Thursday, April 12, 2012

Almost Famous: Why The Falcons Should Be On "Hard Knocks."

The phones were barely staying in their cradles today at Atlanta's sports talk radio station: 680 The Fan. For roughly three hours, callers were flooding the lines, clamoring to opine for a fleeting moment in a public forum, to voice their enthusiasm and concerns to the hosts and the untold masses slogging their way through another typically horrible day of Atlanta traffic. About half of the calls were Falcons fans glorying in the hilariously precipitous (precipitously hilarious?) fall of one Bobby Petrino; former Falcons head coach and very recently former coach at the University of Arkansas. (Here in the ATL, the coach who abandoned us mid-season, in the dead of night, to slink back to college ball because things weren't going well and waaaaahh is not highly regarded.) The other, and more interesting, half of the calls comprised a protracted pro/con debate on another Falcons-centric topic: Our beloved Dirty Birds are apparently among the leaders (among the willing, anyway) for the 2012 season of HBO's phenomenal "Hard Knocks" documentary series.

Many of the callers were expressing concerns that the cameras will manufacture unnecessary drama in the locker room and generally be a distraction during an all-important training camp in which the team will be adjusting to both a new offensive and a new defensive coordinator. Those concerns are not unfounded, certainly. It is entirely possible that interviews and footage could sow discord within an organization, or that the mere presence of the film crews would disrupt the focus of the the players and coaches to a detrimental extent. Possible, but highly unlikely. Mike Smith? Level-headed and unflappable. Matty Ice? Ditto. T-Gonz and John Abraham? Seen everything, been-there-done-that, wouldn't bat an eye. Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Michael Turner might preen a bit for the cameras, but it's good to have a few guys with ego and swagger in the bunch. Keeps everyone else loose. Quizz? Ovie? I honestly don't know how they'd handle it, and truthfully, I don't care. This is a great idea and the team needs to secure its purchase with HBO if and when it can, ASAP. Because, honestly, the Falcons need this. Atlanta needs this. And we, the fans, need this. Badly.

Any diehard Falcons fan will tell you that, despite our devotion and careful attention to all the minutiae of the Birds, we don't know actually enjoy a lot of familiarity with our NFL team. The Smith/Dimitroff regime has been under an almost Belichickian standing order of opaqueness. Everything stays in house. There is no deviation from the mean, no colorful dynamic or remarkable story. We root for these guys, live and die on every snap, yet we have no real connection to them because their public image is essentially a veneer. Polished, shiny-squeaky-clean, and unknowable.

As a microcosm of this problem, consider the man who is cast in the venerable role of Franchise Quarterback. Matt Ryan is a cliche machine, the T-1000 of banality. Nice guy, great player, utterly devoid of charisma. Our quarterback is hyper-self conscious of his public presentation; hell-bent on being the perfect, uncontroversial face of the franchise. Every comment is measured and parsed to answer questions or make statements without the slightest possibility of raising a single eyebrow among the press or the fans, let alone actually ruffle anyone's feathers. By all accounts, he's an excellent leader in the huddle, but none of that command and fire makes its way out into the wider world for us to see. He lacks Brady's "I was drafted absurdly late and I'm still ticked off about it" arrogance, Rodgers' Discount-Doublecheck strut, and Brees' heart-of-gold redemption back story. The guy he's compared most frequently to, draft classmate Joe Flacco, is unburdened by the job of being his team's most recognizable and charismatic persona, because the Ravens are defined by defense and Ray Lewis has that Larger Than Life Icon role pretty well covered.

We want and semi-need Matty Ice to be that guy, and the Falcons signing on with "Hard Knocks" would very likely facilitate or accelerate that process. Ryan isn't the only one with potential for growth in terms of public identification and empathy, either. When you expand the radius of personalities that the documentary program would allow us to glimpse to include the rest of the team and coaches, I suspect this would do no end of good for our relationship with our team.

Now factor in the national impact. Atlanta fans have an almost unrivaled inferiority complex vis-a-vis the rest of the country, and there's a reason for that. Aside from the Braves, no one ever takes our teams seriously, or even acknowledges their existence, for that matter. We have zero saturation outside of the Georgia border. Whatever else it might portend of the team, "Had Knocks" would undoubtedly endow us with more respect and recognition among football fans, and make us a more relavent quantity in terms of national marketing campaigns and other relevant avenues of exposure. While none is this is strictly necessary to the franchise's survival or growth, it certainly wouldn't hurt, and might be highly beneficial.

While I respect the Falcons' unified, keep-it-in-the-family approach, I want "Hard Knocks" with us when training camp boots up. I want to get to know Matt Ryan and Mike Smith on a visceral and immediate level. I want to figure out who, besides a tiny dynamo of power, Jacquizz Rodgers is. I want to watch 'Spoon and Roddy being candid and entertaining as hell. I want the sagacity of Tony Gonzalez and John Abraham. I want to watch Julio Jones watching Roddy White and learning in the moment. I want to watch everyone evolve and adapt to our new schemes on both sides of the ball. I want to know my team better, and I want the rest of the world to know them, too. And I'm not the only one.

And that's why, if the Falcons' brass have any sense at all, they'll sign on without blinking. Letting your fans, and the rest of the football-loving populace, see more of your team entails benefits that far outweigh any theoretical consequences. Let's get on this, Dimitroff and company. Your signature on the dotted line will be repaid in a myriad of riches.

If nothing else, let me appeal to your sense of altruistic mercy. Reportedly, the other frontrunner option for "Hard Knocks 2012" is Jacksonville. You wouldn't really visit that horrible fate upon NFL fans, would you? Bring HBO to the ATL. You won't regret it. I promise.

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