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The Puck Stops Here

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(Aka-Lightning never strikes twice…unless it does. Sometimes in multiple places. Confused yet….? Well holds on to your hats (or throw them on the ice) ….we’ve only just begun…)

Once there was a city that lost a hockey team. It was said at the time that a city in the southern US could never support an NHL franchise in the long run. It wasn’t the city’s fault…it was the latitude.

This theory, much like the whole “world is flat” thing…has since been disproven by the ongoing success of the Carolina Hurricanes. But nonetheless…away they went. Leaving Atlanta behind for the cozy winters in Calgary….where they promptly won a Stanley Cup four years later. And thus; for Atlanta the Flames were extinguished.

A few snow banks and 12 packs of Molson up the road, there was another Canadian city jealous of Calgary. In Winnipeg they already had a minor league hockey team that they loved and supported, but that wasn’t enough and they longed for the NHL. As it happened, sometimes (apparently) just wishing for something is enough. Soon they were awarded a team. And thus; with much fanfare….in flew the Jets. For a time, all was well in the great white North.

Meanwhile, back in the lower 48, a glimmer of hope had begun to shine in Atlanta. Now it was THEIR turn to field a minor league hockey team while dreaming for another chance at Lord Stanley’s grace. In to the rescue rode the Knights. …and lo and behold they were pretty good. They even garnered noticeable support from the fans. But alas, the day came that just like they true knights of old they disappeared. Atlanta was once again a town free of goalies and goons.

But at least the Canadians were happy. Right? Well…not exactly. Because time had passed, the winds had changed and it began to become apparent that the Jets would be departing Winnipeg to head south to a place steeped in hockey tradition….Phoenix, Arizona. All of the love the people of Winnipeg could muster wasn’t enough to keep the Jets from turning into Coyotes when the moon became full. A funeral was held at the arena in Winnipeg (I’m not making this up) and a very long cold winter set in.

Now let’s fast forward some years and a couple thousand miles East of Phoenix.  Back to Atlanta….where the city’s growth had given it a prominent place on the national landscape. Perhaps the time was yet again right for NHL hockey in the ATL…and so; the Thrashers were born. They had a new arena, an excited fan base and a city teeming with 5 million people…the sky was the limit. But only if the sky was obscured by a low cloud cover and a layer of smog.

Eleven years went by and the boys in blue could muster only one playoff berth…where they were summarily dismissed in a four game sweep. Also during that time they removed a coach who was so inept that they had to promote him to the front office (again; I’m not making this up) and lost their star player (one of the best in the NHL no less) to free agency despite offering him the maximum amount of money allowed by the league. And then; one day it was over. Through teary eyes vaguely reminiscent of a crocodile, the team ownership declared that yet again Atlanta would be without hockey. The Thrashers were to be sold and relocated. To add insult to injury, despite the antics and infighting that the ownership group had become known for, they even dared to insinuate that the fan support might have been part of the reason. Couldn’t have been the product, could it?

So as our saga comes to a close (at least for now), the moving trucks are loaded, the ice has melted and the Zamboni sits in the dark shadows of the arena. Next season the Thrashers will lace up their skates in a new home. A place sure to be able to support the NHL for the long haul…a proven winner.

Or not. Good luck with it Winnipeg. Hope it goes better than last time. Let’s talk in a decade or so….

Maybe by then Albuquerque will be looking for a team…or you could just send them back to Atlanta. Clearly stranger things have happened…

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The Doctor Is In….

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OK doctor, it’s like this. I’ve been feeling a little blue lately. What’s that? Oh yeah…I know I should be happy; it’s that wonderful time of year when Football is in full swing and Baseball is headed down the stretch for the playoffs. I should be smiling from ear to ear, but instead I keep finding myself feeling a little lost and even slightly irritable. Come again…? Where do I live…?…Atlanta…why do you ask?

Hey, what’s with the smirk? Just because the Braves blew a nine game lead in the month of September and missed the playoffs doesn’t make them a bad team….OK. It does. But hey, at least we have those fourteen straight division titles. What’s that? How many world series? I’ll have you know we made it to five…now I know that’s less than fifty percent of the times in the playoffs, but….what? How many did we win? Wow. Now that hurts. We won one. There. Are you happy now….cause I am starting to tear up a little bit.

