The date was January 17, 1999. I was in the West Towers Dormitory of Howard University. It was my sophomore year and The Atlanta Falcons had risen as the formidable force in the NFC. They had beaten the 49ers and were coming off a regular season 14-2 and were getting ready to go up against The No.1 seeded Vikings. The game went back and forth and The Vikings were keen on showing why they were pretty much unstoppable that season. When the game went into overtime, I felt as though this might be it. Two plays later and that man [Morten] Andersen kicked a FG that sent the Dirty Birds to the Super Bowl. “Elation” cannot explain the feeling I experienced until that elation quickly turned into despair only 2 weeks later, when the Falcons got a hiding at the hands of John Elway. Very painful…..let’s move on.
After that Super Bowl, the Dirty Birds became a regular NFL team that really didn’t accomplish much. We went from season to season just coasting along and remaining relevant in the NFL. It wasn’t until we drafted Michael Vick in 2001 that we began to see a resurgence of Atlanta magic at the Georgia Dome. Those years of having a deeply athletic elite QB made a big difference in some foundation work of where the Falcons would eventually end up. Then, the dog fight situation happened (grrrr), Vick gets suspended, and then we get a number 3 draft pick with Matt Ryan in 2008.
When Ryan joined the Falcons, I was optimistic given what he had done at Boston College. Since he joined, The Falcons have been to the playoffs 5 times where Matt was only able to record 1 win. Matt Ryan went from “Matty Ice” to “Matty can’t win in January”. 2012 was promising because we saw the Falcons go 13-3 in the regular season and then make it to the Conference Championship Game, only to be ousted by the San Francisco 49ers, even though the Falcons started off the game 17-0.
From that point up until now, we have barely broken .500 and not even gone to the playoffs. Last season, long time coach Mike Smith was replaced by Dan Quinn; a no nonsense thoroughbred Defensive coach that came up through the Seattle system. Immediately we saw a turnaround in the way the team played by starting out the 2015-2016 season 5-0, only to be hampered by injuries, bad situations on penalties costing us vital plays, and overall sloppiness. The season ended 8-8 and most fans were wondering what next and how do we build on these mistakes.
2016 started out promising. Flashes of the previous season prevailed in certain games, but it wasn’t until the game against the Philadelphia Eagles in November that we began to see the Falcons firing on all cylinders, only losing one game from that point up until now, making it a 7-game winning streak going into the Super Bowl.
The last two games of the playoffs have been nothing short of a phenomenal display of the ability of this team. Beating teams with powerhouse quarterbacks such as [Russell] Wilson and [Aaron] Rogers shows just how far and how prepared this quad is. The offensive weaponry at the disposal of Matt Ryan justifies why he leads the league in touchdowns to several different receivers. Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu Jr are having epic seasons and the ground game controlled by [Tevin] Coleman and [Devonta] Freeman are just gems to watch. Then you have the mostly rookie defense who get stronger by the day.
All in all, it has been a fairytale story for the Falcons. From relative obscurity to playing in the Super Bowl for the second time in their history remains remarkable for fans like me that were introduced to this franchise via association, by living in the city.
Sunday, February 5th, the Dirty Birds will have the opportunity to take us back to the days of Jamal Anderson and the antics that defined the Dirty Bird, but this time flying away sky high in Texas.
Located in Lagos, Nigeria, Nwaji Jibunoh is War Room Sports’ International Soccer Contributor. Nwaji also contributes commentary on U.S. sports from an international perspective. He’s an Atlanta Falcons fan, Howard University alum, and former tight end for the North Atlanta High School Warriors.