When the team you support sucks and has no chance at ever winning a trophy, you pray to the football gods that they grant a victory over your hated rivals. And if you can’t beat them on the field, maybe you can beat them off of it. In the case of the Atlanta Falcons, their rival is the New Orleans Saints. They (along with the Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers) formed a triumvirate of ineptitude for many years. Saints fans would wear paper bags over their heads and refer to the club as the “Aints.” But even in the worst of times, a Saints-Falcons game was worth watching.
What the rivals lacked in quality, they made up for in exciting finishes. Almost every match between the two came down to whomever had the ball last. Falcons quarterback Steve Bartkowski would throw up a “Hail Mary” as the clock expired, and somehow one of the receivers (Alfred Jenkins or Albert Jackson, usually) would actually catch it and score a touchdown. Or maybe Saints QB Archie Manning would find a way to win. Those weren’t good days. On the positive side, I don’t know any Saints fans, so I never had to hear about it; unlike anytime the Dallas Cowboys did anything.
It seems like half of the Lone Star State lives in Georgia, judging by all the “Don’t Mess with Texas” bumper stickers. I once spent a Thanksgiving with a family of Cowboys fans. Once. It wasn’t all bad. The food was tasty and Leon Lett went all Leon Lett.
But I digress.
The Saints got a bit less crap when they drafted kicker Morten Andersen. This guy is one of the all-time greats, and should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. New Orleans didn’t win a ton of games during his time with the team, but when they lost, it wasn’t his fault. Andersen was “clutch,” or “money,” or whatever term you want to use.
Speaking of money, Andersen wanted more of it. Prior to 1995 season, the NFL instituted a number of new regulations, none of which I comprehend. The Saints couldn’t (or wouldn’t) pay Andersen what he wanted, so he signed with Atlanta.
The thing is, the Falcons had a very good kicker of their own: Norm Johnson, which sounds like the name of a very average porn star. No offense. Johnson also wanted a pay raise, but the front office didn’t want to give it to him. When Morten Andersen became available, Atlanta did not hesitate for a split-second. It’s one of the few times in history that something didn’t backfire on the Falcons.
In recent years, no matter how good or bad the Falcons are, every season they have a prime time, nationally broadcast game against the Saints. More often than not, it would be played in New Orleans, in what I refer to as a “trap game.”
Post-Hurricane Katrina, the Saints became, if not “America’s Team,” then everyone’s second favorite team. I can undertand the sentiment; New Orleans is a great city. But, by default, the Falcons became the bad guys, through no fault of their own. I hate that feeling. Then the next week, the world would go back to ingoring the Falcons, which is a feeling I am used to.
When the Saints returned home to the Superdome, after all the damage was repaired, the first game of the season was on Monday Night Football. Of course they played againt the Atlanta Falcons. And being the season opener, ESPN spent months hyping the game. To make matters worse, there was a pregame concert with two of my favorite bands: U2 and Green Day.
Then the Saints started getting good, which only made things worse. People started paying attention to them, and Mercedes-Benz purchaced the naming rights to the Superdome. Then they went and won the Super Bowl. That was not a good thing for my fragile ego, which is tied to the results of sporting events.
The similarly woeful Tampa Bay Buccaneers also can boast about winning a Lombardi Trophy. Once. The fourth team in the NFC South–the Carolina Panthers–have made two Super Bowl appearances, with zero wins. I am hoping the Falcons don’t join them in that club. The lone highlight of 2015 was when the Falcons kept the Panthers from going undefeated in the regular season. And now, the Panthers have gone down the toilet, bypassing the Saints and Bucs on the way. I pray the Atlanta Falcons don’t stink up the shiny new Mercedes-Benz stadium next season.