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Atlanta sports teams hard to watch at times

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BY BEN SEARLES

It’s hard to be an Atlanta sports fan. And it’s not because the teams are untalented. The Hawks, Braves and Falcons are all solid teams. The hardship for a fan stems from the glimpses of greatness the teams show us right before they slip into mediocrity. I have no problem with a team that manages a winning season, and then gracefully loses to a better team in a play-in or first-round playoff game. What all three of these Atlanta sports teams are very good at is briefly indicating championship potential and then their potential with an early playoff exit. These exasperating games are very hard to watch.

Since 2003, the Braves have made it to the playoffs six times, losing to their first opponent each time. Granted, they have made it to the World Series five times, and won it in 1995. But the last time they made it that far was in 1999, and the last time they won two playoff games in a row was in 2001. More recently, the team has prematurely either exited in the first round or missed the playoffs entirely. They have had some very promising players, such as pitcher Tim Hudson, catcher Brian McCann, second baseman Dan Uggla, recently retired third baseman Chipper Jones and even older stars, such as pitcher John Smoltz. All these players have been named to multiple All-Star teams, but none have been able to do any consistent danger in the playoffs this millennium. In the 1990s when the Braves had a talented pitching lineup, they were only able to win one championship. In a disappointing end to his career, Jones and the Braves were unable outscore the Cardinals in a play-in wildcard game. What makes the plight of the Atlanta fan even more sad is that the Braves—despite their habitual disappointments—are the most successful of the three teams.

While the Hawks have recently done better than the Braves in the playoffs, they went on a horrid regular-season run, having eight consecutive losing seasons from 1999 to 2007. In the past five years, the team has achieved playoff status, but only advanced past round one three times. Key players, such as point guard Jeff Teague, center Al Horford and forward Josh Smith shine at some moments, but at other times, especially in Smith’s case, they shrink from the big stage. In the playoffs, the Hawks have won their division four times (the last time was in 1994), but have never won their conference or made it to the NBA Finals, to even contend for the championship. Unlike the Braves, though, the Hawks seem to perform more to their ability. Where the Braves seem to have untapped potential, the Hawks perform usually very closely to how they are projected to perform, which makes their low points more forgivable.

My favorite Atlanta team, and possibly the most disappointing (apart from this year) to watch, is the Falcons. In my opinion the Falcons are the best Atlanta sports team, yet maybe the worst at showing it. In the last 10 seasons, the Falcons missed the playoffs in five. In two playoff showings they won the first game (one of these was in the 2004 NFC Championship against the Eagles, which they were able to reach after a first round by), but all the others were one and done. The Falcons’ lone appearance past playoff game two in franchise history was in the 1999 Super Bowl, where they lost against the Broncos. Post-season play is what matters, and apart from that is what needs to be improved the most.

The Falcons have some of the top players in the NFL. Matt Ryan, while not a flashy quarterback by any means, knows how to play the game and can deliver even under pressure. Both running back Michael Turner and wide receiver Roddy White are decent players, All-Stars at times but missing persons at others. Both the offensive and defensive lines are solid, and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is an especially effective defender. Tight end Tony Gonzalez is an ageless Hall of Famer, and young receivers Harry Douglas and Julio Jones have been very good. All this is to say that the Falcons have a good lineup, and when they are on their game, they could maybe even be one of the top five teams in the NFL. When they are not, they can be awful, which is the hardest to watch, since I know that they are capable of much more.

This season, the Falcons have only lost one in 12 games. Everyone, including me, is extremely hopeful for the second half of the season, yet delivering wins in the playoff will be the biggest test. Another one and done experience would be the most disappointing for fans, as the near perfect season would have all been for naught.

It has always been hard to sit in front of the TV, watching good teams lose in first-round playoff games or fall apart against an inferior team, especially if it is the hometown team. Hopefully, the current Falcons season might spark a trend in Atlanta teams to show what they really are made of in the post season, when it really matters.

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Atlanta sports teams hard to watch at times