Awaiting A Crown: Defining moments of Atlanta's title drought
The Chicago Cubs. Cleveland Cavaliers. Clemson. Together, they ended a collective 195 years worth of heartache for fan bases in claiming titles since last summer. Now, the Falcons are in position to provide Atlanta with the same weight-off-the-shoulders moment against the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
Atlanta's last and only title came via the 1995 Braves and since then, the city has been in a 22-year drought that stands as the longest of any of the 19 locals with three or more teams playing from the MLB, NBA, NFL or NHL.
But before Matt Ryan and Co. can move the ATL forward, it's important to take a look under those calluses and the frustrating and sometimes gut-wrenching moments that have forged the psyche for a generation of fans.
It may not be an easy trip down memory lane, but to borrow from one of the city's inhabitants, the Hawks, it's part of being True To Atlanta.
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Braves Stunned In 1996 World Series
Up 2-0 with wins by a combined score of 16-1 in Yankee Stadium, the Braves seemed destined for a second straight title. After all, only two teams in history to that point -- the 1985 Royals and '86 Mets -- had ever dropped the first two games of a World Series rallied to win. Add in that doing it against this Atlanta crew meant taming the likes of Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and it seemed that much more improbable.
After dropping Game 3 in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium 5-2 -- despite Glavine allowing two earned runs over seven innings -- the Braves rebounded to take a 6-0 lead in Game 4 off an Andruw Jones double in the fifth, New York mounted the second-largest comeback in Series history, winning 8-6 in 10 innings.
The Yankees followed with wins over Smoltz and Maddux -- the first coming by a score of 1-0 on an unearned run -- and while Atlanta continued its run of division titles, and made a return to the Series in 1999 (falling to the Yankees again), this defeat passed the baton of potential dynasty from one franchise to another.
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Falcons Fall in Super Bowl XXXII
Jamal Anderson and the Falcons Dirty Bird'd their way into Super Bowl XXXIII, the franchise's first appearance, behind a 14-2 regular-season record and nine straight wins heading into the playoffs.
So hot was this team that its coach Dan Reeves having open-heart surgery late in the year and missing multiple games provided nary a hiccup, as defensive coordinator Rich Brooks kept Atlanta rolling. That included overcoming three deficits vs. the Lions on Dec. 20 to clinch the NFC West.
The Eugene Robinson incident created some turmoil, and so did John Elway as the Broncos won 34-19.
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2001 Braves Swept Away
As mentioned, Atlanta made another World Series appearance in 1999, its fifth during the run of 14 straight division crowns, but the Braves were swept and scored more than two runs in just one game. What -- in hindsight -- makes 2001 hold a more substantial place in a city's collective heartache is the finality of it.
That season, the Braves took down the Astros 3-0 to advance to the National League Championship Series, losing to the eventual champion Diamondbacks 4-1. It would mark not only the last postseason series victory from the Glavine/Maddux/Smoltz collective, but it's the last the franchise has claimed since.
That includes four straight division series defeats to end the division title streak, two more in 2010 and '13, and in between the infamous Infield Fly Game in 2012.
Which bring us to ...
The Infield Fly Game
Granted, it was a Wild Card game, but it didn't make the the moment -- which came in the final game of soon-to-be-Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones' career -- any easier to stomach.
The setup: Atlanta trailed the Cardinals 6-3 in the eighth and had runners at first and second when Andrelton Simmons hit a lazy fly ball, which St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma followed into shallow left field. He appeared to be calling off left fielder Matt Holliday ... then looked back at the outfield and let it fall between the two of them.
Bases loaded Braves, right? Nope.
An interesting interpretation of Rule 2.00 of the Major League rulebook -- the infield fly rule -- was enacted. Simmons was out and fans littered Turner Field with trash.
The Braves protested, and Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, denied calling it "an umpire's judgment call."
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Dream Can't Break Through
It's not one of the country's big four leagues, but the WNBA's Dream have come closer than any of Atlanta's inhabitants before this year's Falcons reached the Super Bowl.
The Dream advanced to the Finals in 2010, 2011, 2013 only to be swept in three games each time (by the Storm in '10 and the Lynx in both '11 and '13).
On a positive note, Angel McCoughtry does hold the WNBA Finals record with a 38-point game in '11, but the Dream are the only team to reach multiple Finals and not have a single win in any of those series.
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Falcons Can't Hold On in 2012
In 2012, the Falcons started out 8-0 and would claim the NFC's best record at 13-3 behind Matt Ryan's breakout season -- nearly 5,000 yards passing -- 1,000-yard years by both Roddy White and Julio Jones and the work of future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez.
They played with fire in the Divisional Round, squandering a 20-point third-quarter lead vs. the Seahawks but held on 30-28. Then, with a Super Bowl bid on the line, seized a 17-0 edge on the 49ers only to fall 28-24.
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Hawks' Denied by LeBron, Cavs In History-Making Season
Mike Budenholzer's free-flowing, 3-point-heavy system resulted in a 19-game winning streak and the franchise's first division title since 1993-94. It also saw four players make the All-Star Game -- Al Horford, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague -- and Budeholzer coached the Eastern Conference's stars that year in Madison Square Garden.
Atlanta would win a franchise-record 60 games and finished only second to the Warriors in outside shooting at 38 percent, and the good times kept up through playoff series wins over the Nets and Wizards.
Then, LeBron James and the Cavaliers happened, taking down the Hawks 4-0 as Atlanta became the first No. 1 seed to be swept in the conference finals since 2003.