The Super Bowl Is More Than Just A Game — It’s A Proving Ground For Atlanta Sports

As the Falcons and Patriots square off, Atlanta looks for more national recognition in its sports scene

Philips Arena and Mercedes-Benz Stadium

For anyone living under a rock or otherwise actively ignoring the world of professional sports, the Atlanta Falcons are in the Super Bowl. This is an outcome — especially after the team’s famous collapse last season — that few expected this year, especially with the then-dominant Carolina Panthers preparing for another playoff run. As one might expect, such an unforeseen occurrence has given way to some interesting reactions across sports media.

Through all the noise around this game, a cacophony of articles, tweets, video segments, and anything else imaginable, it’s becoming clear that Super Bowl LI is a proving ground for both the Atlanta Falcons and the broader scene of Atlanta sports. The Falcons are by far the city’s most dominant team right now, and they should be for the next few years. But a win against New England would open the door for every other franchise in the city as well.

The prelude to the nation’s biggest sporting event started with an almost inevitable article from a Boston sports personality:

To avoid getting too far into the weeds of this article (and there are plenty of weeds, believe me), Shaughnessy essentially argues that this Super Bowl has lost some of its luster because Atlanta has no history of success. Understandably, the tone and arguments of this piece prompted numerous responses, with one of the most noteworthy coming from Jay Busbee of Yahoo Sports:

While Busbee’s article is worthy of reading and talking about, the larger issue here — of Atlanta sports, national recognition, and ultimate success — is the most important issue here. Super Bowl LI is a chance for this franchise to establish itself to a higher degree than ever before. With a win, the Atlanta Falcons can take a step closer to becoming one of the premier franchises in the NFL. And to a lesser degree, the other Atlanta teams can follow behind them.

There are few things that Atlanta fans absolutely hate more than hearing how little they care about their professional sports teams. Hawks fans hated hearing about it during last year’s first-round playoff series against Boston, Braves fans hated it during the miserable 2016 season, and the tens of thousands of Falcons fans in the Georgia Dome hated it during the NFC Championship on Sunday. And while these fansoften joke about attendance problems for any one of these teams among themselves, they’ll come out in arms for anyone from another city doing the same (which is completely understandable).

I’m sure Matt Ryan hates it too. He’s been a solid quarterback for all of his career, but never gets the recognition that his peers do. Sure, his career totals fall below Rodgers, Brady, and perhaps one or two others, but he easily has a better MVP case than anyone this season and deserves to have more moments than just his playoff defeats remembered.

This is not an article to point out how national media often disrespects Atlanta franchises, or to complain about Matt Ryan’s reputation, though. Rather, the point here is that next Sunday presents the single best chance in the last 10 years for an Atlanta team to take the leap and achieve ultimate success (by winning a championship). Win on Sunday, and nobody will take the Falcons lightly for a very long time. It’s also almost a guaranteed lock that that the “Atlanta isn’t a sports town” takes will at least take a break for a while.

The Falcons’ success is also good for the other Atlanta teams. If you look at the Braves’ and Hawks’ Twitter accounts anytime in the next few weeks, you’ll see supportive messages and maybe even profile picture changes. These two franchises are also involved in stadium and facility upgrades, and are hoping to rebrand themselves as well. Even though they can’t directly share in the Falcons’ success following a Super Bowl victory, the rising tide of attention and publicity will raise all boats in the area.

The Falcons have never won a Super Bowl, the Hawks have never won the NBA Finals, and the Braves haven’t won the World Series since 1995. That isn’t quite the streak of misery that other cities have broken recently, but it’s still something. Maybe, in a little under two weeks, those numbers will reset at 2017.

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