Atlanta’s sad sports history: One lousy title in 149 pro seasons

The initial response to the sight of Atlanta patrons leaving an NFL playoff game with a quarter still to play — this happened only last weekend — was to loose the boilerplate harrumph. “Nothing new here! These people are the fairest of fair-weather fans in all the land!”

That’s always the reaction from national voices, and there was a time when it was the belief of this correspondent. Atlanta’s the city that can’t sell out playoff games and then, when finally it does, the crowd goes home early when the scoreboard gets ugly, et cetera. But 26 years and 10 months of residency have had an erosive effect, and now this neutral-by-profession can say:

Folks, I feel your pain.

Since big-time professional sports arrived in 1966, teams sailing under the Atlanta flag have completed 149 seasons. (We won’t count baseball in 1994, when the World Series was canceled by a players’ strike, or the 2004-2005 NHL campaign, which was scrubbed due to a lockout.) Only one has yielded a championship. That’s a batting average of .007, which is nice if you’re James Bond, less nice if you’ve invested financial and emotional capital in any of those 148 misses.

(Just to clarify: I haven’t included the Atlanta Chiefs’ 1968 NASL title because soccer wasn’t a major American sport. Nor is the Knights’ 1994 International Hockey League championship factored, the Knights having been by definition minor-league.)

The history of major Atlanta pro sports is of the cosmic whiff. Our teams build us up to let us down. The Hawks have never won more than one playoff series in any season since moving from St. Louis. The NHL Flames, who left for Calgary in 1980, didn’t win a single series in six tries. The Thrashers, in operation since 1999, haven’t yet won a postseason game.

The Falcons have won six playoff games in 45 years of trying. The two times they held the No. 1 seed resulted in flops of wildly differing flavor. On Jan. 4, 1981, the Falcons led Dallas by two touchdowns after three quarters and lost. (See YouTube video below.) This January the Falcons led 14-7 only to watch with benign neglect as they were outscored 35-0 in a span of 18 minutes, 25 seconds.

The one time the Falcons graced a Super Bowl — this after the epic overtime victory in the Minneapolis Metrodome that stands as the greatest performance by any Atlanta team — they messed it up. On the eve of Super Bowl XXXIII, safety Eugene Robinson got himself arrested for solicitation hours after receiving the NFL’s Bart Starr Award for citizenship. Was it any wonder the game’s key play — an 80-yard touchdown pass from John Elway to Rod Smith — featured a late-arriving Robinson?

Andruw Jones chases Leyritz's blast -- in vain. (AJC file photo)

Andruw Jones chases the Leyritz blast -- to no avail, naturally. (AJC file photo)

The Braves, to their credit, reached the World Series five times in the ’90s. They lost four, the first three in excruciating fashion. Bobby Cox, manager of those teams, would later say, “We played better in three of the ones we lost than in the one we won,” and it was just Atlanta’s luck that its one professional title was achieved the year after the players’ strike of 1994, a debilitating event that served to sap some of passion from the moment of long-deferred (and never-repeated) moment of arrival.

We Atlantans know the drill: Whenever one of our teams gets close, Lucy snatches away the football and Charlie Brown goes flying. With a chance to take a 3-1 lead in a World Series, Mark Wohlers throws Jim Leyritz a slider. With a chance to close out the Boston Celtics at the old Omni, the Hawks’ final shot is taken not by Dominique Wilkins but by the sub Cliff Levingston, who offers up a running lefty hook. With a chance to take a 2-1 series lead on San Francisco, the reliever Craig Kimbrel is removed but the shaky emergency second baseman Brooks Conrad remains on the field in what will be the penultimate ninth inning of Cox’s managerial career.

One hundred forty-nine seasons, one victory parade. (Although the worst-to-first Braves of 1991, who lost the World Series when Lonnie Smith dallied at second base in Game 7, held a parade, too. And so, on a predictably rainy day, did the Falcons after their lost Super Bowl.) Over the same span, the modest city of Pittsburgh has won 11 championships — 12 if you count the ABA crown taken by the Pipers. Long-suffering Philadelphia has six titles since 1966. Denver has four, one at Atlanta’s expense.

Really, can anyone blame us if we’re jaded? Even if we don’t know what will go wrong this time, we’ve seen enough to know something will. We live in Atlanta, where something always does.

By Mark Bradley

491 comments Add your comment

Paul H

January 21st, 2011
11:04 am

Mark Bradley

January 21st, 2011
11:04 am

Indeed, Paul H. You are kudo’ed.

Frozen Tundra

January 21st, 2011
11:06 am

Dang! Second.

Sandman053

January 21st, 2011
11:08 am

Sandman053

January 21st, 2011
11:09 am

dangit. Stopped to read it therefore get no kudos

Greedy

January 21st, 2011
11:11 am

YET ANOTHER…

Frozen Tundra

January 21st, 2011
11:11 am

I find it amazing that UGA and Ga Tech each have the same number of national championships as all the professional sports combined.

