For some, Super Bowl LI was one of the greatest football games ever. For Atlanta Falcons’ fans, it was the most depressing game in franchise history. The Falcons dominated the first half of the game, until Tom Brady & Co. decided that enough was enough, hijacking the Lombardi Trophy in the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
Although the Falcons were up against arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history backed by a formidable team, when you’re up by 25 points and lose, something’s amiss. The Falcons’ management was fast to act. Defensive coordinator Richard Smith and defensive line coach Bryan Cox have been dismissed. As offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan heads to San Francisco to become the 49er’s head coach, Keith Carter, who spent two seasons as the Falcons’ assistant offensive line coach has been promoted to running backs coach.
As the Falcons do the best they can to recover, there’s another important issue at hand that will not only set the tone for the Falcons’ franchise, but for our city, too. The team has a rallying cry of “Rise Up.” This season, every football fan in Atlanta has been proudly chanting it as the “birds” made mincemeat out of almost every visitor to the Georgia Dome. “Rise Up” was more than a motto on the football field; it became a way of life. It rallied the city and brought people together. But now the excitement is gone. The dream of being crowned Super Bowl Champions in 2017 has been relegated to the dustbin of history.
There’s only one thing left that matters: Will the Falcons “Rise Up” after being publicly humiliated in front of a billion people? Or is this battle cry just a marketing slogan created at the Falcons’ complex in Flowery Branch by guys in pinstripe suits and granny glasses? Is Matt Ryan, the 2017 NFL MVP, intelligent enough to learn from Professor Brady’s class on mental toughness and roar back to the top in 2018? Or will he and the Falcons quietly return to Atlanta and shrink back into NFL mediocrity?
Time will tell, but here’s the beauty of the scenario: Millions of kids who worship the black-and-red uniform and chant its battle cry are about to find out what “Rise Up” really means. The Falcons may have allowed the Super Bowl to slip from their hands, but that’s not nearly as important as what they do now as their impressionable young fans watch them mourn. It’s easy to be a role model when you’re basking in the glow of victory, but when you’ve been embarrassed in front of one-seventh of the world’s population, grace doesn’t flow so naturally.
Atlanta is about to find out what its Falcons are really made of, and what’s revealed will set the stage for the future of Arthur Blank’s franchise. My hope is that Coach Quinn and his maestro, Matt Ryan, will lead this team to truly “Rise Up” from defeat and show their city that it isn’t just a slogan, but a way of life. Football may only be a game, but it’s also a great metaphor for living. It’s not about how many diving catches Julio can make or how many completions “Matty Ice” can throw; it’s about how much defeat, disappointment and despair they can suffer and still keep “Rising Up” with their heads held high and their hearts intact. If the 2017 Falcons can pass that lesson on to their adoring young fans, it will serve them in a far greater way than any championship t-shirt they may have worn around school.
Note to Falcons: The big game is over. You’re beat up, emotionally exhausted, and disappointed to the point of despair. Just remember that there are millions of us who look up to you as heroes, as gods of the gridiron, and your extraordinary feats of magician-like athleticism not only entertain us, but also give us hope in a world that sometimes seems hopeless.
We will all be watching, and you have the opportunity to teach us how to bounce back in your moment of despair. So “Rise Up” Falcons, and show us what you’re made of.
Steve Siebold is an Atlanta-based psychological performance coach, former professional athlete and author.