It’s the Super Bowl, so naturally there’s more on the line than just the Lombardi Trophy.
Fair or not, legacies often hang in the balance and we often define players’ careers by whether or not they earned a ring.
This game may cement Tom Brady’s status as the greatest quarterback of all-time if he can do what no other in his position has ever done before: win a fifth title.
It may also firmly entrench Bill Belichick as the greatest coach ever, putting him ahead of Vince Lombardi if he can slow down one of the greatest offences in history with another master-stroke of coaching.
But if Brady and Belichick lose on the big stage, even if it’s for a third time, it’s unlikely our view of what they’ve accomplished during their unprecedented run will alter.
It’s also likely, considering Brady’s Benjamin Button-like aging process and Belichick’s continued presence, we see them in the Super Bowl again before it’s all said and done.
That’s why this Super Bowl is more important for the Atlanta Falcons and their city.
Let’s start with the wider scope. Atlanta isn’t considered one of the greatest sporting cities in the United States, but it should be.
Spare me the fairweather comments. Anecdotally, we often hear not enough fans show up to games to support the local teams. Well, if you look at the NFL’s average attendance for this season, Atlanta had the 14th largest crowd at 69,999.
You may think that number was influenced by how successful of a season the Falcons had. The answer: not really. In the past three years, when the Falcons went 8-8 in 2015, 6-10 in 2014 and 4-12 in 2013, Atlanta actually averaged a higher attendance than 2016 and ranked 13th in the league each time.
If your teams aren’t winning much, the spotlight usually won’t fall on the fans. Which is why with a Super Bowl win, Atlanta supporters can finally earn some recognition and deserved respect.
A victory would also end plenty of futility.
We just saw Cleveland and Chicago remarkably erase their massive championship droughts in the same year when the Cavaliers reached the pinnacle and the Cubs tasted glory, but Atlanta isn’t all that far behind in terms of hard luck across their four major sporting franchises.
In total, Atlanta’s teams are a jaw-dropping 1-for-167 in winning titles. That ‘one’ is courtesy of the Atlanta Braves in 1995, which doesn’t sound all that long ago, but certainly feels like it.
Sure, the city is often more focused on college sports, especially college football, but that doesn’t take away the hurt the fans of the professional teams feel. By beating New England, that pain can quickly turn to pure joy.
It’s crucial the Falcons capitalise on this opportunity. Not because they’re necessarily one-hit wonders or not built to get to this point again, but because the NFL landscape can change instantly. Hell, it’s designed to. The Patriots are the exception, not the rule.
The Falcons have also gotten this far in major part due to their world-beating offence, whose orchestrator on the sidelines, Kyle Shanahan, is leaving for a head coaching gig in San Francisco in the offseason. Maybe Matt Ryan and Co will be just fine without him, but it’s hard to think they’ll remain as dominant.
So here it is Atlanta, here’s your stage to shine. Who knows when you’ll get the chance again.