I don’t remember the date, nor the year, nor many of the players, but I remember the trip.
It was in 1989, and it was my first ever sporting event besides a NASCAR race. My dad put me in his red, conveniently enough, 1987 Dodge Ram, long bed version, pick-up truck and off we went to Atlanta Fulton County Stadium.
History will show that the date was November 5th, and the pitiful Atlanta Falcons were a mere 2-6. Marion Campbell was on his way out of head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, as this was a team that had lost 11 or more games in 4 of the past 5 years. This wasn’t exactly a trip a 49ers or Broncos game.
But that didn’t matter. It was a football game. It was pro sports. It was my city. It was my home. And quickly, it became my team.
The opponent that day happened to be the 6-2 Buffalo Bills coached by the soon to be legendary Marv Levy. Not only were they Bills 6-2, they were also getting starting quarterback Jim Kelly back from injury. The Bills, as you well know, spent the next four years playing in the Super Bowl in January.
So there you had it, a 2-6 Falcons team considered one of the worst professional franchises in sports, facing a 6-2 Bills team on the way up to one of the more unprecedented runs professional sports would ever see.
No chance for the good guys, right?
Down 21-20, late in the game, Chris Miller (who would go on to become a favorite of mine thanks to Tecmo Super Bowl) led the Falcons on 61 yard drive culminating in the go ahead touchdown with 1:22 left. The Falcons were going to pull a stunner. I was hooked. I loved this stuff.
2-6? Who cares. We were going to win that day.
Then Don Bebee took the ensuing kick-off back to the Falcons 8 yard line. Typical Falcons. THIS was why this was a laughing stock not just in NFL circles, or in the sports world, but throughout the nation. What a joke.
The Bills would run the ball in for what seemed the winning touchdown with 29 seconds left. Apparently my father, a Falcons fan his entire life, and since the team played their first game in 1966, had seen enough.
To the truck we went.
Back in those days, seats for Falcons games weren’t hard to come by. In fact, if you looked hard enough, probably not even very hard, you would probably find people trying to give you tickets.
So parking too was not an issue. It didn’t take us long to find our way back to the truck, disgruntled and disappointed. Being merely 5 years old at the time, I really wasn’t capable of the passion that exists today, so while I knew the Falcons had not won the game, that wasn’t why I was mad. I just knew that whatever had taken place on that football field really disappointed my dad. And at that age, a disappointed dad is never a good thing.
As per the usual after attending any sporting event, upon getting in the car to go home, the radio goes on for the post-game coverage. Well, here’s the thing, it wasn’t quite yet to post game coverage.
Apparently Chris Miller connected for 41 yards on a hail-mary type pass to Stacey Bailey. Bailey, mind you, only caught eight passes all year. In fact, Bailey would only catch five more NFL passes in his career. But somehow he caught this one over All-Pro cornerback Nate Odom.
The Falcons still had a chance. My dad seemed shocked. Yet, he was convinced that Paul McFadden, who who had already made a 54 yarder earlier in the afternoon, would miss. This was from 50 yards, absolutely no gimme, but makable.
McFadden drilled it. Falcons win. Dad yells. I yell. A love affair is born.
Rise up tonight Falcons. I’ve been rising up with you every day since November 5, 1989. Let’s rise a little bit higher tonight.