I know. We shouldn’t get out hopes up. We have had the rug pulled out too many times. At least if you are a Cubs fan you can’t be disappointed because you don’t expect anything.  What’s that you say? What else do we have besides baseball? Well….we have an NBA team that can’t get out of the second round of the playoffs….ever. We have…no wait; had…an NHL team that only managed to MAKE the playoffs once. Say again? Oh…yeah. That’s the second NHL team I’m talking about. We lost the first one thirty years ago. How do I feel about it? I don’t. In fact, I’m just kind of numb when it comes to sports in this town any more. Except football that is.

Why you ask? Because things are looking up! We have had three winning seasons in a row and we have a great organization in place…two trips to the playoffs in the last three years…huh? Oh, well we didn’t exactly win either of them. This year? Well, Sport Illustrated picked us to win the Super Bowl! How exciting is that? Pardon me? How’s it going….? Well, we lost our first game because we couldn’t manage to get in the end zone despite our new and improved “explosive” offense….but then we won a big one against Philly! Third game? Uhhh…only scored thirteen point. Jumped offside in a crucial situation. Not that pretty…but then in week 4 we won again….well squeaked out a victory against a mediocre Seattle team. What’s that? Do I think Tavares Jackson is as good a QB as the Falcons made him look on Sunday? Not really. Please don’t rub it in.

How are we going to finish? I don’t know. I’m afraid to say….I might jinx something and then I’ll be mad at myself the entire off-season. Do I really believe it would be my fault? It’s called a coping mechanism Doc…didn’t you learn about that in medical school?

Now that you seem to think that you have gotten to the root of my problems Doc, can you prescribe something to make me feel better? Some sort of treatment?

Come again? NO…I am NOT going to move to New York or Boston! Stinking quack…you get your medical license out of a Cracker Jack box? I’m out of here…

I need to go home and pack up my foam tomahawk for next year. Hey, by the way….you don’t want to sell this couch do you? It’s pretty comfortable and I have a feeling I just might just need it again soon…

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The Strange Case of Dr. Ryan and Mr. Ice….

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I once had a very wise man tell me “Some stuff you just can’t figure out”. Trust me . . . I’m hip.

I spent my Sunday afternoon (as I always do) watching the Atlanta Falcons play. In this case, being a road game, I found myself viewing the contest at a sports grill owned by a friend of mine.  It was a mixed crowd of Falcons and Buccaneer fans and as you would expect, there were some Matt Ryan admirers and some Matt Ryan skeptics. Only in Atlanta, however, would you find that all of the skeptics were wearing Falcons jerseys….some of them with Ryan’s number 2 on them. It seems to be almost epidemic these days….turn on sports talk radio and you will hear caller after caller ranting and raving about how overrated and useless “Matty Ice” is. Being the inquisitive guy that I am, I felt compelled to investigate by initiating a conversation with one of the “Anti-Matt” minions….it went something like this…

Don’t you remember 2007, when Mike Vick went to jail, Bobby Petrino quit and Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwitch and Chris Redman combined for yearlong clinic in how NOT to quarterback an NFL team? And let’s not even talk about this franchise for the forty years prior.

Yeah, but we could have waited for Vick to come back.

So instead of drafting a guy who is smart, low-key, media-savvy and by all accounts a great leader and teammate, we should have sacrificed three seasons to wait for a guy in Federal prison?

All I’m saying is that Vick is a better quarterback then and now than Ryan.

Didn’t we just beat Philadelphia with Mike Vick last Sunday night…if memory serves, Matt Ryan threw four touchdowns?

Lucky. If Vick doesn’t get a concussion we lose.

Are you aware that Matt Ryan has more wins since 2008 than anyone except some guy named Peyton Manning?

Big deal. Ugly wins. Lucky.

SO… the fourteen come from behind wins in the fourth quarter or overtime were all lucky games against bad teams?

Yep.

OK. But he also has better numbers for his first three years than anyone except Dan Marino.

All 10 yards at a time. Dink and dunk.

OK. So you do know that the Falcons have had three winning seasons in a row (never even had two before) and in three years Matt Ryan has led them to the playoffs twice. The same number of times Mike Vick got them there in six years. In fact, we had the best record in the NFC last year…13-3.