Mark Bradley

January 21st, 2011
11:12 am

That’s the key, Sandman053: Never stop to read. Never bother to read anything I write. You’ll be better off. Trust me.

Delbert D.

January 21st, 2011
11:12 am

Okay, so we’re no longer Losersville, just Non-winnersville.

nola falcon fan

January 21st, 2011
11:12 am

mark – not sure how i feel after reading that. is it “salt in the wound” or “misery loves company”. I am leaning toward the latter. Living down in Who Dat land, that was my thought this fall.. ‘just for once i want my team to have that magical ride … let me feel the joy i saw in so many Saints fans’ Oh well, maybe one day right?

Mark Bradley

January 21st, 2011
11:13 am

One day an Atlanta team did win it all, nola. That was in 1995.

Paul H

January 21st, 2011
11:14 am

TommyP

January 21st, 2011
11:14 am

Negativity is at an all-time high with this paper. Just look at your recent posts and there is negativity throughout.

Btwarren

January 21st, 2011
11:14 am

Tis true indeed!!

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

January 21st, 2011
11:15 am

I was already thanking the falcons for good regular season because i expected what happened in the packers game.
Spot on article Mark!

nola falcon fan

January 21st, 2011
11:16 am

16 years feels like half my lifetime. wait, it is! i still think the Falcons will make another run in the next 1-3 years.

Dawg_Mike

January 21st, 2011
11:18 am

The new announcement at the ATL airport: “Welcome to Atlanta, Loserville USA”

Delbert D.

January 21st, 2011
11:19 am

2011 depends on whether Fredi brooks any further screwups by Conrad.

PMC

January 21st, 2011
11:23 am

Next year……

Mark Bradley

January 21st, 2011
11:25 am

That’s the good thing, PMC. There’s always a next season.

EW

January 21st, 2011
11:28 am

MB, you are kind of a downer to be an atlanta sportswriter….or maybe the two aren’t mutually exclusive…

CoastDog

January 21st, 2011
11:29 am

Drew Costanza

January 21st, 2011
11:29 am

At least you have 1. Try being a Buffalo sports fan…

82Dawg

January 21st, 2011
11:30 am

after watching this film, it only shows we still don’t have any DB’s..

GTBob

January 21st, 2011
11:31 am

Add to that the disappointments that UGA and GT usually are and you have one frustrated city. It will turn around one day. I hope.

TheAntiMe

January 21st, 2011
11:31 am

In the words of the late great Bozo the Clown – and no, Mark, this isn’t a veiled reference to you – “Atlanta isn’t the loser, Atlanta is the almost winner.”

Brent

January 21st, 2011
11:32 am

Tech and UGA do a have national championships in football in that span, no small feat

Mark Bradley

January 21st, 2011
11:33 am

82Dawg, you’ll note that those Falcons did blitz. No prevent defense.

Buckeye

January 21st, 2011
11:33 am

That’s why it’s good to be a Buckeye. Win some ( multiple NC’s, Big 10 titles, recent Rose and Sugar), lose some ( FLA, LSU in NC) but always in the hunt. Doesn’t hurt that we’re also #1 in NCAA Basketball! I’m still a Falcons Fan on Sundays, interest in the Braves/Hawks comes and goes.

Go Bucks!

theJakester

January 21st, 2011
11:34 am

I usually detest your columns burdened with so much unfounded negativity, but I have to admit that this one is right on as far as pointing out the aggregate failures of our sports teams… We Atlantans know it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of WHEN the train will derail.

Shaun

January 21st, 2011
11:36 am

Does Atlanta really have a sad sports history? I can’t take stuff like this all that seriously unless there is some comparison. How many other cities have only one major sports championship since 1966 or in an equal number of total seasons? I understand championships should matter a great deal, but shouldn’t overall winning matter if we are trying to determine how sad or happy a city’s sports history?

Obviously the goal of this is more “woe is me” than an objective view of whether Atlanta has a sad sports history.

E's Dirty Bird's

January 21st, 2011
11:37 am

Best article I have ever read on the AJC!!! Finally, Atlanta’s losing issues have been addressed appropraitely. Well crafted work Mr. Bradley!! You deserve a raise.

gamach1

January 21st, 2011
11:38 am

Mark, you hit the nail right on the head. I am a diehard Falcons and Bukkdogs fan, but after 40 years of medicrity I thnk I am starting to loosen up on my stance that I will not miss a game and haven’t missed one for a long time. I think next year the misses mightget me out on a weekend during football season. LOL!

82Dawg

January 21st, 2011
11:41 am

Mark…Prevent Defense = Prevent you from winning….

eastbound and down

January 21st, 2011
11:41 am

does it matter? all of the Cox supporters appeared to be happy applauding 14 straight division titles, not WS titles.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley and ajc sports editor, Sean Breslin. Sean Breslin said: OHHH YEAHHH HAPPINESS YEAHHH: http://bit.ly/f9iQGn [...]

