Originally created 09/24/98

Falcons' bandwagon in slow motion



Maybe if the Atlanta Falcons win this Sunday, we'll all start to care a tad more about them. For now, it's tough to invest an emotional toll with Georgia's professional football team when they've offered so little in return since their inception in 1966.

The Falcons face the big, bad 49ers in America's coldest summer city this Sunday, in what may surprise you as a game pitting two 2-0 football teams coming off a bye week. It's the first real opportunity for Dan Reeves and Co. to win our hearts over, to prove to Atlanta, to Georgia, to the rest of the football world that this team should be embraced with open arms instead of the cold shoulder we usually send their way.

Not since the 1986 season have the Falcons begun a season with three consecutive wins. In fact, they won four straight that season, lost in week five and proceeded just three more in a 7-8-1 season.

And in 18 games as the head coach, Reeves has nine wins, none against a team with a winning record.

So now you have a small semblance of why it's just hard to take this team seriously. Sure, they're one of the NFL's eight unbeaten teams, but you couldn't carry on a Falcons conversation in the Chris Chandler household.

Maybe when the meek inherit the earth, as a win over San Fran this Sunday would accomplish, could they overcome their largest crutch, which is skeptical apathy.

"The public wants to support a winner," Reeves said Wednesday. "We all know that around here. But we can't worry about perception because we don't control what others think of us."

Eighteen years is a long time for a hangover to manifest itself, but it's still tough to consider the Falcons a true NFL contender when the 1980 playoff disaster still lingers.

A trip to the NFC Championship game went to the winner of the Cowboys-Falcons game in Fulton-County Stadium, and for three hours, it looked like Atlanta would make that trip. It led 24-10 heading into the fourth quarter and 27-17 with five minutes to play.

That's when Danny White and Drew Pearson combined to rip any possible soul straight from Georgia's heart. The duo connected on separate late scoring plays, sending Dallas to the title game and leaving Atlantans to wonder what fates they'd ticked off.

And to this day, those ghosts still linger. The names change, the uniforms change, the coaches tend to change every three years or so, and even the home field has changed. Yet, when you think of Falcons football (and I haven't met too many people who do) you think of everything wrong.

One game, one statement, one inconceivable victory Sunday may make us all pay a bit more attention. Think about how Tampa Bay returned to the NFL map.

The moribund Buccaneers made a statement when they opened 1997 with a 10-6 win over San Fran. Warren Sapp personally destroyed Jerry Rice's knee, then knocked Steve Young out with a concussion.

To paraphrase Nuke LaLoosh, the Bucs announced their presence with authority. The win created a league-wide buzz that festered for 18 weeks. We weren't surprised by wins over Minnesota and Miami and Detroit.

The Falcons sit on a similar precipice. We may mock them, but Reeves has compiled a solidly steady team, with a mix of second-tier stars and blossoming talents. When Chandler's healthy, he's as efficient and productive as most NFL quarterbacks. Jamal Anderson rushed for more than 1,000 yards the last two seasons, and the pass rush registered the league's highest number of sacks a year ago.

Right now, the bandwagon is extremely light. The bushels of fans are lying in the weeds, ready to support a winner.

One win may not send us flocking to the Georgia Dome, but it would remind us on why we should go.