Ninety-nine percent of the time, I write about USC sports. But today, I knew I had no choice but to talk about Atlanta, my hometown and a long-suffering sports city.
Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship offered another entry into Atlanta’s long history of teams coming up just short. And it was painful. Georgia had Alabama on the ropes, just a couple of stops away from winning their second consecutive overtime thriller. But, as usual, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Georgia did everything it needed to do to win. The team stuffed the Crimson Tide offense, took a commanding 13-0 halftime lead, passed effectively and nailed a 51-yard field goal in the first overtime. On the other hand, Alabama did everything it needed to do to lose. They threw an untimely interception in the third, gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass and shanked a game-winning 36-yard field goal as the clock expired in regulation.
But then it happened. After moving backward on a sack, Alabama’s freshman backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa launched a perfect pass to a wide-open Calvin Ridley on 2nd and 26. Touchdown. Game over.
It was supposed to be the moment Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s empire fell at the hands of his former apprentice: Georgia’s head coach Kirby Smart, who served as Saban’s defensive coordinator from 2008 to 2015. It was supposed to be a statewide celebration for the virtual home team. It turned into a nightmare.
I don’t usually buy into sports curses. But, I can tell you that Atlanta is 100 percent, fully, unequivocally cursed. There’s no other explanation.
This curse dates back to the Falcons in last year’s Super Bowl. The offense, orchestrated by a budding genius in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, was loaded with playmakers. They led the league in scoring and quarterback Matt Ryan earned his first career MVP award. But no one will remember any of that, and why would they? Instead, people will forever mock how the Falcons raced to a 21-3 halftime lead with the Patriots’ dynasty teetering on the brink of extinction, only to give up 27 unanswered points and lose in over-time. Sound familiar?
Before the Falcons debacle, there was the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks — one of the strangest and most fleeting NBA success stories in history. Genuinely one of my all-time favorite teams to watch, the Hawks had no real stars, but they had a philosophy based around ball movement and shooting lots and lots of 3-pointers. It worked. They won 60 games and sent all four starters to the All-Star Game, earning the moniker “Spurs of the East,” for the way they mirrored Spurs coach Gregg Poppovich’s system.
In the 2015 Playoffs, the Hawks ended up being swept by the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals and the team has never looked the same since. No starters remain from the 2014-15 squad, and as a result they are languishing at the bottom of the standings hoping for a lottery pick rather than a ring. Now, it’s hard to imagine the 10-30 Hawks being the “Spurs of the G-League,” let alone the Eastern Conference.
There are even more examples. In their inaugural season this year, Atlanta United FC became the darling of the MLS for their constant attacking style and sky-high attendance numbers. But United lost in penalties to the Columbus Crew in round one of the playoffs, ending a spectacular debut season on an oddly anticlimactic note.
Even Atlanta’s lone championship comes with an asterisk. The Atlanta Braves won 14 straight division titles from 1991 to 2005 but came away with just one World Series in 1995 to show for it. Only when compared to Atlanta’s recent woes does the run feel satisfying.
As you can now surely tell, some dark, powerful force hates the city of Atlanta with a passion and it takes out this anger by causing our sports teams to flounder in the biggest possible moments.
Although this is undoubtedly a difficult circumstance to be in, I have a hopeful message for Atlanta’s sports teams: Never change. Stay innovative like the Falcons’ offense in 2016. Stay different like the Hawks’ no-superstar lineup. Stay exciting like Atlanta United in their first season (Sports is entertainment, after all). Keep making fans believe even in championships evenwhen they seem unattainable. As Georgia head coach Smart likes to say and say often, “Keep chopping wood.”
Cleveland and Chicago recently broke their so-called “curses” when the Cavs and Cubs clinched championships. All Atlanta can do now is try to move past another heartbreak and hope their time is coming soon.
Trevor Denton is a sophomore majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, T-Time, runs Wednesdays.