ATLANTA—28-3. 28-3. Drink it in, Falcons fans. Inhale it, the way you inhale a dogwood-scented breeze. Face it … and then face it down. It’s going to be a long season otherwise.
Here we are, seven months after the Super Bowl, on the cusp of a new season, and that Super Bowl still burns in the hearts of Falcons fans. All the fury, all the disgust, all the self-loathing and shame, all boiled down to two numbers: 28 and 3. The score with two minutes left in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI. The insurmountable lead that crumbled like a cheap taco. The Bridge Out Ahead sign before the greatest collapse in sports history.
You’ll see it everywhere you turn this season, from t-shirts to tattoos, avatars to scoreboards. Thursday night, the oh-so-clever Patriots trotted it out again in advance of their latest Super Bowl celebration:
Heck, I’ve even used it myself, in this headline about the Falcons’ new monolith of a stadium:
— Jay Busbee (@jaybusbee) September 2, 2017
That headline filled up my inbox and Twitter mentions with angry, hurt Falcons fans, raging at those numbers like they’d knelt for the national anthem. But here’s the problem, fellow Atlantans: we deserve that mockery. We earned it. We’ve got to live with it.
And you know what? Speaking not as a coldly dispassionate journalist, but as someone saddled with decades of Falcons fandom, I say: bring it on. Atlanta can’t change the past; we can’t get Devonta Freeman to pick up that key block or bat that miracle Julian Edelman catch to the turf or recommend that maybe offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan keep the ball on the ground and chew up some late clock.
The Falcons themselves are putting on a brave face, trying to move forward. Head coach Dan Quinn is living by the motto “Embrace the Suck.” Shanahan is now stuck coaching San Francisco, which seems like particularly cruel punishment. Matt Ryan put his name to a we’ll-get-’em-next-time entry in The Players’ Tribune. But what else are they going to do? “I Spent Three Months Curled In A Fetal Position On The Rug In My Kid’s Nursery, by Matt Ryan,” isn’t exactly what you want to hear from your team, regardless of how true it might be.
But the jokes, oh, they keep on coming, waves and waves of 28-3 jabs, spitballs fired by unfunny mobs of me-too louts, each one thinking they’re the first one to point out that, hey, did you hear the Falcons blew a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl! It’s not infuriating anymore … it’s just weak sauce.
So here’s what I say to you, Atlanta: demand better. Expect Boston fans to rise up, to coin a phrase. Don’t let them get away with lazy, lame attempts like that scoreboard troll above, which some fresh-faced Theo Epstein-wannabe in the Pats’ front office surely thought was the height of hilarity. No, demand creativity, like this from back on March 28:
— City of Boston (@CityOfBoston) March 28, 2017
Or this motivational poster from the Boston Marathon:
Or this bit of clever genius, from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Or this subtle backstab from a Saints fan:
— Mason Ginsberg (@MasonGinsberg) August 15, 2017
Or the coup de grace, Super Bowl rings with 283 diamonds in them:
Patriots confirm that there are 283 diamonds in new champ ring. They were, of course, down 28-3. pic.twitter.com/XkVW5669an
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) June 10, 2017
Yeah, that burns, but you know what? When you pile up nearly 300 diamonds into a ring to mock your fallen foe, well, that’s elite-level trolling.
Right before the Super Bowl, I wrote a column listing all the virtues Atlanta can boast over Boston, and every bit of it still applies. We’ve got better beer, better music, better food, better weather, better-looking fans, a better stadium. Yes, this Patriots run is one of the greatest in sports history, but we’re closer to its end than its beginning. And in 2021, when the Patriots are struggling to break .500 and Jimmy Garoppolo is flailing like a beardless Ryan Fitzpatrick, when the future in Foxborough stretches bleak and gray all the way to the horizon, when all the bandwagoners who jumped aboard the Pats train in 2001 are bailing on this team and claiming they were Kyrie Irving fans all along … their misery will be Atlanta’s delight. And yes, like Richard Nixon (or Arya Stark), we are keeping a list.
So accept the Super Bowl, Atlanta fans. Kick back in the glow of a beautiful Southern afternoon, raise a cold Sweetwater and a delicious Chick-Fil-A sandwich to the Falcons, and then get on with your lives.
And at last, take comfort in this: it cannot possibly get any worse than 28-3. Promise.
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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.