The Daily Whim

The Daily Whim

Sun. Jan 01, 2006

The Thirty Nine Year Hex

I wrote briefly about the hex a couple of weeks ago, and promised I’d have more to say when and if it was finally resolved. At that time, there was still some doubt (or hope) left in my mind. But since then, it’s become clear to me, the hex, she is very very strong. In fact, the strongest in North American sports history.

Today, this hex turned the Atlanta Falcons into a sad puddle of loser. Again.

I need to make sure you understand the nature of this. This is not just some fan peeved because his team lost … again. This is a factual anomaly. It’s one thing to say “the Falcons have never ever been able to put two winning seasons together back to back in their thirty nine year history.” It’s another to note that in all of professional sports history in North America … baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, anything ... among hundreds of teams, no team comes close to matching this feat. If I recall, the closest was a 32 year run by some minor league hockey team.

Four decades is supernatural. A hex.

I moved to Georgia in 1978, and started following the Falcons. They were 9-7 that year, and prospects looked good for the next year. But in 1979, they went 6-10. This pattern of a winning season being followed by a losing season would continue, well, forever. And it had already been going on since 1966. I was just the most recently afflicted.

Over the years, the tease just got more sinister and, frankly, unbelievable. In 1980 the Falcons roared to 12-4, an NFC Western Division championship, and a berth in the playoffs. The next year, losers (1981, 7-9).

The word on the street (meaning, the scuttlebutt at the tailgate parties before games at the old Fulton Country Stadium) was that back in 1965 when they built the stadium for the Falcons, they’d torn down the house of an old Cajun woman, and she put a hex on the team (I believe there was a similar legend regarding the Superdome in New Orleans).

When the team moved into its new home at Georgia Dome, many of us thought perhaps the hex would be left behind. But apparently it’s quite transferable. First year in the Dome? 10-6. Second year? 6-10.

The teasing culminated in the 1998 season. The “Dirty Birds” rocked to 14-2, and fought through the playoffs to the Super Bowl. But that glorious season effectively ended the night before the Super Bowl, when, instead of spending the night with his wife and children, starting safety and team co-captain Eugene Robinson decided to pick up a hooker, got busted, and kept the coaching staff and several key players up half the night. Denver stomped them the next day, and the next year, the Falcons dropped to 5-11. Another puddle of loser.

The most recent chapter of this teasing saw the Falcons blaze to an 11-5 record last year in their first year under Coach Jim Mora, and go deep into the playoffs. With new ownership, a new coach, and Michael Vick at QB, it was all but assumed that this year the hex would end.

In fact, that cockiness may have been part of the problem. As Mark Bradley wrote, “From the moment Jim Mora chose to belittle the history of his franchise, you could feel this coming. November had just arrived and the Falcons were 5-2 and riding high and Mora, in seeking to defend his team’s indefensible ‘policy’ of muting its offensive linemen, dismissed the honorable likes of Jeff Van Note and Mike Kenn by saying, in essence, those guys couldn’t have been all that great if they weren’t part of consecutive winning seasons.

Which, of course, would now mean Jim Mora and his guys can’t be all that great either, eh? Because after this year’s model got off to a 6-2 start that had some sneering at the low level goal of merely a winning season, they could only pull out two more wins in their last eight games.

If they could have even held on for a tie last week against Tampa Bay, they would have gone 8-7-1. Technically, a winning record. The hex would have ended. But as was the case most of the year, when it came down to which team wanted it more, the Falcons went home losers.

Today, they had their final shot. At home. Against a team that has actually felt somewhat hexed by the Falcons, as Carolina had lost 5 of the last 6 against them. All week long, Mora and the Falcons talked about how important it was for them to bring the fans a winning season. Because they know about the hex. It was another chance to see which team wanted it more.

By halftime, the Falcons were down 27-3.

Dozens of Dome workers had already gathered on the sidelines with mops and buckets, prepared to clean up the big puddle of loser staining the field. After all, tomorrow night there’s a real football game in the Dome, the Sugar Bowl. But in the second half, the stain only got bigger.

As I’m writing this, it’s 37-3 with seven minutes left, the Dome is two thirds empty. It’s a perfectly fitting and (for me) fully expected ending to this season.

I’ve read the litany of reasons the Falcons ended up here. They were indeed decimated by injuries, especially on defense. This forced them to play first and second year players who might have skills but seriously lacked NFL experience. They got eaten for lunch.

But show me an NFL team where injuries are not a big factor by this point in the season. It’s the job of the coaching staff to adjust and make ends meet. These Falcons may have lost 4 games by 3 points this year, but they also only beat one team that ended up with a winning record this year.

