The city of Atlanta is a place I have called home for over two decades. It is where I went to grade school, where I bought my first home, where I’ve made lifelong friends. Atlanta has been good to me, and I like to think I have been good to it, as well.
While Atlanta is home to Delta, Home Depot, Chick-Fil-A, and many other sources of accomplishment, the city has also been home to a series of terrible incidents. That dick William Sherman burnt down our fair city some 150 years ago. Then after gaining the honor of hosting the 1996 Summer Olympics, Eric Rudolph the Red-nosed Asshole set off a bomb at the games. Hell, even our interstate bridges cannot stay upright.
However, no one represents the heinous curse over Atlanta quite like its sports teams. In a combined 184 (55 by the Braves and Falcons, 53 by the Hawks, 12 by the Thrashers, nine by the Flames) seasons of Big Four professional sports in Atlanta, the city’s teams have combined for seven conference or league titles (five by the Braves and two by the Falcons), and ONE championship: the 1995 Atlanta Braves.
Now, the one for 184 is not great, especially when you consider a 13-year-old Boston sports fan has seen eight championships in their lifetime, including at least one from each team. But the worst part is how each got there.
Let’s start with the damn hockey teams. Hockey in this city got off to a rough start given the only reason we got the Flames to begin with was just to balance out the teams in the league. Atlanta got a team as a throwaway, essentially. Not only that, but they named the team AFTER AN EVENT THAT DECIMATED THE ENTIRE CITY. Yeah, “Flames” was from the whole Sherman thing in the Civil War. I would say that’s an asinine nickname, but hell Chicago named their soccer team Chicago Fire FC after their infamous 1800s fire, as well. Anyway, after less than a decade, the founder Tom Cousins was facing bankruptcy and sold the team to the middle of God-Knows-Where Canada.
Less than two decades later, the city decided hey, let’s try hockey again, so we got the Thrashers. We got Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley, which was cool. Heatley was then part of one of the most heart wrenching and brutal days in the city’s sports history. The team wins one division title in its 12 years here, and after losing a reported $130 million in six years, the team moves to you guessed it, another middle of God-Knows-Where town in Canada.
Now let’s turn to the Hawks. I think it’s a fair place to start that there’s an entire segment of the franchise’s Wikipedia page called, “Joe Johnson Era.” If you have an entire favorable tenure of the franchise that can only be described as “remember when Joe Johnson was here,” then you aren’t in good shape.
In the 1980s, the Hawks had an exciting two-some of Spud Webb and Dominique “The Human Highlight Film” Wilkins. The two were marketing dreams for the Hawks. Webb, a 5’7 133 Lb. shot of Fireball with a 42″ vertical; Wilkins, a former McDonalds High School All-American who played right up the road in Athens, and fell into the Hawks’ lap after he refused to play for the Utah Jazz who drafted him. The two were electric, winning a combined three drunk contests while with Atlanta. Webb was then traded for what I can only describe as a guy named Travis Mays, who played two years with the Hawks before going oversees. A few years later, while in FIRST in the Eastern Conference, the Hawks traded Wilkins to the Clippers for Danny Manning. It remains the only time in NBA history a team in first in its conference traded its leading scorer after the All-Star Break.
Let’s skip over two decades later to 2015, because let’s face it, nothing much else happened in that time. Mike Budenholzer arrived in Atlanta a couple years prior and promptly led a new-look Hawks roster to the best overall record in the East with its first 60-win season in franchise history. The team had four All-Stars and the city beaming with hope, even making it to its first Eastern Conference Finals ever. They were swiftly swept out by the Cavaliers in four games, and have not sniffed relevance in the five years since.
