“The best moment of Super Bowl XI”
I have been following the Atlanta Falcons for a long time. I had just started the seventh grade at Girard Junior High School about the same time the Falcons began playing. Every boy I knew was following this first pro football team to call the Deep South home.
The Falcons lost their first nine games that season, followed by a single win in their second season. Tommy Nobis was named the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1966 and was named to the Pro Bowl Team. He was a symbol of hope for the great teams yet to come. It would take longer than we expected.
The Falcons would take thirty two years before finally playing in their first Super Bowl. Facing the retiring John Elway and the Denver Broncos, the Falcons were 8.5 point underdogs. They lost by 15 points. The next year Atlanta only won five games.
The Falcons had an occasional good season, sometimes two or three in a row. However, they could never achieve the consistent winning tradition that would have given them the type of devoted following enjoyed by the area’s powerhouse college football teams.
This seemed to be the year. Despite an 11-5 record during the regular season, the Falcons seemed to peak at just the right time. Their offensive machine, led by eventual NFL MVP Matt Ryan, put up impressive numbers. They were fun to watch and led the success starved fan base back to the Big Game for just the second time in history.
It is too difficult to recount the loss after giving up 31 unanswered points at the end of the game. No team in Super Bowl history had ever overcome more than a 10 point deficit to win. Atlanta was leading 28-3 midway through the third quarter.
It was the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history and the crowning achievement for Tom Brady’s amazing career. You cannot really say anything about Brady that has not already been said. Hats off to a true champion.
I did not read the many news articles in the Atlanta papers on Monday morning. I did not listen to sports talk radio or the call-in shows with all the Monday morning quarterbacks second guessing every decision. It was just too painful to have seen a half century of dreams disappear after a victory seemed to be almost certain.
I appreciate and congratulate the Atlanta Falcons on their great season and hope I live long enough to see them return to another Super Bowl.
In the meantime, I will choose to remember Super Bowl LI for the extraordinary moment of the coin toss done by President George H. W. Bush, our oldest living ex-President. He and his wife, Barbara, have celebrated 72 years of marriage, unequalled by any presidential couple in our nation’s long history.
A week ago Bush was seriously ill with pneumonia. Yet here he was, in front of a packed stadium, with an admiring audience watching around the world.
In this time of chaos, uncertainty, and extreme partisanship, it warmed my heart to see everyone standing and cheering this inspiring leader who has given most of his life to the service of this nation.
No one seemed to care if he was a Democrat or a Republican. You could feel the genuine respect of those lucky enough to be a part of that special moment. Each player shook the hands of President and Mrs. Bush. There was no animated posturing by the team players at mid field. They seemed to acknowledge in front of this occasionally sports crazed world that some things are more important than football. There are indeed people more inspiring than even the best athletes on the field.
So, if you ask this Falcon fan of fifty years what was his fondest memory of perhaps the greatest Super Bowl of all time, the answer will be easy. Heads or tails, win or lose, it was the coin toss that brought players, teams, and even a nation together, if only just for a moment.
Dan Ponder can be reached at email@example.com