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Editorial: At least that Falcons season was a fun ride
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Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan throws a pass Sunday during the second half of the Super Bowl game against the New England Patriots.

Well, that was fun while it lasted.

Sunday’s Super Bowl was like a great action movie that took us on a roller coaster ride, only to end with the good guy getting plugged at the end.

The Atlanta Falcons went in hoping to undo the city’s five decades of pro sports failures, save for the Braves’ lone championship in 1995. For three quarters plus, it looked as if the Vince Lombardi Trophy would be coming home to Flowery Branch.

But fate, as always, intervened. Tom Brady. A tired defense. A key catch off a lucky bounce. A sack, a fumble, a holding penalty. Every possible break going New England’s way. And a 34-28 Patriots overtime win that left fans of both teams gasping for breath.

Falcons fans were stunned, left wondering when, if ever, such fortunes will turn their way in a big game. It left the “Super Bowl champion” shirts and hats on the racks of the back rooms of sporting goods stores. And a franchise, a city and a state full of fans left to dream of next year.

Again. Always next year.

Still, the Falcons gave us a season of thrills, and their run to the Super Bowl was a rare and special treat for longtime fans who have suffered through so many lean seasons in their 51-year history.

It’s heartening to see how a sports team’s success often can unite people who have trouble seeing the world through the same eyes. In our divided cultural and political circles, it’s hard to find people who can agree on anything. But put a winning ballclub before them and they’ll dress in team colors, cheer and high-five as if they’re old friends.

It happens every few years when Americans can rally behind the success of their Olympic teams competing on the world stage. A successful ball team duplicates that feeling at a local level, and the Falcons did so at a time when we needed it most.

And of course, we’re more than proud to call them Hall County’s home team since their move to Flowery Branch in the early 2000s. We’ve been able to enjoy one of the team’s most successful stretches, in fact, with regular playoff appearances over the last decade-plus that were a scarcity over the team’s first three decades. Had they won the big trophy, it would have paired nicely with the college national championship won by Gainesville native Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers just a month earlier.

The Falcons are an easy team to root for, with compelling stories and likeable figures. It begins with Arthur Blank, the Home Depot co-founder who bought the team from the founding Smith family 15 years ago and has kept it among the league’s most successful franchises since. The continuity of leadership in the front office and coaching staff, compared to many pro teams, has helped create a culture of success. Head coach Dan Quinn came aboard two years ago and managed to take a decent team to the next level with an extra dose of mental toughness and determination.

That extends to a roster of humble, hardworking players who don’t act like divas. MVP Matt Ryan is a blue-collar quarterback who defers to his teammates for their shared success. Julio Jones has amazing physical gifts, but like the greats in other sports, parlays it into something special with a work ethic and competitive nature that rubs off on his teammates.

Such is the case up and down the roster — players who are united in their “brotherhood” and hold each other accountable. No bragging, no strutting, no prima donnas. Just winning team football.

And the fans have been fully on board, despite a bit of skepticism from outside our area. A Boston columnist famously sneered at the Falcons prior to the Super Bowl because of their lack of a following, saying in essence Atlanta was a nice town full of fair-weather fans. Tell that to the folks who are still smarting over Sunday’s loss and will for awhile.

It didn’t take long for Falcons fans to rally around this team and others to come on board as the playoff run gained momentum. Bandwagon fans? Maybe, but as long as the bandwagon is full, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been there.

It’s been a winter of discontent at many levels, roiled by politics, the economy, world conflicts, drought, water lawsuits and other challenges. But amid the bleakness, the Falcons brought a dash of color and excitement and put a spring in everyone’s step for the last few months.

Now that the ride is over, we can take a deep breath and celebrate all that it meant, even without a trophy to hoist in a parade. The Falcons gave fellow Georgians a reason to come together and cheer with one voice. Let’s remember what that felt like and try to keep the mood going as we turn our attention back to daily life.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a a letter to the editor; you can use this form or email to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.

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