Now, the Falcons. Jesus Christ, the Falcons. Where do I start? The fact they didn’t make the playoffs their first 12 years, with only two winning years in there? Hell, they only won two division titles in their first 38 years as a franchise. What about the fact that they traded future Hall of Fame running back LaDanian Tomlinson, and returner Tim Dwight to the the Chargers for the rights to Michael Vick? Not bad on the surface. After all, Vick ended up giving Atlanta the most exciting player it has ever seen in his eight years here. He went to four Pro Bowls and garnered a Madden cover. Finally, something tangible to grab onto and something to be hopeful for this team. Then came 2007. 2000-damn-7. The Dirty Birds fired Jim Mora and hired on Louisville Cardinals head coach Bobby Petrino. Ya know, the Conference USA coach who just signed a 10-year contract only six months prior. Well then, after starting the season 3-10, Petrino leaves Atlanta, too, for FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS. But hey, at least Atlanta still has ole rocket-arm, legs-outta-hell Mike Vick. Oh, but then due to our sheer luck as a city, HE GOES TO FEDERAL PRISON ON DOG FIGHTING CHARGES.
Let’s give credit where credit is due: the Falcons have made it to two Super Bowls. Though, even in accomplishment, the Falcons tend to let the city down in embarrassing fashion. After defeating a heavily favored Vikings team in the NFC Championship, Chris Chandler and the Falcons advanced to the 1998 Super Bowl. The day before the Super Bowl, four-time Man of the Year Eugene Robinson is given the Bart Starr Award for being the “player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community.” That night, he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute. Yeah, that night. After receiving the award. That night. The Falcons would go on to lose that Super Bowl 34-19 with Robinson surrendering an 80-yard touchdown pass from geriatric John Elway to Rod Smith, and also missing a tackle on former Georgia Bulldog Terrell Davis resulting in a long run.
Then of course there was the 2016 Super Bowl team, whose loss is so painful that the sheer mention of the game is treated like uttering “Voldemort.”
Alas, we have the Braves. They are truly Atlanta’s team. They’re the only one of the aforementioned teams to deliver us a title, in that fabled 1995 season. Under manager Bobby Cox, they won 11-straight division titles and 14 overall, winning the pennant five times in the 1990s. The Braves had at one time arguably the greatest switch-hitter of all-time in Chipper Jones to go along with arguably the greatest rotation of all-time with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. All four players are now enshrined in Cooperstown.
The Braves are so beloved and so entrenched into Atlanta culture that simple buzz words and player names and trigger the specific memories embedded in their fans’ minds. Words like: infield fly rule. Air conditioning blowing out. Sid Bream. Primetime. Otis Nixon. Baby Braves. Blue Lot. The list goes on and on.
The Braves recently spelled away one of their demons, defeating the Cincinnati Reds 2-0 in the National League Wild Card round to win their first playoff series since 2001. It was a long time coming for one of the league’s most decorated and followed franchises. Hell, since 2001, all four other teams in the NL East have at least been to the World Series with three of them winning one (sorry, Mets).
Now, up 1-0 on the Miami Marlins in the best-of-five division series, the Braves have a chance to do away with a number of ghosts from the city’s haunting sports past. The team is loaded with one of the best, if not the best, lineups in all of baseball, headlined by MVP frontrunner Freddie Freeman and NL Home Run champion Marcell Ozuna, who just one year prior was the source of Braves fans’ torment in the NLDS.
The Braves also boast a pair of young aces in Max Fried and Ian Anderson, and a red-hot bullpen, to go along with their thunderous lineup that packs a punch 1-9. The defense led by Ozzie Albies and Freeman on the right side, and Ronald Acuna in center, also aids the Bravos in their hunt for a Banner October.
Get past the Marlins, whom the Braves are now 7-4 against in 2020, and all that stands in their way of a World Series berth is either the Dodgers or Padres. The Dodgers have been even more snakebit than the Braves have, continuously outspending their competition only to falter on the biggest stages. The Padres are one of the youngest and most exciting teams in baseball, though that youth is something of a detriment oftentimes at this time of year.
So why not the Braves? They have the perfect blend of veterans and up-and-comers to make a run at it all. If they do, the city won’t think of 28-3 or Danny Manning or any other ineptitudes of the past. They may just set up a parade from the airport to Truist Park, who knows? All I know is this city needs it. This city deserves it. And this city has earned it.