Yeah but he can’t WIN a playoff game. 0 and 2 buddy.

All right. I’ll give you that.  He hasn’t won one YET. But you have to admit that Green Bay was unstoppable last year and in Arizona it sure wasn’t Matt Ryan that was out of position and gave up a huge third down at the end of the game. Right?

Should have had a lead. Wouldn’t have mattered then. It’s always the same. He can’t throw the ball down the field…

At this point in the conversation, as if on cue, Ryan completes a long pass to Julio Jones.

I thought you said he can’t throw the ball down the field?

No, what I meant to say is he WON’T throw the ball down the field. One read and then dump it to the check-down receiver.

Fast forward to fourth and one Tampa at the end of the game.

Everyone in the stadium (and viewers worldwide) knew that the Bucs would attempt a hard count to draw our defense offside. And strangely, it worked. To the collective groan of fans all around me, Kory Peters jumped and that was that. Game over. Tampa 16, Atlanta 13. As Jeff Van Gorder (the Falcon’s defense coordinator) raged on the sideline and owner Arthur Blank grimaced, my new friend turned to me, snarky smile on his face and said

 “See, that’s what you get with a dink and dunk quarterback”.

Someday, when the Falcons win a Super Bowl (and although I am admittedly biased, I truly believe they will), I will pause and think of my partner in this conversation and his call-in show soul-mates. I’m sure that they will be watching the game somewhere as Matt Ryan hoists the Lombardi trophy…and I can almost hear the comment that will follow….

“See! He can’t lift that thing above shoulder height….I told you he didn’t have any arm strength…!.”

 (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

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All Is Forgiven . . .

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Anybody remember the bad old days? The days when all you heard on sports talk radio and television were terms like “stalemate”, “appellate court” and “player run workouts”. They say misery loves company and it sure seemed that way as we commiserated over a beer and talked about “Billionaires arguing with Millionaires”. We lamented the possibility that we might actually have to think about what to do with our Sundays this Fall and Winter and when we heard about plans that included a scenario for a shortened season, we had had just about enough. We cursed the commissioner, we vilified the Jerrys (Richardson and Jones) and we stopped following our favorite players on Twitter. If Chad Ochocinco wants to be rodeo cowboy we’ll root for the bull. We were absolutely, positively, eye-popping, insanely mad.

Then it happened.

As suddenly as it had arrived, the lockout was over. In the blink of an eye the world spun upside down. And if you ever had any doubt about the power of the NFL, then consider this; in roughly a 72 hour period, Roger Goodell and his minions managed to completely erase and reprogram the memories of millions of fans. It was like “Men in Black” without the funky pens.

The next thing you know, players were hugging owners, the commissioner was hugging the head of the players union, rookies were hugging veterans, Packers fans were hugging Bears fans….OK; maybe not that last one. All we needed was a campfire and an acoustic guitar and a hearty round of “Kumbayah” might have broken out.

Quickly, the talk turned to fantasy drafts and the stores were overrun with shoppers seeking tailgate supplies and logo merchandise. Training camps were swiftly opened, stadiums across our fair land scrambled to get ready for action and almost universally; sports bar owners rejoiced.

A frenzied whirlwind free agency period ensued and for 7 days, we were all mesmerized by the pace of the moves. Haynesworth and Ochocinco to the Patriots…Ray Edwards to the Falcons…the Eagles just signed who? And WHO ELSE? It was electrifying. By the time we caught our breath pre-season games were upon us. Too bad nobody cares about the pre-season. But wait…not so fast my friend.

You see; this year we did. As a matter of fact these are some of the biggest pre-season ratings ever. In the spirit of full disclosure, I was able to sell two of my personal pre-season Falcons tickets…for actual money.  Believe me when I tell you that is a first. I am beginning to shudder to imagine what that first weekend will be like when things open up for real. Tell Hank to dust off the guitar and Faith to warm up the vocal cords and let’s bring on the Packers versus the Saints. I only wish both of them could lose. But that’s a “me” thing.

If it’s true that forgiveness is divine, then there are a whole lot of blessings being tossed in the direction of the NFL and its fans. Maybe just maybe some good can come out of a lockout after all. Perhaps the NBA can find some hope in that….but I doubt it. They ain’t the NFL. Not even close.

Are you ready for some football….? I’m guessing you are.

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