They say that an NFL quarterback doesn’t really hit his stride until his fourth of fifth year. That’s about where Michael Vick is now, and despite his obvious physical skills, he’s still got some growing to do.

But I don’t think that’s been the problem this season. I think it is also true that an NFL head coach doesn’t hit his stride until maybe year three or four. I’ve heard Jim Mora talk about how he doesn’t think he’s like other second year head coaches, because he grew up around coaching, and watched his Dad be a head coach for many years, with the Saints and elsewhere.

Well, it’s one thing to watch, even if it is for years. It’s another to actually do it. And there’s been enough unrealized potential, flashes of temper, and highly questionable coaching decisions, to believe Mora needs a bit more experience under his belt, too. He’s got to find better ways to utilize the talent he has, adjust when the situation demands, and motivate this team to put up a better showing than they did today.

But with all this experience I have witnessing the hex, I can tell you the traditional “sunny side” a Falcons fan turns to at this time of year. Next year, we’ll have a decent draft choice! All the better to fill the glaring holes in the defensive secondary. And our quite mediocre record will mean that next year’s game schedule won’t be quite as tough as this year’s. Plus, whatever excessive cockiness the Falcon’s players or coaches developed on the way to a 6-2 start has been converted to humble pie.

And it’s a really big pie. As I finish writing this, the final score is 44-11.

A call has gone out over the Atlanta media for a volunteer bucket brigade to report to the Georgia Dome. There’s apparently a massive puddle of loser to be mopped up before the Sugar Bowl tomorrow.

Peanut Gallery

1  DanS wrote:

As usual, you nailed this one. Bravo!

Hey, does this TEAM suc or what???

This from a Bears fan (50+ years) of many such heartbreaks.

Ah, well; -be of good cheer! The Bears proved that a TEAM can win a SuperBowl!

2  Paul wrote:

It could be worse. You could be a Packers fan.

3  Reid wrote:

Oh come now. Granted, the Packers have had a rough season. I really do feel for Brett Favre.

But they still beat the Falcons. At home, even.

And you’re talking about one bad year, whenThe Green Bay Packers have won more championships – 12 – than any other team in National Football League history.

In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the last time the Packers had a losing season was 1991. What’s that, 13 winning seasons back-to-back?


4  Reid wrote:

From Sports Illustrated:I wouldn’t say we let down our fans, but we wanted to go 9-7 and get rid of that 40-year problems we’ve had,’ said second-year coach Jim Mora.

Jim, Jim, Jim. There should be no doubt in your mind that you did. The performance of the Falcons today, and for weeks, has let down your fans. As head coach, by definition,. that’s your responsibility. You can’t get better until you admit you’ve got a problem.

You need to eat some more of that humble pie, boy.

5  Paul wrote:

Okay, then try being a Cubs fan. It ain’t pretty, but it’s fun.

You have to see it from a Packer Backer POV. They had “winning seasons” but not really. As a rookie, Favre played much like he has these past couple of seasons, and they’d always lose the first playoff game to either Minnesota or Dallas. Every damned year. Favre got better, Fritz Shurmer got Reggie White to strengthen the defense, and Holmgren had a rickety West Coast Offense going. And they still lost to Dallas or Minnesota every damned year, because while they had okay seasons, they were never good enough to secure home field advantage in the playoffs. Since the Pack can’t play in a dome, that meant a loss their first or second game.

The year before they went to the Super Bowl, they lost to Dallas in a game where no one scored a touchdown. They were beat by a relentless series of field goals, because of the Packers’ legendary non-existent Defensive Secondary. The year they won the Super Bowl was the first year they had what I would call a solid season, ensuring home field advantage when they played Dallas and finally beat them at Lambeau Field. It’s been downhill from there.

I would rather have a series of bad seasons (which are coming up), than a series of okay seasons with losses in the first or second round every year. The heart can only take so much stress.

And all except one or two of those Championships happened before I was born.

6  DanS wrote:

Falcons losing to GB earlier this year is exactly precisely SMACK in the middle of a ‘team’ looking at each other and beginning to wonder i.e: the loss of confidence in one’s fellow player.

And THAT is a crisis of COACHING!

Sure hope Jim Mora checks in here in the next 5 months.

7  Reid wrote:

Paul, I repeat: the Packers just broke a streak of 13 straight winning seasons. The Falcons have never ever been able to put two of them back to back in four decades.

I do not feel your pain.

You say “They had ‘winning seasons’ but not really.” We, on the other hand, were fully ready to declare 8-7-1 a winning season.

In the first half of the season, the Falcons went 6-2. In the second half, 2-6.

And the coach says he doesn’t think they let down the fans.

