Peyton Manning, famous funnyman, made jokes and did a rather long skit at Wednesday’s ESPYs. The butts of Peyton’s bon mots were the Atlanta Falcons, last seen being outscored 31-0 at the end of Super Bowl LI. And, not to say I told you so — not about the game’s outcome; I thought the Falcons would win — but I kind of did.
As much as they insist the blown championship won’t carry into the new season, every mention of “Atlanta Falcons” in 2017 (and surely long after) will bear the subtext of that Super collapse. I say again: No team has ever lost a game so big quite so badly. The Leyritz Game? Awful, yes. It was also Game 4 of a series the Braves led 2-1; it was not an elimination game. The blown lead that night was 6-0, which isn’t 28-3.
The Falcons are saying the right things, but what do you expect? For Matt Ryan to throw up his hands and proclaim, “You’re right. I am scarred for life”? I thought it was psychologically shrewd that Dan Quinn coined the phrase: “Embrace the suck.” But just the need to acknowledge the, er, lead-slippage is a reflection of greater reality. A loss like that before a TV audience that big had never, ever happened. It happened, naturally, to an Atlanta team.
The Falcons should still be very good. (Although the loss of Kyle Shanahan will hurt, although they wouldn’t have lost the Super Bowl had he just run the ball, although they wouldn’t have been in the Super Bowl without him.) They might be good enough to overcome The Worst Loss Ever. But the year-after history of Super Bowl losers is wretched — no runner-up has made it back since the Buffalo Bills in January 1994, and all they did was lose for the fourth year running — and what happened in Houston went beyond wretched.
Put it this way: When Peyton Manning, who himself had to get past the tag of a being a big-game loser, is making fun of you, you’re a national punch line. And not just national: As noted, when Barcelona surged from 4-nil down to salvage a two-game UEFA Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain, the Barca midfielder Ivan Rakitic, who’s Croatian, said: “We saw in the Super Bowl what is possible in sport.”
Yeah. We saw, too. Pretty sure Peyton Manning was likewise watching. Jerkface that he is.