It’s not that the Atlanta Falcons haven’t been this close before.
Heck, they once played in the Super Bowl. And lost. Another time they had the Dallas Cowboys on the ropes in the playoffs, here in our own yard with 10 minutes to play — and let it get away. But never has there been a Falcons organization as solid as this, from the wheelhouse to the clubhouse at Flowery Branch.
“Why is it the Falcons never get any national attention?” a fellow asked the other day. At church. “The broadcasters all talk about the Patriots and the Giants, and the Mannings and Brady, but the Falcons and Ryan and Turner hardly ever get mentioned.”
He could have included Michael Vick, but I didn’t choose to give him any more fodder. Yes, the Falcons have the best record in the the NFL, the whole smear, from Boston to San Diego. Just the other day, Gil Brandt, the old warhorse now a sort of unofficial league historian, said, “I think the Falcons are the best team in the National Football Conference. With their home field advantage, I think they’ll be in Dallas in February.”
Dallas, in case you need be reminded, is where the next Super Bowl will be played, in Jerry Jones’ new palace. (Actually, it’s located in the suburb of Arlington.)
Since the Falcons emerged from the morass of Jim Mora and Bobby Petrino — ugh! what a dreadful stretch — a kind of dedicated calm has settled over the premises. It begins with the arrival of Thomas Dimitroff, who brought that dedicated calm to the scene. It was Dimitroff, then, who startled the whole community when he hired a wise, selfless coach with the rather average name of Mike Smith — and there must be 10 million Mike Smiths on the planet.
But few of us had ever heard of this Mike Smith, an alumnus of an institution now without a football team, East Tennessee State. Nor had he ever been a head coach before.
Now, I’ve never known just how or where Rich McKay fit into this coronation, or the hand he played in the arrival of Dimitroff. Rich had served at Jacksonville, where Mike Smith had been an assistant coach, but just where he and Dimitroff made connection remains off the record. Nevertheless, it has become a working combination with no combative parts. And there are others who have found peace and happiness through it all, the owner, of course, Arthur Blank, and the genuinely effective Reggie Roberts, who maintains public relations.
Front and center, though, is the most prominent personality of them all. Matt Ryan came to town as the third pick in the draft, out of Boston College, where he wisely chose to play out his full eligibility. Ryan grew up in a Main Line suburb of Philadelphia, the third of four children. He is a quarterback of far less glamor than substance. When he became a marital figure, the two of them revealed their engagement in tandem.
There’s just nothing about Matt Ryan that isn’t as solid as gold, and thus, on his steady hand, we stand on this verge of Atlanta’s most glamorous moment in the game of football.
There, I’ve said it, and I’m glad.
Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.