In Atlanta, we pro sports fans have known nothing but misery punctuating by one solitary title in 149 combined seasons. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s own Mark Bradley wrote about the pro sports misery of our city before the weekend; by all means, hit the link and read the story if you can stomach it.
A common refrain amongst many an Atlanta sports fan after losing in the postseason of whatever sport is going on is, “Well, at least we lost to the ____ Champion,” and I have to wonder, is saying that a kind of graciousness, or simply a loser’s way of comforting him or herself? I ask that question because God knows as a Godforsaken Atlanta pro sports fan, I’ve uttered that pitiful phrase more than once.
Is it better knowing my team lost to the NFC Champion and possible Super Bowl winner? No. Excuse me, I mean HELL NO! My team lost, and it didn’t just lose, it lost in the worst way possible: being blown out while being coached play-not-to-lose Martyball. It’s like losing twice when you lose and don’t even try to be aggressive; try to play-to-win. And I know what I’m talking about when I speak of painful post-season losing in Atlanta. I sat through two excruciating one-goal losses by the Thrashers to the Rangers in the Thrashers only NHL playoff appearance so far in their blighted history. The atmosphere was electric in Phillips Arena; the only thing close to how it felt to be there for those two, oh-so-close losses was the atmosphere in Sanford Stadium for the original Blackout against Auburn (if you have to ask, you don’t know, so don’t worry about what made it so special). All of that atmosphere and fan pride couldn't save the Thrashers from the pox of being an Atlanta pro sports team in the playoffs.
As a Braves fan, my team has lost to the World Series Champion or eventual World Series Champion seven times. SEVEN TIMES. So does it "ease my pain," voice in the Iowa Cornfields? Again: HELL NO! In fact, it makes my pain worse, as it should all Atlanta Braves fans. The fact that the Braves went to 15 postseasons and only came away with one title should be considered the greatest choke job in the history of professional sports. And those teams had talent. They were loaded with talent, especially on the pitching staff. Unfortunately, they were saddled with the worst postseason manager in baseball history, whose inexcusable lack of tactical ability led to many a head-scratching, heart-rending post-season loss. Of those seven times losing to the eventual Series Champ, the Braves inarguably lost to a team that was LESS TALENTED than they three times. They also lost playoff series to another seven teams, and were the more talented team in ALL of those series. Even though they actually won a title, the Braves are by far the biggest postseason chokers of all time, more so than the Buffalo Bills, who were hopelessly outmatched and lucky to be there in three of their four Super Bowls. So thanks, Bobby Cox, for picking your nose on the bench as your team lost TEN times in fIfteen post-seasons to teams less talented than your own (only winning the one time).
At this point, I should talk about the Hawks and the Flames postseason woes too, but I really, honestly do not care. The Flames were before my time, went to the NHL playoffs six-straight years and never won a series. The Hawks, in over 50 years in Atlanta have never advanced past the second round of the NBA playoffs. That’s just an unfortunately weird happenstance. Or yet another cursed Atlanta pro sports franchise.
In the Falcons’ last five playoff exits, they’ve lost to a Super Bowl Champion (Broncos), three NFC Champions (Eagles, Cardinals and Packers), and an NFC Championship Game participant (Eagles). In those losses, they lost to an arguably worse team only once (the Cardinals), and no, none of those “facts” provide a salve for my Atlanta pro sports post-season wounds. When an Atlanta pro sports fans utters the line, “At least we lost to…” it is not Southern Graciousness, for which we are justly famous. No, that phrase is the song of a beaten-down loser, who is psychologically incapable of absorbing yet another post-season failure by any team, whether they were favored in the game or not.
The Falcons lost. They were blown out because the Falcons’ coaching staff trotted out a ridiculously vanilla, play-not-to-lose, Martyball game-plan on offense AND defense. They were at home and were favored. It’s not supposed to be an “easy” thing for the fan base to “get over.”
There is one disturbing trend developing between these Falcons and the Braves of the 1990’s and early 2000’s: poor coaching/managing in the postseason. In a city where teams and coaches are held accountable (more so than they are in Atlanta) like New York, Boston, or Chicago, there is no way Bobby Cox keeps his job after losing the 1996 World Series to a far less talented Yankees team after being up 2 games to 0. But because this is Atlanta, he did, and the media never held him accountable for the Braves mind-boggling post-season meltdowns, even though he was the only variable that never changed in fifteen post-season appearances. Cox was a terrible post-season manager because he refused to change, refused to adapt, refused to evolve. He kept on doing the same things, making the same mistakes, over and over again, but expecting a different result each time.
Einstein said doing just that is the definition of insanity.
Mike Smith is now 0-2 in the playoffs. He and his team were favored in both games. Will Mike Smith make the same mistakes over and over again, as Bobby Cox did? Will Mike Smith refuse to change his approach, evolve his out-dated football philosophy, adapt to the modern era of NFL Football? As a follower of the Falcons, I can only hope that he, unlike Cox, learn from his mistakes.
Please let me know in the comments section: Is it okay to believe that losing to the eventual champion or league champion is okay, or is it the song of the loser?
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