For as long as I have lived in Atlanta (over 26 years), I have endured, like you, the stigma of living in a “terrible sports town,” a moniker mostly dished out by transplants from Boston, Chicago or New York. But, there is plenty of truth to the claim.
Yes, we have had bad moments, and yes, most fans are fickle. But many of the horrible sports moments in our memory have had to do with something that did not happen between the lines.
So, here are the Top Five Worst Moments in Atlanta Sports History. If you’ve lived here longer than I have, I’m sure you can add more.
5.) NFC Divisional Playoffs, January 14, 1981 Fulton County Stadium
Teams entered the game at 12-and-4. The Cowboys had Danny White at quarterback, one year removed from the retirement of Roger Staubach. Steve Bartkowski was under center for the Falcons.
The Falcons were up 24-10 in the third quarter, but the Cowboys stormed back to win the game 30-to-27 with 20 fourth quarter points. Two TD passes from White to Drew Pearson in less than 2:30 of playing time killed the Falcons.
One was from 14 yards with 3:04 left in the game; the game winner was from 23 yards with 0:47 remaining. Many longtime Falcons fans will say this is the worst loss the franchise ever endured.
4.) Super Bowl XXXIV weekend, January 2000
The unfortunate thing about this is that the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans played one of the best Super Bowl games ever. Remember Tennessee’s Kevin Dyson stretching out for the goal line one yard short as time expired and the Rams preserved a 23-16 win?
But that is not what Super Bowl XXXIV is remembered for. What comes to mind is the ice storm and Ray Lewis. The storm played havoc with transportation during the week’s festivities, but work was done to keep the streets clear of ice and keep public transportation moving. Many here in Atlanta believe the ice storm of that weekend prevented the city from hosting another Super Bowl. However, if you build a Mercedes Benz dome, they (the NFL) will come!
Then there was the incident after the game in Buckhead outside of the Cobalt Lounge. Two men were stabbed to death and Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting were indicted on murder and aggravated-assault charges. A plea deal in exchange for testimony got Lewis’ charges reduced to obstruction of justice. The sentence was a fine of $250,000 and one year’s probation.
A year later, Lewis was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV.
3.) Super Bowl XXXIII January 31 1999 in Miami:
NFL fans will remember this for being the coronation of Broncos quarterback John Elway as one of the all-time greats. Falcons fans will remember this for being the only Super Bowl in franchise history, and for Eugene Robinson.
Robinson, an All-Pro and Pro Bowl safety was arrested for solicitation of prostitution when he offered an undercover female Miami police officer money for oral sex. Robinson was released from jail and played in the game where he would get burned on an 80-yard touchdown pass from Elway to Rod Smith.
To add an ironic twist to the entire weekend, earlier on the day of the arrest, Robinson won the Bart Starr Award, for outstanding character and leadership. He gave the award back after the arrest.
Denver defeated the Falcons 34–19, winning their second consecutive Super Bowl. Falcons fans are still waiting.
2.) The Infield Fly Rule Game, Friday October 5, 2012 Turner Field
The first ever NL Wild Card elimination game was won by the St. Louis Cardinals over the Atlanta Braves, 6-3.
But the game will be forever remembered as the night when left field umpire Sam Holbrook called out Andrelton Simmons in the bottom of the eighth on the infield fly rule that wasn’t. Instead of the bases being loaded, Simmons was out on the rule and robbed of a single. Fans were livid, they littered the field with trash, delaying the game for 19 minutes. The umpires warned the fans to stop or the game would be forfeited to the Cardinals.
Fredi González protested the game, but was denied afterwards because a judgement call cannot be protested under MLB rules.
This game featured two bad judgements: the one by Sam Holbrook and the one by the fans of Turner Field. Unfortunately, it was the last game played by soon-to-be Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. He went 1-for-5 with an error. Not a good way to end one of the best careers ever by an Atlanta Braves player.
1.) The Centennial Olympic Park Bombing
Unlike the others, the events of July 27, 1996 had no direct impact on a game or meet, but it had a profound impact on the world and how Atlanta and the South would be perceived.
The blast, committed by Eric Robert Rudolph, killed one and injured 111 others. Another person later died of a heart attack. To heap more global embarrassment upon the city for this senseless attack, security guard Richard Jewell, who discovered the bomb before detonation, cleared many from the park and saved countless lives, was accused of planting the bomb in a “Trial by Media.”
It was bad reporting based on unreliable information. Jewell was later exonerated and filed multiple lawsuits. But the damage to Atlanta had been done.
There are some others that deserve an “honorable mention:” the Kent Hrbek–Ron Gant incident in the 1991 World Series and the 1997 NLCS game when umpire Eric Gregg suddenly lost comprehension of the strike zone. Regardless, there are more bad memories than good. What are yours?