Charlie Brown never kicks the football, the castaways never get rescued from Gilligan’s Island and Greg Norman never wins the Masters.
Some things are just meant to be. Or, in some cases, just not meant to be.
It has been a week now. That’s scarcely enough time to ease the sting of the most epic flop and quintessential Atlanta sports moment of all time. As the Atlanta Falcons were exorcising half a century of futility, most of the 110 million Super Bowl viewers surely assumed that the vaunted New England Patriots were about to be humbled right there for Roger Goodell to secretly enjoy.
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Ah, but seasoned Falcons fans knew better. Even when they went up 28-3 in the third quarter, you just knew that if any franchise could become the first to ever blow a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl then it could be the Falcons.
Not being cynical, mind you. Just being real.
Charlie Brown never kicks the football.
It didn’t necessarily start out that way. According to interviews and articles online, Charles Schulz, the brilliant Peanuts creator, didn’t set out to turn Charlie Brown’s football ineptitude into a lifelong curse administered by Lucy. Somehow it just developed that way. Schulz later explained, “You can’t create humor out of happiness.”
It turned into symbolism of that loveable loser. Writer Eric Schulmiller, in a great piece published on Slate.com, examined the history and context of Charlie Brown and the football.
“Symbolism, Charlie Brown!” Lucy said. “The ball! The desire! The triumph! It’s all there.”
“Somehow, I’ve missed the symbolism,” he replied.
“You also missed the ball, Charlie Brown.”
Ah, yes. There is that, too. Contrary to what many believe, Lucy didn’t always yank the football away from good ol’ Charlie Brown. Before Schulz decided this would be Charlie Brown’s fate, that Lucy let him kick the football. Well, at least try to. Alas, Charlie Brown tripped over his own feet. Before that, Charlie Brown was all by himself and missed – twice.
Boy, talk about symbolism.
This was more than just a Super Bowl loss or another low point for a franchise that has spent most of its 51 years of existence tripping over its own feet. How many teams saw their franchise quarterback sent to prison for dogfighting?
If nothing else, crown Atlanta world champions of creativity.
The Atlanta Hawks lost the contractual rights to Julius Erving because they signed him before the 1972 draft. Thus, Dr. J’s career with Atlanta consisted of three preseason games. The Atlanta Braves lost the rights to Tom Seaver because they signed him while he was still pitching for Southern Cal, even though the NCAA ruled him ineligible.
The Hawks are in their 49th season in Atlanta. Including the 19 combined NHL seasons of the Flames and Thrashers, Atlanta has endured 170 seasons of Major League Baseball, NFL, NBA and NHL. In all of that time, the teams have produced one championship team, when the Braves won the World Series in 1995.
But that’s OK. It’s not all about winning it all. Sometimes, just winning at all provides some measure of enjoyment. Growing up an Atlanta sports fan in the ’70s, the celebratory moments were few and far between – and very modest at that. I was happy to see the Braves have a winning season in 1980 – 81-80 – after five miserable losing seasons. The Falcons didn’t make the playoffs until their 13th season. They teased us with a moderately successful (for them, at least) spurt when they went 7-6-1, 7-7 and 9-5 from 1971 through ’73. But they followed that by going 3-11 in 1974.
Both the Braves with Bob Horner and Dale Murphy and the Falcons with Steve Bartkowski and William Andrews looked like they might deliver a championship in the early ‘80s. But in a few short years, they were both worse than ever before.
Then along came Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Steve Avery, Ron Gant and David Justice – and later Greg Maddux, Fred McGriff and Chipper Jones. They delivered five National League pennants and one World Series championship and started a run of 14 consecutive division titles.
So what if most of those seasons ended in heartbreak or frustration? I’d take it again right now.
These Falcons remind me of the 1991 Braves. They are young, especially on defense. They don’t care about the history of futility. Sure, it’s a long road just to get back to the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl. But there’s no reason they can’t return, and no reason they can’t close the deal next time.
I love Charlie Brown as much as anybody, but Charles Schulz isn’t writing this script.