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Rick Reilly
October 03, 1988
Is it any wonder that fans in Atlanta have soured on the Braves and Falcons?
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October 03, 1988

Peach State Lemons

Is it any wonder that fans in Atlanta have soured on the Braves and Falcons?

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Mom always said, "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." Here, then, is our report on the state of professional sports in Atlanta.

First, traffic is no problem going to or coming from Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for either football or baseball. You could steer with your feet. Another thing, you hardly ever have to stand in line to get a twist cone. And you almost always get to see the Braves come to bat the full nine times. Plus, it's usually so quiet at their games that you can finally hear what goes on in those mound meetings.

At Falcon games, the coaches' shirts are always nicely pressed. The front-row 50-yard-line seats are 54 yards from the sidelines, so the chances of a fan's sustaining an injury from an errant spiral are nil. Not only that, but in 23 years not one Atlanta squad car has been flipped over in jubilation. Finally, there are the Hawks, who, over the past few basketball seasons, have most certainly won more games than they've lost.

Mom, of course, would prefer that we not mention that of the 12 cities in the country with NFL, NBA and major league baseball franchises, only Atlanta has never stuck its nose inside a Super Bowl, World Series or NBA Finals, or even been within one win of doing so. Apparently, sports glory just changes planes in Atlanta. And why belabor the point that only three NFL cities—Tampa, Philadelphia and Atlanta—have put together five consecutive losing seasons, and only two in major league baseball—Seattle and Atlanta—have suffered the same ignominy?

Even the Hawks have not advanced beyond the final eight in the NBA playoffs since 1970.

Fall is glum in the Loss City of Atlanta. The Braves fall, then the leaves fall, then the Falcons fall. Not that there isn't fun to be had. The Braves are usually in the thick of the antipennant race. If they can keep it going this year, they will out-don't the Baltimore Orioles for the most losses in the majors. With their 102nd defeat, on Sunday, these Braves became the franchise's losingest team since 1935.

The Falcons, the worst team in the NFL last year, are making a strong bid to defend, despite beating the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago for the first time in five years. Last week they returned to form with a 26-20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The 1-3 Falcons have already lost to last season's second-worst team, the Detroit Lions. The scary part of that defeat is that Detroit defensive end Eric Williams guaranteed the win. When Detroit guarantees it will beat you, you're remarkably beatable.

Even more depressing to Atlantans, the next week the Falcons lost to the one team they used to count on whipping, the New Orleans Saints. Even if everybody beat up the smallest kid on the block, that kid could always beat up his dog. Now the dog has won the last three meetings.

Seriously, how would you feel? The Miami Dolphins and the Falcons both entered the NFL in 1966. Miami has won its division 12 times; Atlanta has won its once. The Braves moved to Atlanta from Milwaukee in 1966, three years before the Kansas City Royals joined the majors. The Royals, who unlike the Braves were starting from scratch, have reached the playoffs six times and the World Series twice; the Braves have made the playoffs twice and have yet to win a postseason game.

At least the Hawks are trying to turn their backs on the city's losing tradition. Last season they were one win away—at home, no less—from going to the NBA semifinals, and they've signed Moses Malone to get them over the hump this year. The NHL's Atlanta Flames flickered for a while, but they moved to Calgary and became winners. O.K., O.K., Atlanta won a North American Soccer League championship in 1968. But the Falcons and the Braves carry on in their yearly Pillsbury Lose-Off.

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