IF YOU'RE LIKE ME AND MY OLDER BROTHER,
you've waited all your life for something that may never come. Nothing you do can make it happen; no amount of screaming or holding your breath. This thing is small—meaningless, compared with cancer or hurricanes—but we still care about it, desperately, a little more with each passing year. We are waiting for a championship, a ticker-tape parade, a license to dance in the streets of the city we call home. Just once we wish we could be the best.
Today I'm writing about our favorite team, the Atlanta Falcons, playing since 1966 and still without a Super Bowl victory, but I could just as easily be writing about your favorite team. You are loyal and unwavering. Your team is your birthright, your fate, and you would never jump on anyone else's bandwagon. You would rather wait 44 years with your Jets than have anything to do with the Giants. You are from San Diego, Sacramento, Seattle. You bought season tickets for the '86 Clippers and actually showed up. You were born in 1909 on the North Side of Chicago, and you'll go to your grave without acknowledging that the White Sox exist. You are the Vikings, the Lions, the Buffalo Bills. You are the city of Cleveland.
Imagine our story, then, as a stand-in for yours—as an ode to a lifetime of hope and disappointment. There is nothing more human than falling short.
November 3, 1991. We're losing again, to the Niners again, but this time it's close, less than one touchdown instead of six, and we have time for one more play. Our starting quarterback has left the game with injured ribs. The end zone is 44 yards away. My brother and I have never been to a game because we can't afford tickets, and we can't even see the game because Mom and Dad don't believe in television, but we have the radio, a portable thing on the carpeted floor of the family room in our house in Stone Mountain, Ga., and we hang on the words of Larry Munson. He is grim, as always, narrating the game in the voice of a weary general, infusing it with the drama of life and death.
We overload three to the right, trips are on the right, we're goin' Hail Mary....
With his choice of personal pronoun, Munson has taught us how to follow sports. There is no dividing line between players and announcers and fans. We are all the same: winners together, losers together. Mostly losers together. My brother and I have followed the Falcons since 1989, during which time we have won 12 and lost 28.
... there goes Tolliver, a long, high pass ...
We've shared a bunk bed for as long as I can remember. I'm short for 11, with olive skin and blond hair, and he's tall for 13, with pale skin and red hair. I'll call him Red. We look nothing alike. He has punched my stomach, and I have bitten his nose. But we are the closest in age of the six children and the only two who really care about sports, and so, although we rarely say anything nice to each other, we spend many hours together by the radio.
... down in the corner, batted, they fight ...
We should not even have this chance. We do only because Joe Montana is injured, and Joe Montana's replacement, Steve Young, is injured, and the Niners missed four field goals in the first half, and they fumbled a punt with 2:39 to play, and our own Andre Rison caught a pass for 19 yards on fourth down to get us this close, and now: