I am a Georgia boy, born and bred. My heart will always bleed for my state. To begin with, I’m a Georgia Bulldog. I know that there are many fans of different teams out there but I just don’t get how you can’t love your home team. People are pretty passionate about their college football though and it sometimes has more to do with what you have access to. Where I grew up, you had just as much chance of being an Auburn Tiger or a Florida State Criminole. We were about an hour from each one and Athens is a solid 3 ½. But Herschel helped my generation and then once I saw the beautiful classic city, there was no turning back. But that’s a topic for another day. I’m all Hawks in the NBA. Life as a Hawks fan has been a difficult one. We have had greats like Dominique and Spud. And we have had stars like Millsap and Howard. We’ve also had duds like Koncak and Rasmussen. But what we don’t have is a modern day NBA championship. We had one back in 1958 but my memory doesn’t go back that far. In my lifetime, we have had the fortune of being in the same division as Jordan, Bird, Isaiah, Reggie, Ewing, LeBron and Wade. But I have been there through it all. We’ve been close but we’ve always fallen short. When I play 2K, I’m the Hawks. When I play NBA Jam, I’m the Hawks. It’s the only championship I have seen with them in my 39 years.Then, we have the Atlanta Braves. Life started tough as a Braves fan then it got really great but has returned to tough again. When I was young, the Braves were “America’s Team” thanks in part to TBS being a national television station and televising every Braves game. Pete, Ernie and Skip were my first commentator heroes. I got a lot of Cubs action too thanks to Harry Carey and the North Siders being on WGN daily, another national television station. But they were just filler when the Braves weren’t on. I remember an old photo of me as a wee lad standing in front of the on deck circle with Bruce Benedict preparing for upcoming at bat. I think they finished 66-96 that year. The 90’s brought lots of excitement, as was covered in my blog about the now infamous Lonnie Smith. But we got our championship in 1995 and won an astounding 14 division titles in a row. That’s only 6 more than the 2nd most ever by the NY Yankees. The disappointment was that we only managed 1 championship during that run. But we did get that one. The Braves also provided one of the greatest moments of my life, the Dewey Shiver mowing the grass in a dress bet.That brings us to football. The NFL has always been a sport for me where I could choose one of the teams playing each other in a matchup and find a reason to root for them. I’ve always followed players in the NFL thanks to UGA, Super Tecmo Bowl and fantasy football. I pull for Georgia Bulldogs unless they land in New Orleans, Tampa Bay or Carolina. But even though I hate Carolina, I love Thomas Davis. I’m a big Andrew Luck fan so I find myself pulling for the Colts. I’ve been a Bengals fan most of my life too thanks to some family roots and Icky Woods. It also helps that the current roster is loaded with Georgia Bulldogs. It’s like they have a pipeline to Athens. There are also players that I dislike in the NFL that makes me not like their teams. Aaron Rodgers comes to mind. Cam Newton is another. Never been a big Cowboys fan. And I loathe everything about the New Orleans Saints, even though Drew Brees seems like a good guy by all accounts. But that hatred stems from the team that is at the center of my heart ~ The Atlanta Falcons.The Falcons have quite possibly provided the most misery for a Georgia sports fan. They have been to a few NFC championships and even made the Super Bowl once, which we’ll touch on later. But they have the worst winning percentage of any Georgia sports team. The Hawks are a mediocre 2 games below .500 all time. Their lack of reaching the big game may lend one to think they have been the worst team. But the Falcons have a dismal .438 all time winning percentage and are 341-437-6 from 1966-2016. This season’s record helps but they still aren’t close to .500. So, to say it’s been tough growing up a Falcons fan is an understatement. We’ve had our share of superstars. Deion Sanders, Andre Rison, Jessie Tuggle, Warrick Dunn and now Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones. But we have only come close once to putting that magical season together. One game on February 5, 2017 could change all of that for the fans.But first, let’s go back to that one season we came close. It was almost 20 years ago in 1998 and the Falcons, who affectionately became known as “The Dirty Birds”, finished the regular season at 14-2. The only losses that season came to the San Francisco 49ers, which had Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and Garrison Hearst, and the New York Jets, who rolled out the ageless Vinny Testaverde, Curtis Martin and Keyshawn Johnson. These rosters, on paper at the time, were loaded compared to the Falcons. Jamal Anderson and Terance Mathis were stars but Chris Chandler, Tim Dwight, O.J. Santiago and Todd Kinchen weren’t really in that same category. But they managed to put it together in 1998 and finished the season 4th in the league in points scored and 4th in the league in points allowed. The defense was led by Jessie Tuggle, Chuck Smith, Cornelius Bennett, Ray Buchanan and a rookie from the Technical College, Keith Brooking. In all honesty, the Falcons had some luck on their side in the playoffs that season. They met up with the 49ers again in the playoffs, this time pulling it out 20-18. On the first play of the game, Garrison Hearst suffered a broken ankle. He accounted for 1,570 rushing yards on the season. The Falcons went on to hold the 49ers to 47 yards on the day. The play that Hearst got hurt on was a 7 yard rush and was the longest of the day. Super Tecmo Bowl legend William White sealed the game with an interception as the 49ers were attempting to drive 96 yards with less than a minute left. This win gave the Falcons an opportunity to play in the NFC Championship for the first time in franchise history. The NFC Championship game brought a daunting task. The 15-1 Minnesota Vikings by 3 points in the regular season and blew out most other times they faced. They scored a record, at the time, 556 points and at least 24 in every game. They were led by Randall Cunningham, another Super Tecmo Bowl legend, at QB, Robert Smith at RB and Cris Carter and Randy Moss at WR. They were no slouches on defense either with sack master John Randle at DE. They also had the best kicker in the league, Gary Anderson, who was 35 for 35 on the season. After battling neck and neck all game, the Vikings had a chance to put their foot