Wednesday, May 2, 2012
The life of an Atlanta sports fan by an Atlanta sports fan
Last night was the epitome of what it's like to be an Atlanta sports fan. We had a 1-0 lead on the Celtics and an 11-point lead in the 3rd quarter. At the same time, our Braves were tied with the Philadelphia Phillies, our archrival, at 2-2 with a chance to take sole possession of first place in the National League East. Both of these games were at home - merely miles apart. What happens? The Hawks implode against a Celtics team that was old and missing two of their best players and lost. The Braves lost 4-2 even though in one of the latter innings they had 2 hits and a walk but still could not score. This is what it's like to be an Atlanta sports fan. And this blog entry is going to prove to you that Atlanta sports fans aren't bad; it's the teams that are!
When did I learn how bad it was to be an Atlanta sports fan?
My first taste of being a sports fan in this town was when I was about 9 years old and the 1982 Braves started 13-0 (Attached the SI cover from that season). I remember my dad and I were walking out of the A&P grocery store when he and several other people there jumped up and down when they found out that the Braves had come back to beat the Cincinnati Reds for the best start in MLB history. It was then that I had contracted the disease of being an Atlanta sports fan. Thanks A&P. I'll never shop there again. Then again, I think these stores are all gone now. The Braves won the division for the first time in many years that same year. We (Notice I said "We", yep, I'm addicted) played the St. Louis Cardinals and were swept in three games. Welcome to being an Atlanta sports fan, Andy Lipman.
The Atlanta Braves
In 1991, after several really awful seasons, the Braves went from worst to first and were about to win game 7 of the World Series when Lonnie Smith had a brain fart late in the game and could not score from 2nd base on a double as Chuck Knoblauch tricked him into staying on 2nd and then only advancing to third and the Braves lost in one of the most agonizing defeats ever 1-0 in 10 innings. Damn Jack Morris! The Braves would lose the World Series the following year too and then be ousted in the playoffs in 1993. The strike ended the season early in 1994 and the season started late in 1995. So of course in the strike-short season of 1995, the Braves won their first (and only) title in Atlanta. The only sports championship this town has won in 45 plus seasons. Of course the next season, they were up 2-0 on the Yankees with 3 games at home and lost all 3 including a heart-breaking loss in game 4 when Mark Wohlers gave up a 3-run homer to journeyman and future criminal Jim Leyritz. Ask any Braves fan who they hate the most and Leyritz is up there followed by Jack Morris, Gene Larkin, Roberto Alomar...you know what? There are too many to count. We won 14 straight division titles and only won ONE championship. We haven't won a playoff series since 2001. The last 2 seasons were the epitome of what it's like to be a Braves fan. In 2010, the Braves were tied 1-1 with the Giants and lead in the late innings. Bobby Cox characteristically had Brooks Conrad's back (Yes, I said "characteristically") and left him in the game despite his defensive meltdown in the postseason. Brooks thanked Bobby by making the big error at second base that gave the Giants the win and essentially ended the Braves postseason hopes. Oh by the way, the Giants won the World Series that year. The following year, the Braves led by 9 games in September and somehow choked it all away and lost on the final day to the Philadelphia Phillies and most of their backups. The team that pulled ahead of them was the St. Louis Cardinals and who you guessed it won the World Series.
The Atlanta Falcons
Speaking of teams beating an Atlanta team and winning it all: Let's welcome the Atlanta Falcons who had not had consecutive winning seasons until 2008. The Falcons have been here since 1965! They have been to the Super Bowl once...in 1998. On the day before Super Bowl XXXIII, Eugene Robinson, our terrific safety, was awarded the Bart Starr Award from the Christian group Athletes in Action for his "high moral character". However, that very same night he was arrested for offering an undercover female police officer posing as a prostitute $40 for oral sex. First off, $40? Never mind. Game over! Denver crushed us the next day. We couldn't even enjoy that moment! Here is how our last 3 playoff runs have gone. They didn't actually. First we lost to the Arizona Cardinals who made it all the way to the Super Bowl before losing a heartbreaker to Pittsburgh. Then the last 2 years, we were throttled in the first round, both times by teams (the Packers and the Giants) who would go on to win the Super Bowl. But of course they did. In 2001, we drafted Michael Vick who increased attendance from near the bottom to near the top of the league. Then in a 2003 preseason game, he tore up his knee and didn't return till the end of the season. Still, he got us to an NFC Championship in 2004 before a tough loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. We were becoming Super Bowl favorities. It looked like the sports curse was over. Vick was on the cover of several video games and Sports Illustrated editions. All looked rosy until 2007 when the Atlanta curse continued. Vick was arrested on dog fighting charges and would later serve two years in jail before the Falcons released him while of course recovering very little of his HUGE contract (10 years, 130 million) which was the biggest NFL contract at the time.
