Arthur Blank arrived at the Super Bowl this week without his football team, which for most of the Falcons’ 52 seasons would not be a startling development. But a year ago, Blank danced on a stage when his team defeated Green Bay for the NFC championship and a dream trip to the title game, so this time his arrival felt a bit empty.
“If we were playing, I’d be a lot happier,” Blank said. “Last year was a great year for the franchise. This year, we didn’t finish the way we wanted to. We had a good year, not a great year. But I think we’re positioned well for the future.”
About that: The Super Bowl next season will be played Feb. 3, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Blank is confident that issues pertaining to the hypothetically retractable roof – which still doesn’t open and close like it’s supposed to and has leaked – will be resolved by “late spring, early summer.”
But his football team also has some leaks. The Falcons were bounced in the second round of the playoffs by Philadelphia 15-10. It was a winnable game if the Falcons showed any semblance of the offense that was expected this season.
“Obviously, the offense was not consistently where we needed to be, and I think the coach (Dan Quinn) and Thomas (Dimitroff) are addressing it,” Blank said.
He expected that the transition from Kyle Shanahan to Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator would go smoother than it did, adding, “And I don’t know what Dan has said publicly, but I think it was tougher than he thought, too.”
Blank has long walked the line between supportive and demanding. That’s not unusual for a self-made billionaire. So while he publicly maintains confidence in his football operations, he’s not going to hide his disappointment that the Falcons slipped this season, barely making the playoffs as the NFC’s sixth seed.
“I’ve said since 2001 that my goal was to have a sustainably winning team that would be thought of as being one of the top six or seven every year, and I think we’ll be in that conversation again,” he said. “It’s a long season. You’re always susceptible to injuries. You have to do a lot of things well. You hope to have some home (playoff) games, which we didn’t this year.”
Blank has let his thoughts drift to the possibility of the Falcons being back in the Super Bowl next season, this time on their home field, which would be an NFL first.
“It would be unbelievable,” Blank said. “To be able to play in that game, and more important to win that game. I don’t want to play another game and lose another game. If we have to go to the moon to play, we’ll go to the moon to play.”
Blank spoke to a handful of radio outlets but planned to return to Atlanta before the game, which is his practice every year, except when the Falcons played in the game. He touched on a few other topics with the Journal-Constitution:
-- The New York Times Magazine story on the NFL being at a crossroads on a number of issues, but leading with Blank being upset about New England putting 283 diamonds in its Super Bowl rings to commemorate their comeback from a 28-3 deficit to the Falcons. Blank didn’t dispute that he told Patriots owner Robert Kraft, “You didn’t have to do the 28-3 in the ring. It kind of pissed me off.”
But Blank felt the story -- and the circulation of the anecdote on social media -- made their discussion of several months ago seem far more serious than it ever was.
“Robert is my closest friend as an NFL owner,” Blank said. “(Philadelphia owner) Jeff Lurie is right up there with him. So there’s two owners here who I have great relationships with. I owe a lot to both of them, professionally and personally. Robert said, ‘Well, it wasn’t my idea.’ Whatever. It’s fine. It’s old history.”
(For what it’s worth, I can vouch for the Blank-Kraft relationship. Kraft was Blank’s earliest advisor when he first became an owner.)
-- On still incomplete/non-functioning roof at Mercedes-Benz Stadium: “You ask the same questions I ask. During the football season it was impossible to do the work on the roof because it’s very intense. They’re working on it now, and they’ve assured us by late spring, early summer it will be working in compliance with what we originally had planned, which is that the roof would open and close in 12 minutes. There’s been no change on that.”
-- On negotiations for Matt Ryan’s contract extension and whether it will create salary-cap issues, inhibiting their ability to improve the roster or re-signing other players: Blank said he wants to negotiate a deal “in a way that’s respectful to him, and in a way that’s respectful to the franchise. ... Matt wants to be treated well, but he wants to win championships.”
The Falcons fell well short of that this season. Blank hopes his team and his stadium and better prepared for this week next season.
Sunday reader: End of the Patriots’ reign is near! (I think)
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