At the end of their 162nd game, the Atlanta Braves found themselves in an unfamiliar position.
There would be no playoff flop this time around because there would be no playoffs. After 14 consecutive division titles, the Braves called it a year at the end of the regular season. Instead of claiming the top spot in the standings, as they always seemed to do, they stumbled to the finish line in third place, a distant 18 games behind the National League East champion New York Mets.
It was a stunning end to one of the most amazing streaks in sports history.
"It's kind of remarkable to think," said Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, who was there for so many of those titles and wound up on the other side, helping bring it to an end, "that there are a lot of guys in that clubhouse who have never been anywhere other than first place in their big league career."
The Braves' flop epitomized the year in sports for Georgia, where the failures far outweighed the successes.
There was another late-season collapse by the Atlanta Falcons, putting coach Jim Mora's job in jeopardy. The Georgia Bulldogs fell far short of defending their Southeastern Conference football title. And Georgia Tech stumbled when an Atlantic Coast Conference crown was in its grasp.
There's more. The Atlanta Thrashers came up two points shy of their first NHL playoff appearance - though they headed into the new year in first place - and their co-tenant, the Hawks, remained stuck near the bottom of the NBA (plus, the courts are still trying to figure out just who owns the Hawks and Thrashers). Georgia Tech slumped to 11-17 just two years after reaching the NCAA men's basketball championship game. Georgia hoops was still trying to recover from the excesses off the Jim Harrick era.
We're not done yet. Brian VanGorder had a miserable debut as Georgia Southern's football coach, while the entire state mourned the death of Erk Russell, the architect of both the "Junkyard Dawgs" defense and Georgia Southern's rise to become a small-college powerhouse. Atlanta lost its LPGA event - sorry, there won't be a chance to see Annika Sorenstam or Lorena Ochoa in 2007. Tiger Woods came up short at Augusta National Golf Club while trying to win one last major for his dying father, then didn't bother to show up for the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake.
The Falcons began this season just like they did the last - and finished the same way, too. After starting 5-2 and looking like a surefire playoff contender, the team did another disappearing act over the second half of the season. With only two wins in eight games heading into today's finale at Philadelphia, Atlanta needed a miracle to slip into the playoffs with a .500 record.
Georgia came into the year with four consecutive 10-win seasons and Top 10 finishes, a stretch that included two SEC championships. But the Bulldogs struggled to settle on a quarterback, going from senior Joe Tereshinski to freshman Matthew Stafford to redshirt freshman Joe Cox before settling on Stafford.
While the Bulldogs finished strong, Georgia Tech fell apart after winning its division. Not only did the Yellow Jackets lose to their state rival for the sixth year in a row, they botched a chance to play in the Orange Bowl.
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