Over at the Georgia Sports Blog, Paul Westerdawg has asked the perfectly reasonable question, "Why don't the Atlanta Falcons draft Georgia Bulldogs?"
One of Paul's readers made the excellent point that, at a minimum, jersey sales would skyrocket for any former 'Dawgs who went to play for the Falcons. The accuracy of this argument was confirmed by the large number of Cincinnati Bengals jerseys I saw being worn around Athens last autumn.
If we'll wear something tiger-striped and orange just because it has David Pollack's name on it, imagine how many jerseys the Falcons would have sold if they'd drafted No. 47.
Another commentator, however, complained about "a very large segment of Dawg fans that gave up on the Falcons a long time ago and fail to see that the franchise is completely different from back then - new coaches, new managers, new owner, etc."
Ere I respond to that point, I should place my team affiliation into context, vis-à-vis the National Football League.
I might have become an N.F.L. fan, had I only grown up in an area that had a professional football team. Instead, I was born in Atlanta and (except for the period during which I was a student in Athens) I have lived in the metro Atlanta area my whole life. Accordingly, I never lived near a place that had a pro football team . . . all we had were the Falcons.
My N.F.L. rooting interests are entirely determined by my college affiliation. For years, I rooted for the New York Giants against the Dallas Cowboys because the former had Georgia's Rodney Hampton and the latter had Florida's Emmitt Smith. The year the Falcons fluke sent the Dirty Birds to the championship game, I was the only person at the Super Bowl party I attended who was rooting for the Denver Broncos, who boasted former Bulldog Terrell Davis. In this year's Super Bowl, I pulled for Pittsburgh because the Steelers had Hines Ward.
Super Bowl champion. All-time rushing leader. Iconic figure with the league's marquee team. Still 0-3 against the 'Dawgs, baby.
As an observant football fan who has lived his whole life within a couple of hours' drive of the Falcons' home field without ever once having attended an N.F.L. game, I am able to offer a unjaundiced view of the Atlanta professional football team. That assessment boils down to this:
The Falcons stink.
Permit me to elaborate upon that point, if I may.
The Falcons stink. The Falcons have always stunk. The memory of man runneth not to a moment at which the Falcons were not redolent of stinkage. The Falcons' successes are few and flukes . . . like the year Jamal Anderson pulled an Ed Kranepool and had one good year that happened to get his team into a championship situation in which it did not belong.
The Atlanta Falcons have been in existence for 40 years, yet they have never had back-to-back winning seasons. That level of ineptitude is staggering. The Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Clippers get to make fun of that degree of futility.
Yes, this is how dramatically unsuccessful the Falcons have been as a franchise.
Therefore, I view the argument "that the franchise is completely different from back then - new coaches, new managers, new owner, etc.," as being not so much mistaken as simply laughable. My whole life, I've been hearing how this or that was what was wrong with the Falcons.
First it was the ownership. Rankin Smith was the problem . . . until the elder Smith stepped back and the Smith family ran things. Well, then the problem was the Smith family as a whole . . . until Arthur Blank bought the franchise. The new ownership changed the culture at Flowery Branch, instilled a winning attitude, led the team to the conference championship game . . . and promptly produced the same old results when the Falcons stumbled to an 8-8 record last year, which I predicted before the season.
So maybe it wasn't the ownership. Maybe it was the coaching. Marion Campbell was the problem . . . then along came Jerry Glanville, who had been successful elsewhere. That didn't work . . . then along came June Jones, who had been successful before and would be successful again at Hawaii. That didn't work . . . then along came Dan Reeves, who had been very successful elsewhere. That didn't work . . . so along came the son and namesake of the coach whose name is synonymous with football futility. Don't hold your breath waiting for that to work out well.
So maybe it wasn't the coaching. Maybe it was the players. Atlanta had Brett Favre . . . and got rid of him. Atlanta had Deion Sanders . . . and got rid of him. Atlanta has Michael Vick . . . and, despite his undeniable talent, he seems to be making little progress, either as a quarterback or as a team leader. Mostly, the best thing you can say about him is that he has tremendous potential (much like Bob Horner) and he makes better decisions than his brother.
Thank goodness "the franchise is completely different from back then."
So maybe it wasn't the players. Maybe it was the venue. Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium wasn't a good venue for successful professional sports franchises . . . unless you count the World Series the Braves won while playing there. The Falcons then got the Georgia Dome . . . which has worked out well for the Peach Bowl and produced good as well as bad results for the Bulldogs, but which has made no difference whatsoever in the poor quality of the Falcons' play, which may account for why former Falcons constantly come back to the Dome, beat the home team there, and declare it their house.
So maybe it wasn't the venue. Maybe it was the uniforms. The old red ones didn't work . . . so let's try all black uniforms. That didn't work . . . so let's try a newer version of the old red ones. That didn't work . . . so let's update the logo by italicizing the old flying falcon on the side of the helmets. Despite the fashion change, Atlanta still plays like Atlanta.
So, to recap, the Atlanta Falcons stink and have always stunk, despite having changed owners, coaches, players, venues, and uniforms. Why, then, do they stink?
Because they're the Falcons.
Atlanta had its chance. When Rankin Smith threatened to move the team if the city didn't build the Dome, the city should have backed up the moving truck for him, allowed him to make good on his threat . . . and, as soon as the Falcons were gone, built the Dome anyway and petitioned the N.F.L. for an expansion franchise.
Had the City Too Busy to Hate adopted the wiser course, we could all be rooting for the Atlanta Jaguars or the Atlanta Panthers today. Live and learn, I suppose.
All this could have been Atlanta's.
I will admit to being biased. I generally consider the N.F.L. to be a waste of eight to 12 otherwise perfectly good years of collegiate eligibility. (Hey, I took forever to get through school; why can't they?)
The bottom line, though, is simple. The Atlanta Falcons don't just stink, they have stinkitude running through their veins, seeped into their bone marrow, and embedded in their D.N.A. Lousy football is an inherent part of the team's innate Falconness. Expecting the Falcons not to stink when they play football in the fall is like expecting grass not to grow when it rains in the spring. What else have they ever done?
It doesn't matter which players they draft. The Falcons stink because they're the Falcons. Whenever they begin playing well, there comes a point at which the players look down at their jerseys and say, "Aw, shoot . . . we're the Falcons!" At that point, they go back to stinking again, much as Tom plummets back to earth at the instant the realization hits him that he has chased Jerry clean off the kitchen counter.
That being the case, I'm glad the Falcons don't draft Bulldogs. Georgia players deserve better than to be shackled with the shame and ignominy of playing for Atlanta's N.F.L. team, the most futile franchise in all of professional sports.