My father did a very cruel thing to me when I was at the very young, impressionable age of 10. He bought season tickets to the inaugural season of the Atlanta Falcons. Ever since, I’ve struggled with – and at times conquered – a malady that is one of the most debilitating known to men: Falcon Fever.
You see, the Atlanta in which I grew up was far different from the one we live in now. In 1966, young men of my age were divided into two groups: those that played football and those that didn’t. On fall afternoons, if my buddies weren’t at football practice, we would be at the Garden Hills field playing tackle football – without pads or helmets. (This all came to a stop when Mark Murray made a shoestring tackle on Mike Egan, slamming him to the cold, hard, uncultivated ground and breaking Mike’s collar bone. After that, we were restricted to touch football. At least when our parents were watching.)
Around Thanksgiving, spontaneous fights would break out on the brutal asphalt and rock schoolyard at Christ the King when a Georgia Bulldog fan would insult the higher intelligence of a classmate wearing a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket jacket.
Add to this mix, as the NFL did so mercilessly, a concept called a professional football team. One named for the whole town. My buddies and I were all joined in one great anxious game: waiting for the day when we would have our own real professional football team. Most of us are still waiting.
My dad took me to every home game. For a kid my age, the Falcons became high religion. I read every sports article in every newspaper or magazine I could find. I watched every television show, listened to every radio report, wore Falcon jerseys, put pennies in a Falcon penny bank and did homework in Falcon notebooks.
In fact, I was so into the Falcons, that if they won their game, I would be in a high-flying good mood all week. If they lost, I was somber and depressed. I guess you can say I had a very depressing childhood.
When I was away at school, I subscribed to the Atlanta newspapers so I could keep up with the latest bad news. When I was on vacation with my family where the Falcons’ game was not televised, I’d disappear into with a radio to search up and down the dial for any semblance of a static-laden report on the latest debacle.
Then one day, I was given a video cassette recorder for my birthday. My life suddenly changed. I became a free man. I discovered there was a whole other day on fall weekends call Sunday. Instead of tuning in to the Falcons pre-pre-game television reports, I merely programmed my VCR to tape the games. I promised myself I would only watch them if the Falcons won. I never had to watch another game.
On Labor Day weekend of this year, I had a relapse. I again fell victim to my childhood disease. I gathered my 11-year-old son and his buddy from Charlotte to watch another historic moment: the Falcons versus the new Charlotte NFL team in the debut of the Carolina Panthers’ new stadium. High drama. A great Southern rivalry being born. A passing along of father-son values.
A few minutes into the game, after the Panthers had scored easily a couple of times, my son looked up.
“Can Jeff and I go play on the Internet now?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said, smiling in my knowledge that at least this is one family malady that isn’t hereditary.