The New England Patriots must overcome the Atlanta Falcons in order to capture the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl title since 2001. Boston Globe scribe Dan Shaughnessy is unhappy with this situation because, to paraphrase, Atlanta is not a worthy adversary but instead a pitiful sports city unable to conjure up the slightest bit of hate in New England.
We do not hate Atlanta nor its sports fans. We can’t even summon the old “Casablanca” line when Rick Blaine tells a petty thief, “If I gave you any thought I probably would [despise you].”
No. It’s not that. When it comes to Atlanta and its sports fans, we feel nothing. Maybe a little pity.
But Atlanta? Seriously? This will be like the Larry Bird Celtics winning two of their championships by beating the Houston Rockets instead of the Lakers. It’ll be like the Bruins beating the expansion St. Louis Blues to win the Stanley Cup. It’ll be like the Red Sox beating the Colorado Rockies to win the World Series.
I know this makes us greedy, but it’s real. A Super Bowl vs. the Dallas Cowboys or New York Football Giants or Green Bay Packers would have had so many more layers of story lines and history. Even a rematch with Pete the Poodle Carroll and the Seahawks would have drummed up some extra interest.
Now, let’s give Shaughnessy some credit where it’s due. All of the potential matchups would have been more interesting to the casual observer. Dallas, New York and Green Bay are NFL bluebloods. Seattle is flirting with a dynasty. But, let’s also admit what’s painfully obvious.
Boston, as a sports town, has gone from a plucky underdog to an insufferable, fat-on-the-hog juggernaut spoiled by victory. Gone is the giant, soul-crushing chip that used to sit upon its shoulder. Recent, unprecedented success by the Red Sox, Patriots and Bruins with a Celtics’ title thrown in for good measure, has done the impossible. If a Bostonian can’t conjure up a scrap of hatred for an opponent, that signals a new world order.
Shaughnessy takes issue with Atlanta’s well-known reputation as a lukewarm professional sports center.
But it is also a town with absolutely zero enthusiasm for professional sports. And the non-fans know it. They’ve been hearing it for a long time. The Falcons, Braves, and Hawks don’t win championships so they don’t get much love. Atlanta is a place where people play sports rather than watch them. Atlanta grows professional athletes. We produce Ordways and Massarottis.
The only two spectator sports that matter in Atlanta are college football . . . and spring college football.
While it’s true that the Braves, Falcons and Hawks have struggled with attendance even in good times, Shaughnessy appears ignorant to the obvious reason why college football is king in Atlanta.
Professional sports didn’t exist in the city until 1965, when the Falcons came on as an expansion team. The Braves moved from Milwaukee a year later after moving from Boston. The Hawks came along in 1968. College athletics had a significant head start. Throw in the fact that the SEC has the most passionate fanbase in the nation, and the effects dutifully mirror the cause.
Boston is a tremendous sports city. Its people live and die with their teams to an almost unhealthy level. The argument could be made that their self-worth is wrapped too tightly to their franchises.
Every sports town is different. Atlanta is not Boston, nor is it Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, St. Louis or Cleveland. It comes off as small to cast aspersions because Boston’s diehard nature is not uniform throughout the country.
More than that, though, it’s arrogant and reflective of what will emerge as a ubiquitous storyline before Super Bowl Sunday. Mark my words. This will be previewed as a Patriots coronation, the pièce de résistance of the Brady-Belichick era. It will be previewed as the inevitable final act in New England’s year-long middle finger to Roger Goodell following Deflategate.
A lot has changed since 2001, when the Patriots were the plucky underdog and — it should be noted — far less popular in Boston. Isn’t it reasonable to expect a similar transformation could happen in Atlanta should the Falcons build a dynasty?
Broadly, there is no accepted handbook for being a “good” sports fan. Let’s say the on-field product stinks. If fans continue to support financially by purchasing tickets, that action can be viewed through two lenses. One interpretation is loyalty. The other is that the consumer is being swindled and taken advantage due to misplaced loyalty. Reasonable minds can disagree on what such behavior suggests.
And one last note, it’s a bit odd that Shaughnessy felt the need to lament not facing either the Packers, Giants or Seahawks in Houston considering the Patriots are 1-3 in Super Bowls against those opponents, with the sole victory coming thanks to an ill-advised passing play from the 1-yard line.
He’s missing the forest for the trees here. The Falcons, with a high-powered offense piloted by Matt Ryan, will be no pushover even if Houston is packed with 100 percent Patriots fans. He’s complaining about the flavor of cake assuming he’ll be able to get it and eat it, too.
Not only should he be careful what he’s wishing for, he should be careful that he didn’t get his wish.