Disappointed but not surprised: On the Super Bowl and Atlanta sports

Thomas Jilk

Before Tom Brady took the field, his team down by eight with just over three minutes left in regulation, my roommate turned to me and asked, “Do you think they can do it?”

“I would be shocked if they didn’t,” I replied.

Sure, my expectation was based partly on the greatness of Brady and Bill Belichick in the biggest moments, historically and consistently. It was based on the momentum of the game and the turnaround New England made in the fourth quarter. But mostly, that expectation was based on the entire fabric of Atlanta sports.

If the question is whether an Atlanta team can manage to throw a game away, against all odds, I will always be shocked if they don’t.

No one who watched the Falcons all season long ever lost that creeping sense of familiar fear during Super Bowl LI, not even when the high-flying Falcons held a commanding 28-3 lead. Never as a true Falcons fan did I expect a win. Not even when Stephen Gostkowski, the reliable Patriots kicker, missed a PAT.

Not when Julio Jones made an impossible juggling sideline catch. And especially not when Julian Edelman somehow snagged a deflected pass from a half-centimeter off the ground while being pulled and fought by Falcon defenders.

Atlanta sports fans are done squeezing the joy from the Braves 1995 World Series win. Atlanta, as a city, has been much maligned as a sports town, with traditions of spectacular losses and half-empty stadiums. Super Bowl LI came with a special agony.

I remember crying when the Falcons lost to John Elway’s Broncos on January 31,1999 in Super Bowl XXXIII. I didn’t even really know why I was sad, but I could feel the pain in the air of the room full of Falcon fans. I could smell equal parts buffalo wing and demoralization. I could taste defeat.

The folks who breathe Atlanta sports inhale inconsistency and exhale doubt. Hopefulness and doubt worked in excruciating concert on Sunday night as they had all season for the Atlanta Falcons.

When expectations are low, it’s hard to be genuinely disappointed. But after Sunday it seems Atlanta sports will find a way to break fans’ hearts on the grandest of stages.