I'm 30 years old, so I came of age as a young Saints fan in the early 90s. Of course, I'll tell anyone who will listen that I was born a fan; as is true for most football fans, I am a Saints fan because my father was a Saints fan. Yet, it wasn't until at least the late 80s when I really had any conception of what I was watching. I began to really understand my fanhood in 1992 when my dad took me to a Monday Night matchup against the Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins. The Dome was too big to comprehend – the people in the terrace opposite me, they were so tiny. The Dome Patrol handed Mark Rypien his ass, we won by double digits, and I realized that this was my life now. Only two days later (I was 10), talking about the game to my friends, I found that they weren't nearly as interested in the experience as I was.
That's when I knew I was a little different. I didn't realize, exactly, what was to come. I didn't realize that when I grew up I'd be compulsively obsessed with each and every episode of this silly game throughout the fall, that it would consume my life for a third of every year. Blogs didn't exist, and if they had, I would have found the idea of creating my own around the Saints ludicrous (my wife still does). I did, however, realize that football was in my life to stay, even if I did not yet realize that I would one day despise these Falcons in an unhealthy way. Hell, I really wasn't even aware of the Falcons.
My dad didn't teach me Falcon Hate. It wasn't a learned passion, it grew organically from the depths of my football soul. I didn't experience Big Ben or those many years when beating the Falcons twice was the greatest hope of a die-hard Saints fan. My dad was more concerned with the 49ers during the Mora era, as I was – as every Saints fan was. They were the thorn in our sides, they handed us heartbreak after heartbreak in those years, they won the division when we would have won any other division in football. The Falcons, on the other hand, were a minor annoyance. We beat them 13 of 16 times between 1986 and 1994. By the time I knew what a Falcon was, I knew only that they constituted an annual Saints whipping post.
Bobby Hebert was my hero. He was the quarterback of my team. He was a Cajun, and though I didn't know what that meant exactly, I knew that I was one too. He even had a funny name that so many people got wrong, just like mine. His status as a "game manager," his playoff collapses, his tendency to piss away a game at just the right moment after his defense had handed it over to him – none of that was relevant. Hebert was the quarterback of the Saints, and he could do no wrong.
But that wasn't enough. He wanted more money. He wanted more respect. He wanted it bad enough to sit out of football for an entire year. He wanted it bad enough to mail in a performance or two before bailing. He wanted it bad enough that he signed with the Atlanta Falcons at the first opportunity. And when he did so, he threw touchdowns against us. He flapped his arms like a damn moron. He taunted us. Once a hero, this man hated us badly enough to rub it in our faces. I didn't understand why. But I understood that he was dead to me. I understood that this ugly team draped in red who helped make this travesty a reality did not deserve my respect.
In fact, I didn't like them. I didn't like them one damn bit.
The Falcon, contrary to popular fan opinion, is not a majestic animal. It eats small birds, rodents and insects. It is host to a plethora of parasites including tapeworms, nematodes, and something called "chewing lice." It hosts bacteria and can carry malaria. There is such a thing, believe it or not, as Falconid Herpesvirus. 70% of them don't survive past the first year in some areas, and they have been endangered locally at times. They hunt by swooping down on their prey at speeds up to 240 miles per hour, the fastest speed at which any person has ever clocked an animal.
That is the modus operandi of the Falcon: they fly high, above it all, and when they're most hungry, they return to Earth faster than any living thing on the planet.
An apt metaphor, I'd say.
Morten Anderson followed Hebert in this self-immolation, but it really wasn't his fault. Still, he was such a pain in the ass. Joe Horn followed too, and I'm still not entirely sure I forgive him. As the 2000 season started, the Falcons had won ten straight games in the rivalry. We beat them twice in 2000, exorcising some demons. The Rams, however, were a bigger problem – one we solved beautifully, at least for a moment, in January of 2001. I had just finished basic training; it was the only game I saw in person that year. It was glorious. It ushered in the Aaron Brooks-Jim Haslett era, and five more years of pain and suffering.
In 2001, I bought my first set of season tickets. It was the first time I had the money to do so; I talked my dad into joining me.
Realignment became a reality: the Rams and 49ers were no longer a yearly irritation. The Falcons remained. They drafted Michael Vick. They beat us in six of the next ten. They were a pain in the ass once again. In December of 2005, Michael Vick added to our various miseries with a performance that included three touchdowns, one passing and two on the ground, and I realized something. I didn't know where it came from. I wasn't aware when it really started. One thing I knew, without a doubt in my mind: I hated those assholes. I hated them more than anyone can hate a sports franchise in a healthy way. I just wished they would go away.
You know the story of 2006. When the reopening of the Superdome was announced for 9-25-06, and the opponent identified as the Falcons, I did not elate. I didn't think this was a great idea. I worried. I wondered if the day would be as special if it involved a loss to the Falcons. A loss to them could spoil any day, even this one. Because I hated them. I hated them so, so much.
We crushed them, of course, in spectacular fashion. So wonderful, so soul-healing was that night that we built a freaking statue to commemorate it. I'll never forget that night as long as I live.
And you know what? It wouldn't have been quite as special had it happened against anyone else.
