I have this problem. I can never fully concentrate on watching the local NFL club actually play because I have one eye on that door.
See it? It’s the one that says, “Falcons Annals.” And I keep waiting for Dan Henning to walk through and bum a cigarette. Or Norm Van Brocklin to barge in and start stacking chairs. Or Marion Campbell to amble over and say, “What’s up, gahz?” (Swampy talk for “guys.”)
I came to work here in 1984. It took seven years before I actually saw a winning Falcons’ season, and when finally one arrived Jerry Glanville was coaching and the stereo was blaring so loud — “Back in Black” and “Wild Wild West” and “2 Legit 2 Quit” — that I never heard a single word in any postgame interview and I was too distracted by the sight of Wayne Newton sitting next to Hammer in the press box for anything to register.
And now I watch the door, and I wait. For Wayne Newton to sing, “Danke Schoen.” Or for Hammer to put a move on somebody. (On that surrealistic Sunday, Deion Sanders intercepted a pass and was returning it and Hammer stood up in the press box and yelled, “Put a move on him!”) Or for Steve Broussard to hit air.
I watch the door, and I wait for the other shoe to drop. I wait for the phone call in my hotel room at 10:40 p.m. on Super Bowl eve and the voice on the line to say, “My friend at a Miami TV station says a Falcon just got arrested.” And then, 20 minutes later, for the follow-up that begins, “It gets even better. It’s Eugene Robinson.”
I watch the door and I await the worst because, to be frank, how could you not? Forty-three seasons and never consecutive winning campaigns. The grim and resolute power of the great fickle Bird logo. The faith that, no matter how good anything might seem, that door is going to fly open and O.J. Santiago is going to ride in on a golf cart — and fall off the darned thing.
Only now I’m starting to wonder. Is it OK to take that one eye off the dark door? To borrow from “Marathon Man” — which didn’t end well for anybody — is it safe?
I spent the preseason fretting about one thing or another, from Harry Douglas to overconfidence, and finally I found something that seemed a clear and present danger. The defense. It stank. And what happened when the Falcons started playing for real?
The defense made four takeaways and didn’t surrender a point until the game’s 57th minute. Charles Dimry did not walk through that door and line up at cornerback. Keith Brooking did not get fooled on third-and-16. Instead everything went right. Or, for a student of Falcons history, everything went wrong.
And now I’m thinking: Could it be? Could brainpower have been the missing element all along? Are Smitty the coach and TD the GM smart enough to outwit a legacy of letdowns now on its fifth deflating decade? Are the men who wear the great fickle Bird at last flop-free?
Me, I’d never say such a thing just yet. Me, I’m still eyeing that door. But I’m starting to wonder. I’m starting to think there might indeed be a trophy behind that door, and not Glanville’s faux California Trophy. This one’s named after a coach. His first name was Vince. But I dare not mention his last name lest I jinx …
Wait! I see something! Guy says his name is Aundray Bruce, and he’s toting a machete!
(Video alert: If you fast-forward to the four-minute mark and watch the rest, you’ll find three manifestations of the Falcons of yore.)