In last year’s edition of How They Really Stand, my annual completely subjective and occasionally even accurate rankings of all major pro and college sports teams in metro Atlanta (and Athens), the Falcons climbed from No. 2 to the top of the heap.
There was some logic to this. The Falcons came close to going to the Super Bowl in the 2012 season, and my staff of researchers had reason to believe this was not an aberration. Oops.
As it turned out, the Falcons were not on the brink of a championship. They were on the brink of collapse. If their life span as a contender were any shorter, they would be an Atlanta sports stadium.
So this year, I’m taking a wrecking ball to the top of the rankings. As always, professional sports teams owned by multibillion-dollar corporations but nonetheless operating in part on the public dime will receive no special dispensation in the rankings.
Final note: How They Really Stand is based not merely on won-less record but seeming direction. (Last year’s rankings are in parenthesis):
1. (This space for lease): Atlanta sports fans have too much emotional scar tissue to allow for a No. 1-ranked team. At this point, I think it’s best if we all just set the bar low and hope to be surprised. Until then, I recommend Tazo Calm Tea and perhaps some Adagio in G minor, or C Major, or a D-Plus.
2. Cobb County commission (unranked): Tim Lee is Willie Sutton in a suit. I figure anybody who presents himself as a representative of the people but can pull off a $300 million scam to fund a Braves stadium with public money — without so much as a public vote or legitimate feedback — is more powerful than any sports team. Kind of like Beelzebub. I just want to be there the day he needs some assistance from police, a firefighter or a laid-off teacher. Do commissioner’s offices come with a mirror, Tim?
3. Braves (3): They’re a good team, not a great team. General manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez both conceded there was a need for a No. 1 starter following last season’s familiar quick playoff exit. But owner Liberty Media was not as free with their money as Cobb County. (Irony?) Tim Hudson, Brian McCann and Eric O’Flaherty are gone. Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton are back. Somebody had better get a whole lot better if this team is going to win a playoff round.
4. Georgia football (2): Every team has injuries, but when one loses its top two running backs and top three receivers at a point in the season, there’s going to be a legitimate impact. That said, there’s no excuse for losing to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, not The Great Communicator, left, enabling the team to upgrade with Florida State’s Jeremy Pruitt. If the team stays healthy, they should be good in 2014. But no assumptions. Definitely not assumptions.
5. Dream (6): I’ve still never been to a WNBA game. Strangely, I’m OK with that. But there’s something to be said for a franchise that has been to the finals three times in the past four seasons, even if it just fired its head coach for the second time in three years. Hate to see what the Dream would do to a coach if he/she missed the playoffs.
6. Falcons (1): They lost as many games last season (4-12) as they had in the previous three (36-12). Injuries to the pretty pieces exposed the cracks and rot in the foundation. Fix that, and they’ll be contenders again. If not, I wouldn’t want to be general manager Thomas Dimitroff or coach Mike Smith at this time next year because owner Arthur Blank is not known for his patience.
7. Hawks (5): Danny Ferry has a plan to do this the right way, and that plan probably doesn’t include going deep into the playoffs this year (don’t be surprised if the team is a seller at the trade deadline). Fact is, the Hawks ranked third in the Eastern Conference for much of this season, but there’s more interest about where they’re going to draft. I know. Doesn’t play well in season-ticket pitches.
8. Georgia State basketball (10): The Panthers have won 14 consecutive. Behold, our shining light in college basketball. Consider this further affirmation that it’s easier to get things done in basketball than football.
9. Georgia Tech football (7): I’m on Paul Johnson’s side that recruiting rankings generally are bunk. But the real problem is Johnson raised the bar with a great record for his first two seasons (20-7) and hasn’t come close to that in the four seasons since (28-25). Note to Johnson: The whines about unjustified criticism carry more weight when you win.
10. Georgia Tech basketball (8): Brian Gregory’s recruiting efforts looked good, but the season has unraveled, in part because of injuries and in part because … well, I don’t know, how do you lose by 14 at home to Miami? Direction: uncertain, after all.
11. Georgia basketball (9): Mark Fox makes a legitimate argument when he talks about how long it takes to build a program that’s been down for so long. But he has struggled to lure some of the state’s best talent to Athens, and he wasn’t hired by the man he calls boss (Greg McGarity). I suspect McGarity is at the “Convince me” stage.
12. Kasim Reed (unranked): The Atlanta mayor probably ensured years of campaign donations and cocktail-party invitations from Blank by green lighting $200 million for a new stadium. But he lost the Braves in the process. I think that’s a political .500. Or is it worse? Yeah, definitely worse. No playoffs.
13. Kennesaw State football (11): The Owls are a year away from their first game. The unknown somehow seems more palatable than the known (see below).
14. Kennesaw State basketball (13): I’m not sure what the expectation level should be. But for a state university whose administration has a growing interest in athletics, the goals are higher than 10-75 (the Owls’ record over the past three seasons). Still dreadful.
15. Georgia State football (12): Don’t blame coach Trent Miles for going 0-12 in his first season. That’s like blaming the Chevy salesman for the Vega. On a related note, athletic director Cheryl Levick hopes to move the program up to the NFC East next year.