Flowery Branch – If it happened in Latrobe, Pa., you’d shrug and say, “That’s football.” But this is the Branch and these are the Birds, and once again this star-crossed franchise is endeavoring to make history by actually putting one winning season after another. And here’s the scorecard after six days of camp:
A Pro Bowl receiver is still in Alabama because he wants the sort of money Larry Fitzgerald gets, and the No. 3 wideout has been lost for the season with a knee injury.
And now you’re not shrugging. You’re thinking, “Here we go again.”
Coming off an epic NFC title game, the Falcons botched a Super Bowl by having Terance Mathis get miffed exiting the team plane and having Eugene Robinson get himself arrested 21 hours before kickoff. Coming off that Super Bowl, O.J. Santiago fell off a golf cart on Day 1 of camp and Jamal Anderson wrecked his knee in Week 2. Coming off a playoff victory at Lambeau Field, Michael Vick broke his leg in Week 3 of the exhibition season.
Were these the Pittsburgh Steelers, you’d say, “Oh, they’ll handle it.” But these aren’t the Steelers. These are the Falcons, who haven’t consolidated a gain in 43 years of trying.
Tony Gonzalez is new here. Asked Thursday about if he believes a jinx hangs over the Birds, he said: “I hope not. I’m not going to get into that Boston Red Sox type of stuff. We’ve got a good football team. We’ve got good players. It’s sad for Harry, but injuries happen.”
Then this: “One of the most underrated things is football is staying healthy. If we can do that, we’ve got a good shot. We just hope nothing else happens.”
But the Falcons’ track record is that something else always happens. As much as we might believe in the brainpower of Thomas Dimitroff and the basics of Mike Smith, these men still work for the franchise that bears the Bird in its logo. And that Bird hasn’t yet failed to mess up a good thing.
A year ago the Falcons were 11-5 in large measure because they didn’t get hurt. Now Harry Douglas gets hurt just catching a pass on a Wednesday in August. No, he isn’t among the Falcons’ 10 biggest names, but what if Roddy White doesn’t show before Sept. 13? Can they make do with Michael Jenkins and Brian Finneran and assorted free agents? (Don’t forget: The Falcons traded Laurent Robinson to the Rams in April, and Robinson opened camp as a first-stringer.)
Said Finneran, who tore his ACL on July 30, 2006 and essentially missed two seasons: “A guy getting hurt is bad at any point.”
Said Smith, being pragmatic: “Injuries happen. But as I just told the team after practice, one man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. I know that’s harsh to say, and we all feel for Harry, but that’s the way it is.”
And that is the way it is. But because these are the Falcons, any adverse development is seen as the first sign of the apocalypse. Maybe this time will be different. But we’ve been expecting the worst for 43 years now, and at least every other year the great fickle Bird has done its voodoo.
Were I Matt Ryan, I wouldn’t walk under any ladders. Or spill any salt. Or exhale until January.