Driver 8

January 21st, 2011
11:42 am

I was at the Falcons-Cowboys game in 80. I was 17 and was crushed by the outcome. The place was a love-in for 59.30 minutes and a morgue after Pearson’s catch. I am now 48 and I’ve never been as certain that it was our time as I was on that day so very long ago.

Every postseason since I’ve entered hopeful but with the knowledge that championships are for other teams, other towns and other fans. On the rare occasions when we are favored to win it all, something unforeseen, but spectacular will always occur to send us spiraling to defeat-it’s almost become comical.

I am thankful for the Braves great runs in the 90’s (growing up I never thought I’d go to a World Series, let alone 4) and all put one were punctuated with disaster. Even in ’95 we were coming apart over the seams about Justice calling us out and it was more relief than unbridled joy.

Unfortunately for the Falcons, they were carrying the weight of 148 failed seasons on their shoulders and predictably, they were crushed under that massive burden.

elroy

January 21st, 2011
11:43 am

like the fans of atlanta teams need to be reminded of one championship. i think most of us are aware. while you are at it go ahead and remind everyone about the over 10% unemployment in ga & all the violent crime in Atl. kick us while were down. jerk!

da' boomer

January 21st, 2011
11:44 am

why did you have to post that video?…the nightmares have started again

FACTS

January 21st, 2011
11:46 am

@82 Dawg

Thanks for stating the obvious when will this organization dedicate itself to the defensive side of the ball. I think the last great free-agent the Falcons went after was the late Reggie White, its very hard to watch a lot of the Falcons big time games on the national stage, because the defense looks so overmatched.

Sons of Jerry Glanville

January 21st, 2011
11:47 am

Mark, as a long suffering Atlanta sports fan, this article initially only served to further depress me. But my mood brightened considerably once I realized that I can put this knowledge to good use. Since all Atlanta sports teams are virtual guarantees to choke in the clutch, I’ll contact Vegas and put large sums of money from what is left of my 401K on the opponent next time one of our teams is involved in a big game. Assuming that happens again in my lifetime -:)

Dawggie

January 21st, 2011
11:47 am

@Mark Bradley

Really? If I prove you wrong how about changing the title of your article to something else?

Atlanta Braves 1995 no duh.

but..

Atlanta Knights, a minor league PRO team won the Turner Cup in the IHL somewhere around 1992 (I will let you look up the exact date)

I was at both!

Now change the title of this article to say ” I just randomly pull “facts” out of my ass”!

Dan

January 21st, 2011
11:48 am

But you’re ignoring those outstanding league championships of the Atlanta Thunder for World Team Tennis (1991 and 1992) and the Atlanta Chiefs (1968, North American Soccer League). Yeah, I know — insert laughter here.

Lowe's

January 21st, 2011
11:50 am

If Arthur Blank didn’t have any money from Home Depot and the brains and work ethic of Mr. Marcus, his much, much younger wouldn’t be going anywhere near his shriveled bits. She would obviously consider him gross, as do most of us, to say nothing of being a loser.
(Given her apparent penchant for gold digging, shouldn’t she be a 49ers fan?)

Therefore, it is befitting that a LOSER owns a LOSING organization such as the “Atlan-Ter” Falcons.

Selah.

Dawggie

January 21st, 2011
11:50 am

1995 Braves won the MLB championship

1992 Atlanta Knights (a Tampa Bay Lightning minor league PRO team)

Really over extended yourself for this article Mark. And I thought Terrance was bad at reporting…..

Josh

January 21st, 2011
11:50 am

Sad video to watch, but how about that CBS Sunday Night Lineup after the game?!?! Forgot about Trapper John M.D.

Lowe's

January 21st, 2011
11:51 am

If Arthur Blank didn’t have any money from Home Depot and the brains and work ethic of Mr. Marcus, his much, much younger WIFE wouldn’t be going anywhere near his shriveled bits. She would obviously consider him gross, as do most of us, to say nothing of being a loser.
(Given her apparent penchant for gold digging, shouldn’t she be a 49ers fan?)

Therefore, it is befitting that a LOSER owns a LOSING organization such as the “Atlan-Ter” Falcons.

Selah.

Dawg Tell

January 21st, 2011
11:52 am

I have one word that is equal to Atlanta sports—-CLEVELAND !!!However we have better weather.(sometimes)

Shaun

January 21st, 2011
11:53 am

eastbound and down, I think most of the Cox supporters applaud the fact that he won a lot more games than he lost throughout his career and put more stock in 6 months of baseball versus 1 month of baseball. Even if you think postseason should carry more weight, 6 times as much?! In other words, Cox supporters understand baseball more than his critics.

Also, Cox supporters applaud that no player, other managers, coaches, scouts, front office personnel, media members ever say a bad thing about the man.

Also, the impact of managers in baseball is vastly overrated. Do we really expect the Braves to be significantly better or worse this season than last barring major injuries? No manager has that much of an impact. If a manager is worth a few wins a season, that would be a lot.

JT

January 21st, 2011
11:54 am

Thanks MB! I have been preaching this for the last 5 years! This article made me chuckle!