There is only one team that might possible be as jinxed, or more jinxed, as the Falcons. And that’s the Saints.

An old evicted lady cast a hex on their place, too. Have you seen the Superdome lately?

Back in 1980, when I was in 6th grade, I invested heavily of myself in Falcons fandom. I knew the words to the song “Falcons Fever”, had a jersey with William Andrews’ #31 on it, watched every game, and I could name every player on the team just about.

Then the Cowboys came to town in the 2nd playoff game, and Bubba Bean ended Roger Staubach’s career right when Roger’s career was the best thing the Falcon’s had going for them.

Danny White took the field, threw a few touchdown passes in the fourth, and the Falcons were a puddle of loser.

I remember tossing the jersey in the trash, and despite having lived in the Atlanta area all but two years of my life, I have since then never, ever watched another Falcons game.

Please let another city take this team away from us forever, and let Atlanta surrender to the Gods of Football and realize that the South is made for College Football and Baseball, and that pro football is as pointless as hockey and soccer in Atlanta.

9  Adrian wrote:

At least you have the knowledge that having just completed a poor season, there is a good chance that the next could be better!

10  Jim wrote:

Don’t ask me. I’m a Giants fan.

Comment by Jim · 01/04/2006 01:18 PM
11  Reid wrote:

24FC: “and realize that the South is made for College Football and Baseball

Ya see, this is where I have a personal problem or two.

I played Little League. One game I got beaned bad by the equivalent of a 9 year old Greg Maddux. And I decided I didn’t like baseball all that much. Nearly four decades later, I feel pretty much the same way.

I preferred football. You knew a bangin’ was coming, you could also dish one out, and you had what seemed to an immortal teen to be an invincible armor of padding.

I wasn’t good enough to play college ball. But I tired to be a fan, I really did. The problem was that I went to a 3,000 student school in a division (the ACC) filled with schools with umpteen to twenty five thousand students. We got whipped thoroughly, and regularly. We lost the Homecoming game … to Appalachian State. Throw in the fact the team from a Southern Baptist school had the ironic but hardly fierce nickname of the “Demon Deacons,” and, well, the fun was hard to find.

If you went to UNC, or Georgia, or Tennessee, or any of dozens of southern schools with fine football traditions, yeah, I can see how it would still hold a lot of appeal.

But I went to Wake Forest:First Year of Football: 1888. All Time Football Record: 379-573-33” A fine tradition of 118 years of mostly losing football.

So when I moved to Georgia and had a pro team to root for (back in the mid 70’s, NC was as close to the Redskins as the Falcosn, and there were no Panthers yet), I decided it was much preferable to college ball. Because the first few seasons (say, 78-82), the Falcons were at least competetive and intersting. The days of Bartkowski and William Andrews.

Of course, since then, it’s become clear the Falcons have a four decade tradition of mostly losing football. So I guess in that perverse way, it is like college football for me.

The Atlanta Demon Deacons.

Jim: “Don’t ask me. I’m a Giants fan.

Hope you don’t become Panther stew. They’re pretty tough this year.

12  emcee fleshy wrote:

I played Little League. One game I got beaned bad by the equivalent of a 9 year old Greg Maddux. And I decided I didn’t like baseball all that much. Nearly four decades later, I feel pretty much the same way.

I preferred football. You knew a bangin’ was coming, you could also dish one out. . .


While in law school, I recall trying to explain to the New Yorkers why Atlanta sports was so frustrating. They would always say we were lucky to have the Braves. I had to explain that, yes, we happy to have winners at something. But southerners are basically football people. And frustratingly, none of the traditional powerhouse NFL teams are in the South.

Yes, there’s college football. But I’ve always wondered why college football is the most popular in the one region with the fewest college grads. Reminds me of a joke:

Q—what do a Georgia Tech football fan and a Georgia football fan have in common?

A—Neither of them went to Georgia.

13  DanS wrote:

Q—What do a Georgia Tech football player and a Falcons football player have in common?

A—After the season, one says “I was in it just for my degree”; the other says: “I was in it just for the money.”

14  Jim wrote:

Remember what I said about being a Giants’ fan? Nevermind.

Comment by Jim · 01/09/2006 04:01 AM
15  Reid wrote:

Jim, different teams, same steamroller:

Carolina’s two best games of the season are the two they’ve played in 2006, last week’s 44-11 victory against Atlanta and Sunday’s 23-0 playoff opener.

Carolina has not turned the ball over in 2006. DeShaun Foster ran for 165 yards against Atlanta and 151 against New York.

The Falcons rushed for 26 yards and New York rushed for 41.

At least your team got to the playoffs. Here, at best, we get the alternate year thing. Maybe next year, eh?

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