The start of football season has always been a much anticipated time in my house. I’ve been a fan of the Atlanta Falcons since I was ten years old. I’ve weathered through some rough times as a fan of a team who has historically had more bad times than good, but nonetheless, each new season brings with it that tried and true saying, “this could be our year!” It’s Falcon Football Eve!
Sometimes people will ask me why I love football so much and why the Falcons. Usually, I give them the short answer of “what’s not to love?” But there is a deeper reason, one that never fails to bring back some fond memories for me.
My father was a die hard Atlanta Falcons fan from the time of their inception in 1966. We lived in Georgia then and he was excited that a team had come to Atlanta. Now, at that time I was only seven, so my Barbie dolls held much more appeal than some game on tv. But by the time I was ten, I began to find my Sunday afternoons to be a little boring. Like many families in 1969, we had only one television in our house. And you could bet the bank that it was going to be tuned in to football.
A funny thing happened one lazy Sunday in January, 1970. It was Superbowl Sunday, a much smaller scale event than the lollapalooza it has become today. There was no party, no incredible two week lead in full of media coverage, no half time wardrobe malfunction in sight. No, there was just an end of the season game between two teams who made it through the playoffs and who would be competing for the Superbowl title.
Kansas City and Minnesota were set to play for the title. I remember sitting on the sofa, probably rolling my eyes, wondering why my father, the die hard Falcons fan, was even interested in this game. So, I asked.
His answer was the catalyst for my life long love of the game. Rather than just telling me to go find something else to do if I didn’t want to watch it, he answered, “because it’s fun.”The idea that he was having fun just watching a game on tv had me curious. So, I asked some more. “Who do you want to win? How many points will they need? Why can’t they keep the ball? What’s an interception? How do you score a touchdown? Why did they kick the ball?” And on, and on and on it went. I learned, in my estimation at the time, all there was to know about football. And I had learned it all from my daddy. But mostly, I had fun, right along with him.
Over the next few seasons, as I watched countless games with him, he never seemed to grow weary of answering my questions about the rules of the game. I quickly came to realize that despite my assumption after that Superbowl, I had not, in fact, learned all there was to know!
I soon became just as enthusiastic about the Falcons as my father was. I read newspaper articles -yes, real printed newspapers-about the players, the coaches, who they might draft. I listened to radio programs about the Falcons. I couldn’t get enough. To this day, if I mention Coach Norm Van Brocklin, I refer to him as “Norm Van Damn Brocklin” just as my father did.
Watching football was a way in which I connected with my father that I have always cherished. All those games, all those questions and all the fun left an indelible mark on me. The Falcons were our team, win or lose. There was more losing than winning, but our love of them didn’t waiver.
By the time I was in high school, I had a sound understanding of the game. The questions I had for my father became fewer. We now watched the games almost as equals. Sometimes, he would even ask me what I thought of a certain play or what I thought the team should be doing. We had fun during those years, too. While other teenage girls at that time had posters of the latest rock star, I had a Steve Bartkowski poster on my wall. While I was away at college, I looked forward to coming home during football season just to watch the games with him. I learned that sometimes the best things in life are the moments we spend doing something fun with someone we love.
On September 20, 1981 the Falcons were playing the 49ers. Back then, the Falcons and 49ers were in the same division and our dislike for the team from the bay was strong. Dislike is really too mild a word for it. That holds true for me today, although the Saints have taken over the spot as most hated team.
That particular Sunday, my father was in a hospital bed. He had been in and out of the hospital for months. Leukemia and the chemotherapy that went along with it were killing him. He was lucid that day though. It was a rare good day for him. Sitting in a chair next to his bed, I watched the final football game that I would ever see with my daddy. The Falcons won that day, 34-17.
The next day, I lost my father. But I will never lose the memories of all the fun we had together watching football games. I’ll never lose the love of the Falcons that he passed on to me. As we get set for another season of Falcon Football, my thoughts go where they often do this time of year. They go to my father. They go to all those games we watched together, all the times we yelled at the tv, cursed the refs and felt the excitement of the games. they go to all the fun we had together over football. I smile because of all the memories.
Why do I love football? Because it’s fun, of course. Why do I love the Atlanta Falcons? Because they are my team! We have a history! When someone asks me what’s my next favorite team, they are met with a blank stare. There is no next favorite. Falcon Fan For Life!
I live in Charleston, SC now and I was thrilled a number of years ago to find a Falcon’s Fan Club that meets each game day at a local sports bar. This club has been meeting since 1990. It’s awesome to connect with other Falcon fans here. For the 2014 season, I’m the president of our club! My father is surely smiling over that!