As the Cardinals continue their surprising playoff run, I find myself pulling for the team that beat us. In the Super Bowl they have a chance to break a 61-year championship drought, but they fall just short against the Steelers, who win their second Super Bowl in four years and their sixth overall. I want to find a Steelers fan and grab him by the shoulders and ask, Wouldn't five be enough for now?
December 6, 2009. Twenty years with the Falcons and this is the first time Red and I go to a game together. An early present for his birthday. A month or two ago I looked at the schedule and made what seemed like a brilliant choice: the Eagles game. They had signed Vick as their backup quarterback, and I thought it would be nice to steamroller the whole pack of them on our way back to the playoffs.
What actually happens today is a pretty good encapsulation of both Falcons history and the condition of professional sports in Atlanta. We find our Georgia Dome lousy with Eagles fans, many of them in Vick jerseys, and it seems clear that some in the crowd have switched team allegiances solely to cheer for our betrayer-in-chief. Worse, we're missing five starters on offense, including Matt Ryan and Michael Turner, so we can't even move the ball. Nor can we tackle. They go up 13--0 in the first half, and then they bring in Vick, who has not scored since prison, and he gets right back to his old job of helping us lose. He runs for a five-yard touchdown. He completes a 43-yard pass. The crowd roars. Red and I are drowning in a sea of green-and-white, outcasts in our own stadium.
"I don't even think we could win a brawl," Red says.
In the fourth quarter, with the score 27--0, the crowd begins chanting, "WE WANT VICK! WE WANT VICK!" They get him. He takes the snap. I want to run on the field and sack him myself. He throws a touchdown pass. It's 34--0. His quarterback rating is a perfect 158.3. More cheering. This is how it works in Loserville. We don't just lose. Sometimes we seem to like it.
January 15, 2011. No, no, no. I take all that back. We're 13--3, top seed in the NFC, and the ghost of Vick has been shooed away, and we're united again, two dozen of us gathered in the basement of one of Red's coworkers to watch the destruction of the sixth-seeded Packers, and we're eating chicken wings and mac and cheese from the buffet table, and we lead 14--7 in the second quarter—
—and then, on our home turf, on national television, we give up 35 straight points, not merely a loss but another public shaming.
January 8, 2012. Sara and I have bought our first house. Our daughter will have her second birthday this spring. Our second child is on the way. I'm writing features for Sports Illustrated. We invite Uncle Red over to watch the game, along with our friend Justin, a Rams fan who's become a Falcons sympathizer. I bring home a rack of ribs from Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q. With dark sauce on our hands and faces, we watch Matt Ryan and the capable Falcons offense go a whole playoff game against the Giants without scoring a point.
"I'm sorry," Justin says softly, with deep sincerity, as if we're at a funeral.
November 29, 2012. Another fall, another season, and with the cold we feel a strange new energy. I board the MARTA train at the East Lake station and head west toward the Dome. The train is full of my brothers and sisters in black and red. We are white women in Julio Jones jerseys. We are black men in Matt Ryan jerseys. We are a married couple in our 60s with our season tickets on lanyards around our necks. We are loud and boisterous and confident. We are 10--1. We have won games we should win and games we should not. We picked off Peyton Manning three times in the first quarter and withstood his furious comeback. We stormed back from the dead against Carolina. We destroyed Kansas City and San Diego. We swaggered into Philadelphia and took down Vick and the Eagles. We neutralized Doug Martin and survived the red-hot Buccaneers. We threw five picks against Arizona and still won. We bend without breaking. We find a way. We've lost only once, barely, in New Orleans, and tonight we have another shot at the Saints.