As a fan, I’m jealous of the Niners. I watched with envy this past weekend as the San Francisco special teams unit took the field to prepare for each of its six kickoffs during its tilt with the New Orleans Saints this past Saturday. The team looked loose, but focused. Insouciant, yet intense. Ready to break skulls, but also having a lot of fun. They were fuckin’ dancing.
I watched it and wondered why the Falcons haven’t really adopted such an air since the 1998-1999 season when they were the Dirty Birds on an improbable, happy-go-lucky march to the playoffs. (The last person I’ve seen do the Dirty Bird was Hakeem Nicks, after scoring a 70-yard TD with fewer than three minutes left in the third quarter of a game I’d rather not talk about.) Apparently the Falcons facility in Flowery Branch is the town from Footloose. As the Goodie Mob once rapped (oddly enough back in ’98), “They Don’t Dance No Mo’“.
The Falcons of today feel awful business-like. In fact, that’s the exact wording Sporting News writer Clifton Brown used to describe them before the game we won’t discuss any further. “Mike Smith is the first coach to take the Falcons to the playoffs in back-to-back years. He pays attention to detail and is consistent. The Falcons have adopted his businesslike persona.”
Last year, I took great pride in a New York Times Week 11 capsule preview that characterized the Falcons matchup with the middling Rams as “just another week of the Falcons’ generic victory porridge: filling and nourishing, but a little bland.” That team was played boring, mistake-free ball. Long drives, very few penalties, and ground out wins. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote, in preparation for 2010’s post-Christmas meeting with its rival Saints, “Drawing upon the personality of their staid, steady coach, the Falcons are not going to attract people with their flamboyance. Aside from the occasional Twitter twaddle issued by receiver Roddy White, this team is extremely adept at not calling attention to itself.”
The keeping your head down and staying focused approach rebuilt the franchise from a shambles at the end of the ’07 season into the perennial playoff contender it is now. But, maybe that austere mood has gone too far. “The atmosphere is way different … Up there, it’s a lot tighter,” ex-Falcons punter Michael Koenen told reporters in Tampa Bay this fall, after signing with the Bucs. “There is a little more nervous energy, but here it’s light-hearted and just fun energy.”
I know that fun energy netted the Bucs a 4-12 record and spelled the end of Raheem Morris’ first tenure as a head coach. But, damn, I wouldn’t mind a little flamboyance, a little panache, and a little bit of those ol’ Dirty Birds. It doesn’t seem to be hurting the Niners.