One of the virtues of writing for a major newspaper as opposed to an eclectic (read: marginal) blog in the hinterlands of the Internet is that a writer can gauge how a fan base is feeling at a given time. Because of his position, Mark Bradley gets to interact with tens of thousands of Atlanta sports fans by e-mail, Twitter, and the comments sections of his articles. So, when Bradley writes that his sense is that Falcons fans aren't especially excited for the upcoming season, he is making an interesting observation. I can watch the same games that Bradley does and come to my own conclusions as to what I just saw. I can’t, however, claim to have my finger on the pulse of how Atlanta fans are feeling about a given issue. Bradley can, so when he says that Falcons fans don’t seem as excited about the upcoming season as one would expect for a team that just went 13-3, he is performing a useful function.
Based on the emotionally incontinent* reaction of Steak Shapiro, we should feel differently. It was hard to tell from his rant whether Shapiro is mad with Bradley for reaching an incorrect conclusion (although, this being sports talk radio, Shapiro didn’t offer any evidence for his assertion) or whether he is mad at Falcons fans for feeling this way. The claim appeared to be something along the lines of “the franchise is in much better shape than it was before, so how can you people not be fired up!?! Have I mentioned that we are the new home of the Falcons?” (I’m not pretending to be quoting him directly.) Well, yeah, but saying that the franchise is exceeding its historical norm is damning with faint praise.
* – I stole that term from Graham Hunter, who used it to describe Jose Mourinho.
I found the rant to be remarkably lacking in self-awareness for a couple reasons. First, Shapiro was mockingly citing the names of the fans that Bradley cited in the article. Hello, you’re a sports talk radio host! Your whole format is based on giving a voice to average fans.** The implication of your criticism that Bradley put quotes from Average Joes on the front cover of the paper is that a newspaper is a more legitimate format than sports talk radio and should not reduce itself to quoting the ticket-buying proletariat. Second, your whole view of the sports world is buzz-based.* Is buzz only legitimate when you agree with it? When the buzz isn’t against your commercial interests?
* – Man, it’s odd to read what I wrote six years ago and say to myself that I was once an unapologetic fan of the format. I guess that was the age before podcasts.
** – And for f***’s sake, please stop referring to commenters on AJC articles as “bloggers.” The people who call your station are not hosts or analysts, so why would you make the equivalent mistake about people using the Internet?
Personally, I’m not overly excited about the Falcons season for two main reasons. First, my two loves are college football and European soccer and both are starting their seasons at the same time as the Falcons. With a finite amount of intellectual and emotional energy, thinking about the Falcons’ pass rush comes in behind Al Borges designing an offense for Denard Robinson, the prospect of Isaiah Crowell tearing through holes, and Cesc and Alexis Sanchez fitting into the best XI in the world. I’m unusual in liking soccer so much, but I am hardly unusual in this market in thinking that the NFL is dessert after the main course is served on Saturday. That’s how this market operates. Second, my view is that the Falcons were a mirage last year, a nine- or ten-win team masquerading as a 13-win team. I doubt that there is wide-spread belief that the Falcons were not a great team last year because of their yards-per-play margin, but I do suspect that there is a general sense that the team wasn’t as good as its record. Fans in this market watch enough NFL to know that there are often teams that have great records in a given year and then regress to the mean. I would guess that the Falcons fan base is taking a wait-and-see approach because they remember that at this time last year, the Vikings and Cowboys were coming off of seasons where they were the second- and third-best teams in the NFC. Those teams both finished 6-10 in 2010. But why should historical memory get in the way of a good buzz?
And one last, related point: it’s hilarious to me to listen to a sports talk radio host try to use the “don’t overrate the importance of a small sample size playoff over the large sample size regular season” argument when it suits his purposes. Shapiro constantly rants about the fact that there is no playoff in college football. He killed the Braves for their postseason failures in the first part of the Aughts. Now, his personal affection for the Falcons and the people who run the franchise has caused him to see the light that putting all importance on playoff results might not be the most rational way to evaluate a team or a season.