on the throat of the Falcons, up 27-20. Gary Anderson lined up for a 38 yard field goal, which John Madden remarked was essentially automatic. He missed it. Somehow, he missed it. Still down 7, with less than 2:00 to go, the Falcons responded with a touchdown and sent the game to overtime. In overtime, another Anderson, this time Morten for the Falcons, would hit a field goal to cap one of the most improbable Super Bowl runs ever. The excitement was almost unbearable but was immediately tempered by the thought of having to continue this amazing run against John Elway and Terrell Davis. They were the defending champions and were heavily favored. The Falcons had a little too much fun before the game too, culminating in an embarrassing arrest for our best DB, Ray Buchanan. The game itself was never really close with the Broncos leading 17-6 at the half. They would go on to win 34-19 dashing the hopes of all Atlanta fans of the elusive Super Bowl Championship that we are still looking for. It was a fun run and I remember the excitement of that NFC Championship like it was yesterday. We were over at Jim and Rusty’s Lake House and I was sitting on the same couch where I watched Mike Tyson bite Evander Holyfield’s ear off just a year before. Another sports memory made with Morten Anderson nailing that OT field goal.We’ve had other opportunities since, losing conference championships in 2005 to the Eagles and 2012 to the 49ers. One of our better teams got knocked out by Green Bay in the divisional in January 2011 by a whopping 48-21. We followed that up then next year with another dud against Eli and the Giants, losing 24-2. So even with the Falcons playing at a very high level in 2016, there was an understandable amount of skepticism in small parts of the souls of Falcons fans heading into the playoffs. We did, after all, see the 14 season consecutive streak in baseball only end with 1 championship. You could say that some of us are of the mindset that we won’t get too excited until it happens. Well, the excitement in Atlanta is now at a fever pitch.This year, the Falcons seem to have just gotten better each week on both sides of the ball. The offense led the league in total yardage by a 30 yard margin and were tops in passing and 5th in rushing. The high octane offense is led by Matt Ryan, who should win MVP this season, if the writers have any stones whatsoever. Of course, so many of them are in Brady and Rodgers back pocket, you never know how it will turn out. Supporting Ryan has been a stellar offensive line led by Alex Mack, a running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman and the wide receivers led by Julio Jones. Julio is an absolute beast and has opened up the offense for Mohammed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel. We also have the makings of a very solid tight end for the future in Austin Hooper. The defense, while not as prolific as the offense, has come of age this season and gives Falcons fans everywhere hope for now and future years to come. Dwight Freeney is a cagey veteran but the team is very young with studs like Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Desmond Trufant and Vic Beasley. And veteran Matt Bryant gives Falcons fan the sense of comfort that Morten Anderson provided in the 90’s. Arthur Blank and Dan Quinn have built a super bowl contender and we are all happy for that.Once again, it hasn’t been easy getting here. We had to beat the Seattle Seahawks, recent perennial Super Bowl contenders, in the divisional round. And we did so in rather convincing fashion, moving the ball at will and unleashing Julio Jones on the formidable Richard Sherman, leaving Sherman shaking his head in disbelief. Then, in the NFC Championship, the Falcons had to face their playoff nemesis Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. The Packers came in with a ton of confidence riding an 8 game win streak and has just gone to Dallas to know off the “unbeatable” Cowboys. The world rejoiced on that one. Rodgers came in on a hot streak and left with an Eli Manning face. The defense swarmed him all day and their shaky secondary was no match for Ryan and company. It would be one of the most satisfying wins in Falcons history.The Super Bowl is going to be another tough one as well. Much like our trip in 1998 against Elway, we are facing probably the best QB of my generation in Tom Brady. Bill Belichick, Brady and the Patriots are no strangers to the big game. They are favored and as usual, the Falcons are flying under the radar on the national coverage. But that’s how I like to be honest. I believe in the old saying uttered by great philosopher Ric Flair, “To be the man, you have to beat the man.” And that is what we are going to have to do. Not many have beaten Tom Brady in the biggest game of the season but the 2016-17 Falcons have a legitimate shot. And that gives me an excitement like I have never had before going into a Super Bowl.It also gives me a tremendous sense of pride and happiness. I am proud of the home town team. I am happy for the city of Atlanta and the fans. I am happy for my fellow Falconites. I am happy for my cousin Michael, who may be the biggest Falcon fan I know. We don’t always see eye to eye on our football viewing, with him being a Nole, but this is one area we can agree on. He’s the one I text when I am fed up with drafting the likes of Peria Jerry. He texts me his agonizing over a dropped pass in a crucial moment. We laugh together over the shenanigans of Miko Grimes. We discuss superstitions when it comes to clothing and what’s best for the team. There are a lot of guys like that who I am happy for this year but Mike is the one I talk to most about it. It feels like 1991 all over again and the home team is finally making noise. It’s been a long time coming and Falcon fans are begging to be unleashed!We’re one week away from the biggest and most watched sporting event in our world. And my hometown Atlanta Falcons are playing for all the marbles. Somewhere Scott Case is taking someone’s head off. Billy White Shoes is doing his famous end zone celebration. Deion Sanders is high stepping through my mind. Mike Rozier is plowing over a defensive lineman and Patrick Kerney is getting ready to fly off of the corner for a strip sack. And people like me and Mike are sitting on our hands, anxiously awaiting the kickoff next Sunday. I’d like to say that no matter the outcome, we are young and only getting better every year. But that would only be half the truth. The whole truth is that the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia wants this badly. The Falcons want this badly. I want this badly! Let’s go Falcons! Rise Up Dirty Birds!!