It's the Atlanta Falcons vs. the New England Patriots, and Matt Ryan against Tom Brady, in Houston's Super Bowl.
It’s the Super Bowl matchup that nobody really wanted — and its success or failure almost completely depends on the team with the most apathetic fan base in the NFL (with apologies to Los Angeles Rams’ supporters). Yes, the unloved, complete afterthought Atlanta Falcons are headed to the Super Bowl and they’re the only thing standing between us and another completely gaga Tom Brady lovefest.
Somewhere Fox TV executives are quietly punching themselves in the forehead — and wondering if maybe they really can let Lady Gaga perform on the roof of NRG Stadium.
OK, so H-Town is not exactly getting the dream Super Bowl matchup (or even the second, third or fourth choice). The Dallas Cowboys somehow screwed that up by allowing the defenseless Green Bay Packers to topple them in Jerry World. And yes, TV execs are not the only ones worried about the Atlanta Falcons being the New England Patriots’ opposition in Brady and Bill Belichick’s second Houston Super Bowl.
Sports business experts are already lamenting the Falcons’ inclusion in Super Bowl LI. Houston’s essentially seen this Super Bowl before. In 2004, it was the dynastic Patriots vs the unknown, miracle Carolina Panthers in the Bayou City. The game itself turned into a thriller — Brady and the Pats won 32-29 — but the only thing anyone truly remembers from that Super Bowl seems to be Janet Jackson’s infamous nipple flash.
This Super Bowl can top that, while being even more thrilling, if (and only if) the Atlanta Falcons topple the mighty Patriots in a shootout. Otherwise, it’s just one long coronation for Tom Brady (who beats Joe Montanta and Terry Bradshaw and becomes the first quarterback with five Super Bowl wins with a victory) and one long fascination with the awkwardness between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the Patriots.
Yes, the Falcons — the team that no one really roots for, expect for the occasional playoff run bandwagon jumper — need to become Houston’s team. Heck, America’s Team. Even if former Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub is their backup.
It’s not as if these Atlanta Falcons don’t deserve more love — and hype. This is the closest thing the NFL’s seen to The Greatest Show on Turf, those St. Louis Rams teams of the late 1990s powered by Marshall Faulk, Kurt Warner and Issac Bruce.
Matt Ryan’s every bit as exciting as Warner, even if he has nickname (Matty Ice) straight out of a bad Top Gun remake. Julio Jones is a game-changing revelation, capable of racking up 182 yards and two touchdowns on 11 catches in the NFC Championship Game — on a week he’s supposed to be injured. Devonta Freeman isn’t as explosive as Faulk, but Marshall didn’t have a “backup” like Tevin Coleman either.
These Falcons are fun and frightening, the best type of football combination. Even if people have been as slow to warm to them as Donald Trump’s cabinet picks. After one of the worst conference championship weekends in NFL history (combined score of the two games: 80-38), we deserve a classic Super Bowl — and only the Falcons can make that happen.
Sure, they’re from Atlanta — a city that shows what Houston would be like if it had stopped developing in the 1990s. Sure, their fans are notorious for not traveling well.
Sure, they have all the national following of a local club act.
But they’re what the Houston Super Bowl has. It’s time to embrace the bird — and hope Tom Brady doesn’t just swat them away with a rich man’s self-assured sense of supreme destiny.
It could have been worse. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could have made it in some alternate playoff universe.