One of the great miseries of the early 1990s was the playoff experience. They, well, they didn't go so well for us. I get what it is to suffer through January heartbreak. If I didn't hate the Falcons so, I couldn't point out the things I'm about to point out in good conscience. I do, though, so I will.
The Falcons are 8-0, of course, and the Saints, as we all know, are not. In any other rivalry, this would rightly be a point of emphasis. This isn't any other rivalry, because the Falcons are f***ing terrible when it matters. I can't really imagine how it must feel to be the only undefeated team in the NFL and know, in your heart, that it doesn't mean a thing because even 16-0 doesn't grant a team postseason success that they've failed so miserably in attaining.
The various miseries of the Falcons as of late are well-known to fans of both of these teams. The 0-3 postseason record of the current regime; the 2-point performance in which the losing defense outscored the losing offense; the miserable self-destruction of the unfairly-vaunted Falcons passing attack; the headset smashing; the blowouts at home: these need not be dwelled upon.
I don't have to recount the ways that the Falcons have been terrible in the postseason. The fans, however, insist on their own forgetfulness, so I will anyway.
Matt Ryan is getting MVP talk this year. He's been labeled "elite" (such a stupid, subjective term that is anyway) more times than I bother to count. Yet, he hasn't won any more playoff games than Bobby Hebert. He's won the same number of playoff games at quarterback as Sean Payton. LeBron James, Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretsky and Alex Rodriguez have the same number of NFL playoff wins as does the current Falcons regime. Notably equal to the number of playoff wins belonging to Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Mike Smith combined are those belonging to each of the following: Miley Cyrus, my grandmother, Snooki, Jennifer Aniston, Peter Griffin, Betty White, Sam Walton, that hot blonde bartender (you know who I mean), Colin Powell, Scrappy Doo, John Jeansonne, Madonna, Slobodon Milosevic, Ricky Bobby, Peter Cottontail, the nice lady who delivers my mail, Jason Alexander, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jaime Kennedy, Honey Boo Boo, Prince Charles, Issac Asimov, and Sarah Michelle Gellar.
I think you get the point.
But just in case, I offer this tidbit: of all the Falcons' offensive starters for this Sunday, only Michael Turner (3) and Todd McClure (2) have ever experienced a playoff win. Drew Brees has won as many career postseason games as the entire Falcons starting offense.
Their fans don't seem to know this.
"I'm going to put a #Falcon bird up your ass."
Social media wasn't really my thing. I joined facebook for the first time during a deployment to Iraq just to stay in touch with everyone back home. I didn't participate in message boards and forums and chat rooms and twitter and myspace. That's a new thing for me. Only in the last two or three years, then, have I really interacted with Falcon fans. It's been an awakening experience.
The above is frighteningly typical of Falcon fans on social media. They're annoying. They're cocky. They don't realize that the Saints own their team for the last six years, to the tune of a 10-2 record with an average margin of victory of over 11 points. They are not aware that an 8-0 record does not guarantee a playoff win that has thus far seemed worlds away. They think that the above is trash talk. They are into Ass Falconry.
I made the pilgrimage to Atlanta in 2011 for the first time. I had a good time there. The city wasn't all that bad. The Georgia Dome, however, for that one day, served as a microcosm for all the terrible, pitiable aspects of Falcon fanhood that I've experienced via social media. The Vick jerseys – they are not a myth; they still exist. The dull quiet of a defensive possession is deafening in its pathetic futility. The cheese is overwhelming: the cute videos of falcon players encouraging fans to get loud on third down and only third down; the deafening roar that follows for two or three long seconds. The Rise Up videos featuring Samuel Jackson and Jeff Foxworthy are a powerful cheese, a veritable Muenster or Limburger. The circus tent roof of the stadium – I thought my eyes deceived me when it grew dark inside during overtime, until I discovered that it had gotten cloudy outside: the roof is transparent.
Now, this weekend, we look forward to another episode in this vile series. The Falcons return to the Superdome Sunday undefeated, yet flawed. The wins continue for a team that is lucky and resilient against its relatively low production. They operate in an unsustainable model; the Falcons rely on last-minute comebacks against inferior teams week after week with no worry that one day the comeback will not be successful, no conception that in the playoffs, they will face the best of the best, no realization that history is the greatest indicator of what is to come and that history tells us that a good regular season Falcons team will only embarrass themselves in the playoffs.
The fans conveniently forget.
We do not. This, for Saints fans, is our Super Bowl. Falcons fans sling that fact as an insult. I do not. I recognize that a February Super Bowl in New Orleans is entirely outside of the Falcons' reach; I also understand that a Saints Super Bowl is an equally pointless dream. Given that, I would sacrifice the three wins in the first half of the season for two against the Falcons. I would do so without hesitation.
Joe Vitt claims not to know anything about any rivalry. "We're not having any bonfires or pep rallies." I get that. It's how things should be. A coach needs to see this as just another game. I just hope he and his players understand that, for us, it's not just another game.
It's a Falcons game.
I hate the f***ing Falcons so much.
Please, Saints, if you don't win another game this year, win this one. Beat the Falcons. Destroy them. Give us that, and we'll happily tolerate whatever lies in store the rest of the season.