NFC championship was yet another gut punch

Published 7:44 am Tuesday, January 22, 2013

When I was growing up, I always looked forward to reading the Peanuts comic strip in the newspaper. Of course, one of the recurring themes involved the little girl, Lucy Van Pelt, who would continually entice Charlie Brown into kicking a football that she was holding. But by the time Charlie got up to stride into the kick, Lucy would suddenly lift the ball out of the way and Charlie’s momentum would send him flying. She did it every single time, and Charlie never seemed to learn.

That’s how I feel sometimes, being a fan of Atlanta professional sports teams —specifically the NFL’s Falcons and MLB’s Braves, as well as a rabid fan of the NHL’s Thrashers (who flew north and are now roosting as the Jets in Winnipeg, Manitoba).

It seems like just about every year, either the Braves or the Falcons (or both) have a great regular season and it seems like “this is going to be the year.” And then, of course, they fall short. This year was even more disappointing because my Notre Dame Fighting Irish made it to the BCS championship game, only to lay a monumental egg.

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Not too long ago, every one of the Boston area’s professional sports teams won at least one title — the Red Sox, the Bruins, the Patriots and the Celtics. I remember thinking, “Why do they deserve all those championships when the fans in Atlanta haven’t gotten anything since 1995?”

And of course, the only reason the Braves won the World Series in 1995 was because they played the Cleveland Indians. And if there’s a city more cursed sports-wise than Atlanta, it’s Cleveland.

As I told my dad on the phone, I wasn’t surprised to see the Falcons lose before making it to the Super Bowl. “They’re my team. They’re destined to disappoint. I’ve gotten used to it. And at least they’re not moving to Canada.”

So why do I keep cheering for these guys? I’ve been asked that question more times than I can count. I guess it’s just because I loved them as a kid, and it’s hard to break the habit. Some of the most special days I can remember are when I would play hooky with my dad and we’d go to see a Braves game — even when they were playing in that “concrete donut” called the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. I loved going to Thrashers hockey games, even when they were routinely getting blown out by Philadelphia or Buffalo. You can’t just take those memories and pack them away and say “Okay, I’m going to be a Red Wings (or Yankees, or Alabama Crimson Tide, or whatever) fan now.”

Plus, I continue to believe that “the year” will eventually come. There will again be a time that Braves, or Falcons, or Irish fans will be able to cheer with excitement and celebrate their championship.

Then again, I also believe that Charlie Brown will eventually kick that football.