The Eagles aren’t the most traditional rival of the Falcons, but if you ask any Atlanta fan, you’ll see a true hatred unrivaled by any other team besides the Saints, Panthers, and maybe nowadays the Patriots. Watching them win the Super Bowl brought absolutely no pleasure to Atlanta, despite getting to see the Patriots lose. In fact, Atlanta has had to sit watching the Super Bowl feeling empty and disappointed for 51 and a half of the 52 Super Bowls all time. And even that one half of utter joy has become so tainted that the sweet memory of a Robert Alford pick six that should have clinched a Super Bowl victory still leaves a gross taste in your mouth.

Atlanta has only gone to the Super Bowl twice. in 42 seasons. In early 1999, the Falcons had a 3-0 lead on the Broncos before giving up a late first quarter touchdown. They never led again. They went 5-11 and 4-12 the next two years. After that, Mike Vick took the team to relevance for a short run, topping out at a 2004 NFC Championship that led to a loss to the Eagles. He then went to prison for dog fighting, and Atlanta saw it’s potential franchise hero disgraced. By the time 2008 came along, the franchise that had been around since 1966 had still never even had back to back winning seasons. But 2008 turned a new leaf. Thomas Dimitroff was hired as general manager and Mike Smith was hired as head coach. With the third pick in the NFL draft the Atlanta Falcons selected Matt Ryan, a quarterback out of Boston College. He took a 4-12 team with basically only Roddy White and made them an 11-5 playoff team. Falcons fans finally saw light at the end of the tunnel. The losing was over.

At first, they were right. The Falcons had five straight winning seasons including 13-3 seasons twice in that span. But in those five seasons, they didn’t even win a playoff game until the fifth one, and still lost in the NFC championship to the 49ers. After five years, the winning is great, but it become stale with all the postseason failure. Some teams would kill for that sustained success, but to go 1-4 in the playoffs after decades of failure, the frustration still boiled over. But that was it, the success was over. Two years later, Mike Smith was fired and the Falcons were back to square one.

Immediately after that, Dan Quinn and Kyle Shanahan were ushered in as head coach and offensive coordinator. Quinn brought in a Seahawks style defense and Shanahan brought in a new exciting offense, and they started out 5-1. But the monster of mediocracy came out again and they finished 8-8, with the defense starting to fall flat and Matt Ryan playing his worst career football. Again Falcons fans looked to next year. Now the greatest stretch in Falcons history is characterized by the idea of maybe next year. And finally, next year arrived.

In 2016, Matt Ryan thrived in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, and Julio Jones played like the best wide receiver in the league. The offense was one of the greatest ever and the defense got better and better as the season went on. By the time they hit the playoffs, Falcons fans were ready to overlook all the franchise struggles. This was the team, this was the time. They then proceeded to win a big game against the Seahawks and crush Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, and all of the sudden they were in the Super Bowl for the second time in history. Falcons fans were ecstatic, ready for all of it to come together right there, and it did for 40 minutes of football. And the rest is history.

So they came back this season with arguably the best roster and the most to play for. But nothing could go right. Kyle Shanahan left to be a head coach in San Fransisco, lots of crucial fourth quarter passes were dropped, and they were losing to teams they had no business losing to. Fans were starting to see that their moment may have passed, the Patriots had stolen their only chance. But almost more frustratingly, they gave their fans hope again. They beat the Rams on the road in the first round of the playoffs, and then were eight yards from beating the Eagles and going to the NFC championship. But in typical Falcons fashion, they failed to score on four straight plays and were sent home without a ring a 42nd straight time. They then had to watch two hated teams battle it out for a title, with Philadelphia  getting to parade the streets after winning their first title, something Atlanta has never gotten to do.

But there is still hope. The team is still good, and the Super Bowl is coming to Atlanta next season. A win at home may be the final chance to salvage some joy from an excessively frustrating franchise.

 

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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