Atlanta is going on 20 years since it last hoisted a championship trophy. The 1995 Braves team was the first and only Atlanta based team to capture a championship. Atlanta currently sits as the city with the 7th longest championship drought at 19 years. Cleveland sits in first with a 66 year championship drought. While 19 years without winning a championship for any city is brutal, it has been the way that these 19 years have gone that have many believing Atlanta might be the next Cleveland.
The irony of all of this has to start with the 1995 World Series, in which the Braves faced off against the championship starved city of Cleveland. The Braves capped the series off in 6 games with a 1-0 victory over the Indians. It was the first taste Atlanta had of glory, and the city was looking forward to a lot more championship trophies in the future. The Braves had taken over the National League and went back to the World Series, where they were favored to take home the trophy for back to back seasons. The series began at Yankee Stadium and the Braves took the first two games of the series. However, the Yankees took the next four games in a row to upset the Braves. The series was one of the most upsetting in Atlanta sports history.
The fans did not have to wait long to experience the taste of another championship game. The Falcons had a magical ride that ended with a Super Bowl berth versus the reigning NFL champion Denver Broncos. The Falcons were simply outmatched by John Elway and company and fell to the Broncos 34-19. The Braves went to the World Series in 1999 as well, but met a much better Yankees team than they did in 1996, as they were swept 4-0. It was the last major sports championship that featured an Atlanta team.
The Falcons have had two shots in NFC Championships this century. The first came in 2004 with Quarterback Michael Vick at the helm. The Falcons won the NFC South that season with an 11-5 record and followed it up by beating the Rams 47-17 to punch their ticket to the NFC Championship. The Falcons went in as the favorite, but the Philadelphia Eagles got the best of them all night and won 27-10. The second opportunity seemed much more wasteful. The Falcons had not won a playoff game since their 2004 victory over the Rams coming into the 2012 season. They finished 13-3 and beat the Seahawks in dramatic fashion to finally clinch another berth to the NFC Championship. The Falcons were at home and the city was fired up. The Falcons jumped out to a 24-7 lead against the 49ers and went into the locker room with their heads high. The 49ers were not a very offensively sound team, but the Falcons could not get a stop in the second half. After numerous bad breaks and a lot of poor play by the Falcons, they still found themselves with an opportunity to clinch a Super Bowl berth. On 4th down, the Falcons had the ball inside their own 20 while trailing 28-24 in the final minutes. The Falcons threw a crossing route over the middle to Roddy White, who was mauled by linebacker Navarro Bowman. He had no chance of catching the ball with the interference, but there was no call. The result was a turnover on downs and the 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl.
The feeling could have not been worse in Atlanta after that defeat. It had been 16 years since Atlanta’s last championship, and there was a feeling around the city that it might just never happen again. The Falcons followed their magnificent 2012 year with a dreadful 4-12 season. They had gone from Super Bowl contender to a laughing stock over the course of the year.
The Braves have always been the team that the city could rely on. However, their streak of 14 straight division championships came to an end in 2005. The Braves managed to reach 4 World Series, but the 1995 championship was their only victory. Heartbreak has defined even the golden boy of the Atlanta sports trio. The Braves have yet to win a playoff series since 2001, which is truly unbelievable given the amount of opportunities they have had. No matter how brilliant the Braves seem to be during the regular season over the last decade, the same team has not showed up during the postseason. If the Braves are supposed to be the team that ends the championship drought in Atlanta, then it very well could be a long while before the city sees a championship trophy again.
However, while the Braves and Falcons organizations are struggling to get back to the top, there has been a sweet surprise in the city of Atlanta. The Atlanta Hawks just finished their best season in franchise history recording 60 wins. They also made their first ever trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. Unfortunately, they fell to Lebron James and the Cavs 4-0. The series was not encouraging, but the Hawks were facing several injuries and showed a lot of fight in all 4 games. The Hawks had what looks to be another successful offseason and should be in store for another great season.
The most important thing that made the Hawks so great this season was their management. GM Danny Ferry, Coach Mike Budenholzer and the rest of the organization deserve a ton of credit for finding talent and putting together a great team in a small basketball market. However, the Hawks split ways with GM Danny Ferry because of racial comments he read in an email last offseason. The move cannot be an encouraging one, as he has more than proved his worth since taking over the GM role for Atlanta. The Hawks promoted Mike Budenholzer to President of Basketball Operations, so the franchise is still in good hands, but it sure would be a shame if some big market organization were to poach Budenholzer with their large wallet and big media market. It would be a very “Atlanta” move and could solidify the city as the next Cleveland.
Now the Braves are in the midst of a massive face lift. It is unclear exactly what the plan is for the organization and who will be the next group of guys to lead us back to the playoffs. The future of the organization is cloudy and every move made now will have a huge impact on the future. The Falcons are also in the midst of a lot of transition. Mike Smith was fired and Dan Quinn has taken over as the head coach for the Falcons. The Falcons went 6-10 last year and had one of the worst defenses in their franchise’s history. Dan Quinn is a defensive genius and should be able to help that, but the Falcons have a long way to go before they are competing for a Super Bowl again. And while the Hawks have made massive organizational improvements, unless they find a way to stop Lebron James and company, they will never even see an NBA Finals.
For those people born as Atlanta sports fans, it has never been easy. The city has never been very sport rich and while there is a lot of media in Atlanta, sports have always been secondary. The 1995 championship was a huge relief, but the last 19 years have been filled with nothing but despair. There is no current Atlanta team on the cusp of a championship run, and it very well could be another 19 years before Atlanta wins another championship. However, as an Atlanta fan, I would not want to have it any other way.