The Atlanta Hawks
Now onto basketball. The Hawks won an NBA title...in 1958. That was their last one and they were the St. Louis Hawks when they won. I wasn't even in the womb yet. My father and mother were teenagers. The Hawks have the 2nd longest run without an NBA title behind the Sacramento Kings. The Hawks have not won 2 consecutive series since they were the St. Louis Hawks...and the Hawks have been in Atlanta since 1968! In the eighties, we lost time and again to the Celtics and Pistons including a game 7 showdown where Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins went toe-to-toe for 4 quarters in what is considered one of the greatest one-on-one match-ups ever. We lost of course but that's how it works in this town. In 1994, the Hawks had the best record in the East and were cruising so what did then GM Pete Babcock do? He traded away their best player Dominique Wilkins who was a fan favorite and future Hall of Famer. The Hawks went on to lose in the 2nd round. The Hawks were bought by the Atlanta Spirit in 2005 (they bought the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers too). Talk about an awful organization. There were about 10 people who held a majority share and the same year they bought both franchises the Hawks moved to trade for Joe Johnson of Phoenix. Everyone agreed with the deal except Steve Belkin who thought they were giving up too much. The fight led to a fight in the courtroom that took 5 years to untangle before finally the Hawks ownership bought out Belkin's shares. By the way, Joe Johnson has been a good player but not worth the first contract and the even larger 2nd contract that they gave him. It was prior to the second contract (after another woeful playoff performance) that Joe told the Atlanta fans that he didn't care for them. So how did the Spirit punish him? They gave him the biggest NBA contract that offseason. That'll win fans over. Joe Johnson has been one of the worst big-game playoff performers in NBA history. It was under the Atlanta Spirit's control that they sold the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg in 2011. They later admitted that once they bought the Thrashers they started looking for new ownership to take them. Great move, gentlemen. Back to the Hawks, if you're an NBA fan, you always hear how the Trailblazers got Sam Bowie instead of taking Michael Jordan. Remember though, Portland had a player just like MJ. Clyde "The Glide" Drexler who turned out to be a terrific player was already on their roster so they needed a big so they drafted Bowie. No one outside of Atlanta talks about how the Hawks needed a Point Guard and had a chance at Chris Paul but instead took UNC 6th man Marvin Williams. I drank the Kool-Aid myself. I heard that Marvin was outstanding and so young. He was going to be a stud. We took him. He is now maybe 7th or 8th off our bench. I think the Hawks kept him hoping he would get better. He hasn't. Chris Paul, on the other hand, is a future Hall of Famer and considered one of the best point guards in history. The next year the Hawks told everyone before the draft they were taking Shelden Williams who wasn't even supposed to be a lottery pick. Everyone thought it was just Hawks GM Billy Knight bluffing but with the 6th pick in the NBA Draft the Atlanta Hawks selected Shelden Williams even though there were several good point guards available. Instead we took Speedy Claxton out of free agency, gave him a lot of money and he was injured for almost his entire contract. Go Hawks...and take the Thrashers with you! Well, at least the latter happened.
The Atlanta Flames/The Atlanta Thrashers
Onto hockey, where it may seem impossible, but it gets more embarrassing. In 1968, the Atlanta Flames came to town. Ah, the Atlanta Flames. They sucked. In 1980, they moved to Calgary and strangely enough they reached the postseason 6 of the next 8 seasons and made the Stanley Cup Finals in 1986 and eventually won it in 1989. Then in 1999, we got the Atlanta Trashers, I mean Thrashers. The Thrashers were here from 1999 to 2011 and in 13 seasons, can you guess how many playoff games they won? Not series won but games won. You can count them on no hands. NOT ONE WIN. NOT ONE GAME WON! Only 4 playoff games played. In that same duration, the Philadelphia Flyers won 62 playoff games. The Thrashers were sold to Winnipeg in 2011 and Atlanta remains the only city who has gained and lost 2 NHL franchises. A lot to be proud of.
The Atlanta Beat
The team began play in 2001 in the WUSA. They advanced to the Founders Cup in both 2001 and 2003, losing on both occasions...of course. At least we have Heather Mitts.
The Georgia Force
The Arena Football team started in 2001. They got to Arena Bowl XIX in 2005 before losing to the Colorado Crush 51-48. Of course, the Force was favored. But at least the Beat has Heather Mitts.
What's wrong, Andy? You didn't have your Wheaties this morning?
I know what all of you are saying. You're a motivational speaker. There must be something postive. Just wait...the Atlanta Chiefs, Atlanta's pro soccer team in the 60's and 70's won a title in 1968...amazingly, right after that season ended, 10 teams folded from the league. Hey, but I'm going to count it! Wahoo!
This and That
Here are some other Atlanta failures. The Atlanta Dream, our WNBA franchise, has been to the WNBA finals the last 2 years and was swept both times. I'm not willing to research it but I'm betting that's happened to no one else.
When we had the Olympics in 1996, there was a bomb that killed a woman and caused another person to die of a heart attack. All of the vendors got pissed because they got sold a bad bill of goods from our mayor. Speaking of our mayor, he went to prison on tax evasion and racketeering charges several years later. At the closing ceremony, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch said in his closing speech, "Well done, Atlanta" and simply called the Games "most exceptional." This broke precedent for Samaranch, who had traditionally labeled each Games "the best Olympics ever" at each closing ceremony, a practice he resumed at the subsequent Games in Sydney in 2000. The mascot for the Olympiad was an abstract, animated character named Izzy. In contrast to the standing tradition of mascots of national or regional significance in the city hosting the Olympiad, Izzy was an amorphous, fantasy figure. In weightlifting, Naim Süleymanoğlu became the first weightlifter ever to lose his pants. Awesome! I wonder if he knows Eugene Robinson.
So let me sum up the teams this way:
The Thrashers or Trashers as they're known here. No playoff wins. Pathetic! Thanks Atlanta Spirit!
The Hawks - never been to the Eastern Conference Finals
The Falcons - no Super Bowl victories - didn't have back-to-back winning seasons until 2008
The Braves - 14 consecutive division titles - 1 freakin' championship!
The Dream, The Force, The Beat - It's not your fault. It's the curse!
The crap our fans have taken is undeserved
So now let's get to the fans.
This is from Michael Wilbon of ESPN on his Twitter Page last night...
Where r all those sorry ATL Hawks fans who were talking trash before the game, blah blah, blah. Lose like chumps to the Celtics w/out Rondo!
We get a lot of crap for being a terrible sports town. Can you blame us? We have won ONE LOUSY CHAMPIONSHIP in 154 seasons! That's hard to fathom. Michael Wilbon, come on! We talked trash because how often do we get the chance...I'll tell you how often...once in 154 seasons. You would think we'd get lucky somehow but to be honest, other than the Braves, we haven't been that close. Yes, the Falcons got there in 1998 before Eugene Robinson decided to go Miami Vice on the team. From 2001 to 2011, we were ranked in the middle of the pack in attendance by MLB (Braves) and we have always been middle of attendance in the NFL as well. In basketball, we're always around 20 of 30 teams which isn't great but it's not the bottom. We were towards the bottom in hockey but the team never won a playoff game so I'm not blaming the fans there. Heck, the Atlanta Spirit wanted to sell the Thrashers upon buying them. As far as basketball goes, we've been to the Western Conference Finals more than the Eastern Conference Finals. We moved to the Eastern Conference in 1970 incidentally and have NEVER been to the Eastern Conference Finals much less the NBA Finals! Many people in our town are transients. We have tons of people from NY, Boston, Chicago and St. Louis here. Our subway system is awful. MARTA doesn't even have a train that comes close to Turner Field. You have to take a bus. And let me go back to something I just said, ONE CHAMPIONSHIP in 154 SEASONS. Michael Wilbon, you are a Cubs fan. You should understand but then again you had the Bulls and Michael Jordan. We had the Hawks and Speedy Claxton. We never win anything!!! In other words, we know we're going to lose so why not do it in our own homes so we can cry in our own pillows instead of turning over cars downtown. At least we're civil. Did you see what happened in Vancouver last year when they lost the Stanley Cup? At least we save our tax payers money by having very few parades.
In closing, I'm proud to be a native Atlantan. I'm always going to be a huge fan of Dale Murphy, Dominique Wilkins and the entire starting pitching staff from the nineties. Still it is not easy to be a fan in this town. I can say I was at Fulton County Stadium on October 28, 1995 when this city experienced their only sports championship. I thought there would be so many more. I hear the sob stories in Boston yet their Red Sox have 2 World Series titles, their Celtics 1 NBA Title, their Patriots 3 Super Bowl Titles and their Bruins 1 Stanley Cup in the last decade. Boo Hoo! I hear the Cubs fans with their 100+ years of not winning a World Series but they have the Bulls (6 titles), the Blackhawks (1 title) and the Bears (1 title) in the last 3 decades.
Cleveland, I understand your problem.
I think Cleveland is most like Atlanta. Lebron James is their Michael Vick. The Braves are the Indians, and coincidentally it was the Braves who beat the Indians for their only title. The Browns are definitely like the Flames in that they left for Baltimore and then won a title (See Calgary for the Flames). They don't have a hockey team but then again we don't either anymore (again). I would feel for San Diego fans but at least they have beautiful weather and only have to worry about the Padres and Chargers. At least someone else in their state (the Lakers and Dodgers) are good at winning titles and they just have an hour drive to check out those teams. I feel for Buffalo because they haven't won anything but at least they only have 2 sports franchises (the Bills and the Sabres). They can at least pull for the Mets or Yankees who both have titles in the last 3 decades.
So let me conclude with this. It sucks to be a fan of our teams but it's like a disease. I will always put my heart out there to be broken because like it or not I will always have the disease of being an Atlanta sports fan. There are some days it's worse than my cystic fibrosis. At least with CF, I can take antibiotics and I feel somewhat better. With my sports teams, I can only take Tylenol and it sadly wears off.
I have the worst disease of all: AtlantaSportsfailatosus.
The cure is for one of my 4...now 3 teams to win something!
And that should probably happen about the same time that we get another hockey team.