As I was watching the New England Patriots demolish the Denver Broncos last weekend, I marveled at the electric crowd inside Gillette Stadium. I wondered what Boston has done to have so much success and competence with their sports teams, and why Atlanta’s franchises have fallen so far behind.
Lounging on my couch, I came to a very sobering realization: For all the big games recently hosted by cities like Boston, I have no idea when Atlanta will host another one.
Oh, sure – there will be the occasional Game 6 inside Philips Arena as the Hawks fight to stay alive in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. But as a sports fan, I’m thinking much bigger, and I can’t see any way I’m attending a championship game of any sort in the near future.
(Also read: News and notes from around the city this week)
If you look around the Atlanta sports landscape, there are essentially five teams that could have the state’s full attention during a big sporting event – the Braves, Falcons, Hawks, Georgia Tech Football and Georgia Football. Of those five teams, fans are debating firing the head coach of three of them (Braves, Falcons, UGA), so that may be your first sign that those teams are nowhere near achieving big things.
Perhaps the squad closest to playing a big game in the A-T-L, despite its fans’ dismay, is the Georgia Bulldogs. At 7-2, the Dawgs could still win the SEC East and play in the conference championship at the Georgia Dome. Would that be a big game for the program? Always is. But is it as big of a game if UGA fans know their team has no chance to play into the College Football Playoff with a win in the Dome?
From there, it only gets more bleak for the city. The Falcons are well below .500 midway through the 2014 season, and even if they can find a way to rally and win the NFC South, most sane fans realize there’s no chance they’re hosting a major playoff game inside the Dome this year. So they’re not bringing a major game to the city until at least 2015, and maybe longer.
There’s Georgia Tech, who will host Clemson on Saturday and still has an outside chance to play in the ACC Championship game if they win out. But it’s been a long time since the Yellow Jackets hosted a colossal matchup at Bobby Dodd Stadium (Notre Dame a decade ago?), and it may be years before the next “huge” game is played on Grant Field. This is partially because their ACC schedule doesn’t allow for premier matchups, but also because GT hasn’t been too good recently.
The Hawks have still never played in the Eastern Conference Finals while in Atlanta, let alone the NBA Finals. The front office is trying to build a roster that resembles the San Antonio Spurs, with a team-first approach instead of a few superstars running the show, but the system isn’t complete just yet. If the Hawks were to get to the conference finals or beyond in the next season or two, it would be a sports miracle.
Finally, there’s the Braves, who just finished another season that trended downward for most of the summer. GM Frank Wren was canned, but manager Fredi Gonzalez was not. The hitters don’t hit, and the players get outsmarted in the field by the league’s better squads. What’s more, they have serious competition in the division for the first time in five years. The Washington Nationals are built to be a force in the National League for many, many years, and they’re going to give the Braves fits.
So maybe Atlanta fans should start savings accounts for tickets to the next big game in town. Don’t save too much too fast, though, because we might be saving for a while.