(AP Photo/Paul Abell)
Atlanta’s never earned a reputation as a ‘sports town.’ Sure, we’ve got teams in every major pro league (at least until the Thrashers bolt for Canada), but the stadiums rarely fill to capacity. When they do, half of the crowd wears Spurs/Cubs/Maple Leafs/Patriots gear.
My beloved Hawks shocked the nation by forcing a game seven in their first round playoff series against the eventual NBA Champion Celtics a year ago. Afterward, ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons described our Atlanta fanbase thusly:
“[Atlanta] Fans just show up because it's something to do, then they get caught up in it even though they can't name more than 3 guys on the team and they think Bubbles from the Wire is playing small forward.”
The “Sports Guy” ain’t alone in his critique. The talking heads of sports media constantly blast Atlanta fans for their seeming lack of support for the local teams. The size of the media market keeps baseball, hoops and football in town, but you just don’t see many diehards around here. Anyone who’s been to Phillips or Turner Field or the Dome knows that the Atlanta fans are a different breed than those one might encounter at Fenway, Yankee Stadium, Arco, The Rose Garden or Soldier Field.
Well, here’s at least part of the reason why: Report: Glavine May File Grievance
As a rare Atlanta diehard, I readily admit that we don't have the world's most dedicated fans. And, I’m not going to defend the bandwagon mentality... But I do sympathize with the typical Atlanta fan’s mindset.
Since pro sports came to the Capital of the South in the mid to late 60’s, Peach State fans have been served heaping helping after heaping helping of betrayal and loss. As a city we share one solitary championship memory: the Braves in ’95 – and even that glorious moment remains tainted with a side of betrayal. The early part of the ’95 season was cancelled due to the player’s strike.
Tom Glavine represented the Player’s Union during that strike and many Braves fans resented him for that, but he redeemed himself by winning the city’s only championship series MVP. Management eventually let Glavine walk in 2003 (betrayal), but he came back home in ’08. We fans embraced him. When management cast off Braves legend John Smoltz this past offseason (major betrayal), the folks at the front office quickly signed a recovering Glavine for one final year. As it turns out, that little maneuver was nothing more than a publicity stunt.
The Braves cut Glavine last week -- before he so much as pitched a single inning for the 2009 big league club. And if you listen to the future Hall of Famer’s side of the story, his signing and rehab assignments were nothing more than short term damage control in the wake of Smoltz’s reluctant move to Boston. Braves General Manager Frank Wren never intended to bring back Glavine in ’09. Team president John Schuerholz even issued a public apology... what a disgrace.
A glory-free past:
Before we get to more betrayal, here’s a quick primer on Atlanta’s pro sports history. In “Sports Towns” like Boston, New York, Toronto and Chicago, there is a long history of great teams (Celtics, Yankees, Maple Leafs, Bulls, etc…). We’ve never had that in the ATL. Since pro sports arrived (the Braves and Falcons in '66; Hawks in '68; Thrashers in '99) not one team has an overall winning record.
As I mentioned, the Braves won one championship. Other than that we’ve had a few World Series showings in the nineties (’91,’92, ’95, ’96, ’99) and one Falcons Super Bowl appearance (’98). In over 40 years, the Atlanta Hawks have never played for an NBA championship. The Falcons have never had back-to-back winning seasons. The Thrashers made the playoffs one time and were swept in the opening round.
Now, the most egregious betrayals:
Of course there’s this Glavine ordeal, but it stands as just the latest chapter in a long book of poor management decisions seemingly aimed at ruining a fan base. The Braves’ worst moment actually came in 1990, when local hero Dale Murphy was shipped to Philadelphia for pitcher Jeff Parrett and shortstop Victor Rosario. In Parrot’s initial Brave appearance against San Diego on August 7 that year, the crowd chanted, "We want Murph! We want Murph!"
For an earlier generation of fans, the Braves’ nastiest black eye came when the team traded Hank Aaron to Milwaukee in ’74 for outfielder Dave May. Letting Maddox, Gant, Horner, Neikro and Justice go were also tough pills to swallow.
The Falcons' recent betrayals came at the hands of both management and players. When Arthur Blank took over ownership from the longtime loathed Smith Brothers, fans had new reason to hope. But Blank stupidly cleaned house. He got rid of the franchise’s only Super Bowl coach (Dan Reeves) and quarterback (Chris Chandler) to make room for supposed football messiah Michael Vick. After a couple of breathtaking seasons, we all know how that turned out.
But the Hawks stand alone as the worst of the worst (though the Braves are trying to take back that title). Atlanta fans still mourn the ‘Nique trade. After 11 1⁄2 years with the Atlanta Hawks, during which Dominique Wilkins became the city's most beloved athlete, the team traded "The Human Highlight Reel" to the Los Angeles Clippers on February 24, 1994 in exchange for NBA dud Danny Manning. Unlike Dale Murphy, ‘Nique showed no signs of fading into old age prior to the ill-conceived deal. During the 93-94 season leading up to the trade, Wilkins averaged 24.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists for Atlanta, carrying the club to a 36-16 record. At midseason he appeared in his eighth NBA All-Star Game.
The Hawks didn’t stop there. After rebuilding the franchise in the mid to late 90’s around fan favorite Steve Smith, the team shipped Smith to Portland for problem child Isaiah Rider (a disaster). Then, after last season’s triumphant return to the post-season (after almost a decade of futility spurned by atrocious management and ownership), the team low-balled budding star Josh Smith (eventually signing him after Memphis provided an offer sheet) and let the dynamic sixth man Josh Childress walk. Childress signed with a Greek team, becoming the first young NBA star to bolt the league for a European squad.
So, this awful Glavine ordeal comes as no surprise. We "fairweather" Atlanta fans are used to this kind of crap.
And not all of the story is tragic: there are, after all, benefits to deliberately throwing away a fan base. The tickets remain much cheaper around here. You can always find great half price seats on craigslist as long as the Yankees or Lakers or Redskins aren’t in town.