By Tim Sullivan
The 5th District is having a moment. Congressman John Lewis is having a moment. Sixty thousand Atlantans marched through a downpour the day after the inauguration to have their moment. MVP Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons marched all over the Green Bay Packers and punched their ticket to the Super Bowl in a moment of their own! It feels like the good guys are on something of a streak, doesn’t it? Somebody make sure Bill Belichick isn’t snooping around Flowery Branch this week.
When Boston College played at Clemson University in 2005 some fellow BC alums and I fastened our school flag to the side of a rented Econoline van and trekked up I-85. A friend of a friend who was a Clemson guy tagged along and supplied the parking pass. I can’t remember his name, but he must have been Clempson Von Clemson IV or something because our tailgate spot was literally marked #1, right alongside Memorial Stadium. In the sea of orange and white we were, umm, noticeable.
BC’s starting quarterback had an ankle injury, so our hopes were pinned on this skinny sophomore named Matt Ryan. He took a shot to the sternum from Clemson linebacker David Dunham that was the hardest hit I had ever witnessed. The entire stadium gasped, making sure it was only Matt’s helmet that popped off. He sat one series and came right back in. The kid from Philly showed tremendous moxie and carried BC to their first ever ACC victory, 16-13 in overtime.
Perhaps what struck me more than anything though, were the Clemson fans after the game. Had they wanted to chase us out of there they could have done so easily. They call the place Death Valley, don’t they? But that wasn’t the case. So many of the Tiger faithful approached us just to say congratulations and to welcome us to the ACC. They were the epitome of class and sportsmanship so not only did I gain a new favorite football player that day, I adopted a pet team, too. Unless they are playing against BC, I’ll always root for Clemson.
Naturally, I was thrilled for Clemson when they won the National Championship game this year. Turns out that Deshaun Watson, Clemson’s star quarterback, was raised in a house in Gainesville, GA that his mother Deann earned through the Habitat for Humanity program. Falcons legend Warrick Dunn stepped in to fully furnish the home before the Watsons moved in, the story goes, right down to a fully stocked refrigerator.
We met Matt Ryan at an alumni event after his rookie season and asked how he was liking Georgia (loved it) what car he was driving (Ford F150) and what he was doing in the offseason (played Augusta, shot an 80). He was humble, genuine and nice. He seemed less like a celebrity athlete than a cousin you were just catching up with. It’s no surprise how dedicated he has been to charity work, most notably with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Come to think of it, I don’t have any cousins who are quite this nice.
So the superstitious fan in me is hopeful for some symbiotic, Clemson-to-Falcons-good-guy-Championship-mojo. I want it to deliver a Super Bowl to the City of Atlanta, where we love football but find glory in the pursuit of what is right, just and good. For the game-watch, Elliott will wear both his Matt Ryan and Julio Jones jerseys. I’ll wear my Falcons shirt over a BC shirt over a Clemson shirt. Kristen and Margo can wear their pink hats from the Women’s March and we’ll nervously snack on peanuts in a nod to Jimmy Carter. Unless…my old buddy Clempson can score us some tickets to the game.
Go Falcons! Rise up!