My sports writing bucket list is getting shorter.
Cover high profile high school and collegiate athletes and championship teams: Check.
Go to a newspaper where I could carve out a college football beat: Check.
Win a few awards for my sports writing trouble: Check.
Help increase awareness of the excellence of student-athletes in areas that don’t always get the shine: Check.
And now, for the biggest check mark, heretofore, of my sports writing – covering an NFL Super Bowl bound team. I got to cross that off my list this past Sunday when the Atlanta Falcons took care of business in the Georgia Dome’s last hurrah. And what an experience it was.
For a guy who has been in large college football stadiums, such as the 90,000-plus from Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., I’m used to feeling the pulsating vibrations that come with raucous football fans crammed into one large place.
But I’ve never….never heard anything quite like what I experienced at the Dome last week.
From the opening kickoff, to the Falcons’ first touchdown, to Aaron Rodgers’ first snap under center to the final whistle at the game’s conclusion as coach Dan Quin was doused with the Gatorade bath. The decibel levels were off the charts – and for good reason.
I’d been saying in the weeks leading up to last week’s NFC Championship game win that Atlanta and its entire 18-county metro area is the new Cleveland. We’re the new Chicago Cubs. We’re the ones who don’t just want a championship, but we need one for the good of the city. For the good of the fanbase.
It’s time. It’s actually past time, if you ask me. And call me crazy, but I think this is the team that can do it.
If you’d allow me, I’d like to offer up another comparison that, if you’re a Falcons fan, you may not like. The more I look at these Falcons, the more I see signs of that New Orleans Saints squad that capped off the 2009-10 season by beating Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.
Their offense was potent, just like that of this year’s Falcons squad. Their defense was good enough, and there was just this intangible quality about them that just made you look at them and say, “This is their year,” even if the Falcon fan in you didn’t want to admit it.
Almost as awesome as the game environment inside the Dome was the party that ensued outside after the game was won.
For the first time in my 11 years here, I saw lines of slow moving cars populating Northside Drive honking horns and yelling out of their windows at each other for reasons other than rush hour road rage.
I walked slowly down the sidewalk next to Northside Drive to take it all in with a smile on my face. It probably looked like the closing scene to some cheesy sports movie. It’s kind of what it felt like. I kept asking: “If this is what it looks like now, imagine when we win this thing in two weeks.”
Key word: “When.” Yes, I have that much confidence in these Falcons. Call it being a homer. Maybe it’s my desire to be able to say that I covered a Super Bowl winning squad. But I think that feeling is permeating the entire city – the entire fan base.
I think we believe it can and will happen this time. We’re a long way removed from the 1998 Super Bowl debacle. It’s a new generation of fan. It’s a new team. It’s a new chance to make a mark in NFL history.
If it happens, I wanna know where the party’s going to be. I won’t be in Houston, but something tells me that somewhere right here in Atlanta is going to be the place to be.
Gabriel Stovall is the Sports Editor at The Covington News. He can be reached for tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1 as well as our sports Twitter page @CovNewsSports.