09 September 2008

Dirty Birds

My NFL team had a great 2008 debut on my birthday. While I have no misconceptions about how good the Atlanta Falcons will be this year (they're clearly rebuilding), it's exciting how they broke out of the gate. They gave running back Michael Turner a huge free agent contract this summer and he responded by running for a franchise record 220 yards, leading the way for the Falcons to grind out a ridiculous 318 yards rushing. "Grind" isn't really the appropriate word there because the Detroit Lions clearly didn't offer much defense.

Turner is nicknamed "The Burner" for his ability to break long runs, which is crazy considering he's a huge guy. Listed at five feet ten inches and two hundred and forty pounds, he's super thick and looks like a barrel plunging around on the field. He should remind Atlanta fans of Jamal Anderson, another huge but light on his feet running back, who led the Falcons to the Super Bowl ten years ago.

They got annihilated by the Broncos that day but I'd been a longtime fan of the Falcons and it was exciting nonetheless. I remember gathering a bunch of friends at my college apartment that year and preparing with a big bucket of KFC in anticipation of a championship. Whoops. Bad call as John Elway got his second title and rode off into the sunset. Since then, the Falcons' fortunes have risen and fallen with Michael Vick and we know how that story turned out.

To add insult to injury, their new head coach quit mid-season last year. Super bitch move and a sign that things really needed to change. This past off-season, they signed Michael Turner, drafted a promising rookie quarterback, and focused on rebuilding at almost every position. Knowing all this, I'd resigned myself to a lost season -- even deciding to support my hometown Chargers this year, even though I think they are big chokers -- but now things down south might be worth watching.

So why the Falcons? I've never lived in Atlanta, never had any reason to associate myself with them, and they certainly weren't a bandwagon type team. I mean, they're a franchise with only a handful of winning seasons and not much history.

Well, the early Nineties Falcons had attitude and charisma. First there was Deion "Prime Time" Sanders, who captured my imagination early on with his flamboyant personality and dual sport success. Then it was Andre "Bad Moon" Rison, who was Sander's offensive counterpart and an amazingly productive receiver in his prime. Jerry Glanville, their head coach, was kind of an out there bad ass and the Falcons boasted MC Hammer as a celebrity fan who could often be found on the sidelines. The Falcons version of the run-and-shoot offense, dubbed the "Red Gun," provided fireworks aplenty, making them consistently exciting at a time when I was just learning about the game of football.

What sealed my love for the Falcons was Madden '92. That version of the game had Andre Rison and Michael Haynes as the wide receivers, both of whom were pretty much uncoverable. This was back it the day when you could actually control a WR and catch the damn ball yourself. A post pattern with Rison on the left and Haynes running a streak on the right was pretty much a guaranteed touchdown. Add in Deion (substituted in of course) and his blazing speed as a third receiver and it was game over. Plus, Sanders was consistently able to provide defensive stops and return kicks for touchdowns. I'm the type to commit to a team for life, even if they suck, and Madden clinched it, I was a Falcons fan.

As you can tell, I'm ecstatic that football is back on and I'm more than ready to defend my fantasy football championship. Some people react super surprised when they find out how big of a sports fan I am, probably because most of my talk is about geeky things or how much I like the color pink, but I've got a serious jones for football and basketball. Typically people look at me and go "Seriously? You don't look like you'd like sports at all..."

Okay, so what are you really trying to say?! I'll rock your world at the orange "Sports and Leisure" section, seriously.