with Georgia and the Falcons.

The Falcons saw four starters lost in their home opener – defensive end Kroy Biermann and fullback Bradie Ewing for the season, running back Steven Jackson for four games, Weatherspoon for seven. Receiver Roddy White limped through the season’s first two months. Julio Jones, the team’s second-best player, was lost for the duration during a Week 5 loss to the Jets, and by then there was no way back from 1-4. Too many lost players, too many lost games.

Georgia saw Malcolm Mitchell, its No. 1 receiver, lost while celebrating the season’s first touchdown at Clemson. It would get much worse really fast. By mid-October, the Bulldogs were working without their two best tailbacks and three of their top four wideouts. And then, in the penultimate regular-season game, injury was added to injury: Aaron Murray, who hadn’t missed a start in four seasons, tore his ACL.

The Hawks stand as an example of what’s still possible and what ultimately is not. Without Al Horford, they held together for a month, whereupon they lost nearly everybody else. Paul Millsap got hurt. Kyle Korver got hurt. Gustuvo Ayon, who was Horford’s backup, got hurt. Pero Antic, who was Ayon’s backup, got hurt. All but Ayon returned to health, and with three minutes remaining in Game 6 against the Indiana Pacers, the Hawks had only to hold a five-point lead to complete a stunning 8-over-1 upset. They lost the lead and Game 7 to boot, and history was left unmade.

In the cold light of hindsight, there was really no way last season’s Bulldogs and Falcons could have been champions, no way the Hawks should have advanced beyond Round 1. (Although reeling Indiana gifted them a golden chance.) As splendid as the Braves’ reconfigured rotation has been, it mightn’t hold up over 162 games. Minus their best defender, the Falcons — who had a lousy defense already — will have a tough time reclaiming their division.

These are not, let’s stress, excuses. These are explanations. Lose enough players and you won’t be as good. That’s just reality. It is, sad to say, a reality we Atlantans know too well.