I have finally hit rock bottom.
I have danced with the devil so many times that the surface is an immeasurable distance above me.
Atlanta sports are my narcotic of choice, a drug that I ignorantly discovered years ago when I was a younger and less cynical person.
The older I got, the deeper the connection became. It was both communal and generational. My closest friends bled the same colors as I did, and some of the finest days were spent celebrating sweet success.
The highs were truly high.
But, man, were the lows low.
I’m not just talking about the Super Bowl, either. Sure, 31 unanswered points, a 25-point lead in the third quarter (19 in the fourth) and all the different ways you can slice up the collapse make Sunday’s outcome seem so unfathomable.
But this was the first time the entire planet came to understand what it’s like to be an Atlanta sports fan.
Super Bowl LI was the latest in a long-standing tradition of other-worldly groin kicks – the kind that rocket through your abdomen and leave you short of breath, unable to speak as you writhe in pain on the ground.
There was the 2012 NFC Championship when the Falcons were up 17-0 on the 49ers but lost 28-24. The Falcons used seven minutes in the fourth quarter to march down to the San Francisco 10-yard line but, on fourth down, NaVorro Bowman held Roddy White on a pass over the middle and that no-call clinched the win for the 49ers.
Less than two months earlier, Georgia and Alabama played one of the greatest high-stakes college football games ever. The Southeastern Conference Championship game was essentially a play-in game for the national championship with each side ranked No. 3 and No. 2, respectively.
The Bulldogs were up 11 points midway through the third quarter and, despite giving up the lead twice in the fourth, trailing 32-28, they pieced together a brilliant comeback effort. They went 80 yards in the final 1:08, but Chris Conley was tackled in-bounds, five yards shy of the goal line as the clock hit zero.
I’m not even finished with 2012. A few months before the SEC title loss, the Braves were undone by the notorious infield fly call in the first Wild Card game. The Cardinals left Atlanta with 6-3 victory and a trash-covered Turner Field in their wake, which was a decent metaphor for the city’s developing sports psyche.
The year before that, the Braves had an 8 1/2-game lead over the Cardinals in the Wild Card race with 23 games remaining. Even as they lost game after game, with five left they still had a three-game lead. But the Braves lost all five of those. In the season finale, with a one-run edge in the ninth, Craig Kimbrel – after setting a rookie record 46 saves – blew the most important opportunity of the season and Atlanta missed out on the playoffs altogether.
The Atlanta Hawks were the top seed in the Eastern Conference in 2014-15 and reached the Conference Finals only to get swept by the Cavaliers 4-0. In April, right before the playoffs started, Thabo Sefolosha, the team’s best perimeter defender, was wrongfully arrested in New York City and suffered a broken leg while officers were detaining him, and LeBron James obliterated the Hawks without him. The Hawks are yet to reach the Finals since moving to Atlanta in 1968.
I could bring up the imprisonment of Michael Vick, which shook the city to its core. Or the absurd number of games Georgia has lost on “prayer plays,” like the Tennessee game last fall or Auburn in 2013.
There’s Game 5 of the 1997 NLCS when umpire Eric Gregg gave Livan Hernandez the widest strike zone ever and the Braves lost to the Marlins in the swing game of the series, 2-1, before dropping Game 6 at home.
In 1998, the night before the Falcons’ previous Super Bowl appearance, Eugene Robinson was arrested for soliciting a prostitute mere hours after winning the Bart Starr Award. After a sleepless night in jail, the Broncos’ offense burned him on two major plays in their 34-19 win.
From 1991-2005, the Braves won 14 division titles. They won one World Series pennant (1995) in five appearances from ‘91-’99.
Including the two failed NHL franchises, that’s Atlanta’s only championship in 168 combined seasons.
I wish I knew what Georgia did to deserve such disdain from the sports gods or the forces that control our universe. Their wrath is limitless and their smites are unrelentingly torturous.
And I know every city and fan base has its sore spots in history. The only thing I’m trying to get across is the now-confirmed curse that plagues mine.
We are the city of almost. For all the talent and appeal that Atlanta has, no other gets this close and fails so spectacularly.
So, here we are again. Broken by the outcome but not all that surprised by its actualization.
We should know better by now, but for whatever reason that’s just not in our nature. We are addicted to the idea that we are among this country’s best sports cities and that, this time, regardless of what team we face, we will finally have our moment.
Unfortunately, history tells us otherwise, and the Super Bowl was another earth-shattering reminder of it.
We will endure and overcome, though. My faith in Atlanta’s teams is nearly nonexistent but I believe in the city and its people.
We’ll go through the depression and the self-loathing and throw sludge at our scapegoats until we run out of it. But we’ll be back and, when we are, we’ll undoubtedly trick ourselves into believing our past means nothing in the present.
Hope is Atlanta’s curse, and I’m OK with that. Eventually it will be rewarded and, when it is, it’ll be the biggest party the South has ever seen.
But make no mistake, this one is going to sting for a while.