Going back just a year we found the Atlanta Falcons organization in a complete disarray.
The team’s supposed star quarterback had been exposed as anything but a star. The team’s head coach had left town in a move that would have made Art Modell proud. The owner was looking as if he didn’t know the difference between a hammer sold at his big box store and a football.
Now here we are on the morning of Dec. 29, 2008 as I write this and boy are things different. The former “star” quarterback is no longer cared about or talked about in these parts (as it should be.) He’s been replaced by a first-round draft pick by the name of Matt Ryan who is a true leader on and off the field.
The new head coach, Mike Smith, shows no signs of slipping out the back door for a college job, or any other job for that matter.
The owner, scrutinized by many, myself included, for botched coaching hires in the past, seems to have got this one right.
Perhaps he does know what a football is after all and a seminar explaining it to him is no longer necessary.
Going back to the 2008 preseason, few experts expected anything from the Falcons, even with the new quarterback and new head coach. Media experts had forecast one win or maybe two while fans simply didn’t know what to make of a franchise which didn’t have a great deal of winning tradition anyway. Some even suggested leaving town was a viable option.
But a strange thing happened. The talk of experts apparently never seemed to faze this group of Falcons. They began winning a game here and there and suddenly the talk of making the playoffs began coming up in conversation among fans.
“How could this be?” was probably a more accurate question Falcon fans were asking.
Despite wondering how, fans were enjoying it as the Georgia Dome was sold out for each home game. With a victory at Minnesota in the 15th game of the season, Atlanta had punched its ticket to the playoffs.
What was, quite frankly, impossible back during the summer was now true. The Falcons would be in the playoffs. Yet, this strange NFL season, one in which an 8-8 team (San Diego) in the AFC is in the playoffs while an 11-5 team (New England) is not, continued to get a little stranger by the minute, even this past Sunday.
The Falcons, who were predicted to maybe win two games in 2008, had a chance to be the No. 2 seed in the NFC, until Carolina kicked a last-second field goal to defeat New Orleans. Incredible.
Regardless of what seeding Atlanta enters the postseason as, the mere fact the team is in the playoffs is a miracle in itself when you simply go back one year. For it was just 12 months ago, the organization was in complete chaos from top to bottom.
It goes to show you what a difference a year can make. It also shows you that miracles can happen and it gives us all hope as a new year arrives.
Chris Bridges is sports editor of the Barrow Journal. E-mail comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.