The 7 worst Atlanta sports meltdowns, ranked from least to most heartbreaking – For The Win
Atlanta sports fans are eternal pessimists, and for good reason, bad things keep happening to their teams in dramatic, devastating ways. Just when they think it can’t get worse, it does. No matter how big the late-game lead is, time appears to slow down to crawl, allowing the opponent to stage a comeback.
This keeps happening to Atlanta — regardless of how many times fans say to themselves, “Maybe this team will be different,” it never is. As we noted last year, being an Atlanta sports fan is so miserable.
It is a city that, for all its regular season success, has only seen one professional sports championship (1995 Atlanta Braves) since it started hosting pro sports in 1966. But man, has Atlanta perfected the art of melting down when it matters the most. These are just seven of the most heartbreaking meltdowns in Atlanta sports history. We’ve limited this list to just postseason moments. Sorry, Atlanta.
7. 60-win Hawks in the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals
The Atlanta Hawks had been the perennial No. 4 seed of the East. They were a team that was good enough to make the playoffs, but never good enough to really have a chance against elite teams. That changed in 2014-15. With coach Mike Budenholzer’s system, the Hawks shocked the NBA and won 60 games to capture the top seed in the East. They went undefeated in January, had four All-Stars, an entire starting lineup won Player of the Month. This was the team Atlanta had been waiting for to save a franchise that had never made it past the second round. All that excitement was completely disposed of by the Cavaliers and LeBron James. Cleveland swept the Hawks, and Atlanta had legitimate chances to win each of first three games — none worse than Al Horford’s ejection in Game 3.
6. Georgia vs. Alabama in 2012 SEC title game
Georgia isn’t a professional sports team, but it is Atlanta’s college sports team even in a city that’s home to Georgia Tech. Also, Georgia’s propensity to melt down when it matters absolutely qualifies it as an Atlanta team. The third-ranked Bulldogs and No. 2 Alabama were in a virtual play-in scenario for the national title game. It was in the Georgia Dome. In the third quarter, Georgia jumped out to a 21-10 lead, and the fans could sense the first title game appearance in the BCS era. Then, the inevitable collapse happened. With Georgia down 4 and less than 10 seconds to play, the Bulldogs were in the red zone needing a touchdown. They had no timeouts, and Aaron Murray’s deflected pass was caught in bounds at the five-yard line. Georgia had to watch helplessly as time ticked away.
5. Outfield Fly Rule
The 2012 National League Wild Card Game would mark the end of Chipper Jones’ Hall of Fame career, and it came at Atlanta’s lowest possible point. With the Braves down by three runs to the Cardinals in the eighth inning, Andrelton Simmons hit a fly ball to left field. Both shortstop Pete Kozma and left fielder Matt Holliday let the ball drop. Atlanta was in business with the bases loaded and one out — or so the fans thought. Umpire Sam Holbrook called Simmons out on an infield fly rule. Atlanta fans then proceeded to litter the field with trash, and the Braves lost 6-3.
4. Eugene Robinson and the Super Bowl XXXIII
The Falcons reached their first Super Bowl after shocking the Vikings in one of the all-time great NFC Championship Games. This was the first time there had really been actual excitement about the Falcons in Atlanta. Jamal Anderson was doing the “Dirty Bird.” Chris Chandler was somehow staying healthy and looking like a Pro Bowl quarterback. Jessie Tuggle was holding down the fort at linebacker. This team had it all and was set to go up against John Elway, Terrell Davis and the Broncos. As if that wasn’t a big enough challenge on its own, Atlanta safety Eugene Robinson — the Bart Starr Award recipient for character — was arrested on solicitation charges the night before the Super Bowl. The embarrassing arrest served as a prelude to a game Atlanta would lose 34-19.
3. Braves 1996 World Series collapse
The Braves’ incredible run of 14 straight division titles only yielded one championship. But many forget just how close the Braves came to winning two straight World Series titles. The Braves’ Hall of Fame pitching staff of John Smoltz and Greg Maddux led Atlanta to a 2-0 series lead, heading back to Atlanta with three straight home games. Tom Glavine had solid night in Game 3, but Atlanta’s bats just didn’t come to play. But the real meltdown started in Game 4. Atlanta jumped out to a 6-0 lead with a chance to go up 3-1 in the series. The Yankees rallied with three runs in the sixth and eighth to tie the game. New York won in extra innings and went on to win the World Series in Game 6. The Braves would not win another World Series.
2. 2012 NFC Championship Game
For Falcons fans, it seemed impossible for any defeat to be more painful than the 2012 NFC title game. Atlanta’s high-flying offense jumped out to a 17-0 lead against Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers. The Georgia Dome was rocking, and after already blowing a 20-point lead to the Seahawks in the Divisional round, Atlanta wasn’t going to let the 49ers back in the game. It couldn’t happen, right? Or so they thought. The Falcons led 24-14 at half, but the 49ers took advantage of Atlanta’s defensive weakness and gashed Atlanta with passes to tight end Vernon Davis. The 49ers scored 14 unanswered points and took a 28-24 lead. Atlanta, which had won 13 games that season thanks to Matt Ryan’s clutch play, quickly drove inside the red zone. Harry Douglas had a chance to put the game away, but he tripped over himself while catching what could have been a walk-in touchdown. Atlanta would fall five yards short of the Super Bowl. It was a loss that the fanbase hadn’t fully recovered from until this season.
But alas …
1. Super Bowl 51
With just over 17 minutes to go, the Falcons led the New England Patriots 28-3. No team had ever blown an 11-point second half lead in the Super Bowl. This was 25 points. The final 17 minutes and overtime wasn’t just an Atlanta sports meltdown, it was possibly the biggest collapse in American sports history. It made the NFC Championship Game collapse look like nothing. So much needed to go wrong for Atlanta to lose that football game, and it all did. This was a loss that Atlanta fans will never recover from.