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A Little Weird: Hoopla and Heroes

By Eddie Whitlock

As a native Georgian, I love SEC football. The NFL? Not so much. There were a few years that I followed the Atlanta Falcons. I got over it with the help of the Atlanta Falcons.

​At the time, the team was owned by the Smith Family. I think that says a lot. This was a team so bad, the owners used “Smith” rather than revealing their real names.

​My hero player was Tommy Nobis. Tommy, a linebacker, was the Falcons’ first draft pick. He had a career.

​He also had a television commercial. That’s the part I remember. “Hi, I’m Tommy Nobis,” the ad started. “What do I know about frozen beef patties? Just watch!” Then the Georgia-famous football player would proceed to grill a frozen beef patty.

​It wasn’t the Tommy Nobis Falcons I followed. He left the game in the mid-1970s. It was the 1980 season Falcons that I watched. Why? Alcohol may have been involved.

​I was working a full-time job at WGAU while taking classes at UGA. I worked Saturdays, running the board during the Georgia games.

​WGAU carried news programming from the Georgia News Network and from CBS Radio News at that time. When we aired the UGA football game, we were obligated to record all the commercials from those two news networks and broadcast them later, after the game was over.

​This was a huge pain in the butt. It prevented me from paying as much attention to the Georgia game as I might have otherwise.

​Sunday, though, was my day off. A group of us would meet mid-day at Pasquale’s Pizza on Baxter Street to watch the Falcons game.

​It was God’s Required Day of Rest, which – at that time in Georgia – meant no alcohol sales. That was cool. We had worked out a complicated system of buying our alcohol the day before and bringing it to Pasquale’s carefully concealed in brown paper bags.

​We would order a pitcher of Coca-Cola for the table. As the level of the soft drink dropped, we would replace it with Jack Daniels. By the end of the afternoon, it was pretty much a pitcher of whiskey.

​Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

​The 1980 season was one of the very few for the Falcons when alcohol was for celebrations and not for commiserations.

​Quarterback Steve Bartkowski actually did well that year. After a 3-3 start, the magic happened. The Falcons won their next nine games and made it to the play-offs!

​The Sunday pigskin & pizza bunch had moved from indifference to cautious optimist to enthusiasm.

​Of course, the Falcons lost their first play-off game in Falcon fashion. They led the Dallas Cowboys 24-10 going into the fourth quarter, or as Falcons fans call it “The time to quit watching.” Dallas racked up 20 points and won 30-24.

​The Falcons lost to Denver in the thirty-third Superbowl in 1999. I was busy being a dad at that time and didn’t watch. Honestly, I didn’t even remember their being in the Superbowl that year.

​The Falcons had a great year in 2016 and made it to the Superbowl again on February 5, 2017. In the most Falcony of Falcon performances, they lost the game in overtime, blowing a 28-6 third-quarter lead.

​My point is that if you want to be a Falcons fan, you are probably not a Superbowl fan. It’s where our dreams go to die.

​This year, though, the Falcons were behaving like the team we know they are. They lost seven out of nine away games and three of eight home games. By far it was not their worst season, but it was lousy.

​Superbowl LVIII takes place on Sunday, February 11. No Atlanta Falcons will be involved in the contest.

​This year’s big game has the San Francisco 49ers taking on the Kansas City Chiefs. The 49ers are favored slightly in the game.

​This will be the sixth Superbowl appearance by the Chiefs. They’ve won it twice before.

​The 49ers are tied with the Dallas Cowboys for most Superbowl wins at 5.

​You would think this surprisingly decent match-up would be the most talked about part of this year’s event.

​It’s not.

​No, the big deal this year is that one of the players is dating a billionaire.

​When I heard this, I had to check Elon Musk’s marital status (he’s single).

​It’s not Musk, as you know. It’s a singer named Taylor Swift.

​I’m an old man. I have heard of her. I don’t know any of her songs, but I have heard her name. She’s right up there with Snoopy Dog-Dog in popularity. (I stole that joke.)

​For some reason, her relationship with a player – Kansas City Chiefs tight-end Travis Kelce – is making MAGA mad.

​I don’t understand why this is a political issue, but I’m glad that it is because it’s absurd and doesn’t threaten my life.

​Apparently, Taylor Swift is very popular and the Superbowl is a big deal, so MAGA is scared shxtless that Swift will come out in support of Joe Biden. This scares the right so much that Fox News anchor Jeanine Pirro warned the superstar not to alienate her fan base by being political.

​Although she hasn’t endorsed the incumbent President, Swift told fashion magazine V in 2020 that “people of color deserve to feel safe and represented, that women deserve the right to choose what happens to their bodies, and that the LGBTQIA+ community deserves to be acknowledged and included.”

I suppose Pirro thinks such comments mean that Swift might still be a Trump supporter. I see a major spoiler alert for Pirro in the future.

This controversy – such that it is – is distracting me from the main reason I usually watch at least part of the Superbowl: the commercials.

For decades, the unveiling of a major media campaign by corporations has been a cornerstone of interest in what is usually a boring game.

This year, I don’t even know who has a new commercial to debut. Without that standard attention-getter, we’re left wondering if Reba McEntire or Usher will have a wardrobe malfunction just to keep things interesting.

Let me wrap up this meandering piece by noting that Tommy Nobis died in 2017. He’s not in the Professional Football Hall of Fame, but he should be.

After his career in pro football ended, Nobis became involved with helping others. He opened the Tommy Nobis Center in 1976 to provide job training and employment to people with disabilities.

He won a Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., Award for his work with Georgia Special Olympics. He was named NFL Man of the Year.

After his death, Boston University researchers confirmed that Nobis had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He’s one of nearly 350 NFL players diagnosed after death of CTE, which is caused by repeated hits to the head.

I’ll probably watch part of the Superbowl. I usually do. I’ll be amused at the attention paid to a billionaire who is dating a player. I’ll shake my head at the fortunes spent to roll out advertising campaigns that are forgotten within hours of their debuts.

But I’ll spend a minute thinking about a fellow who played for the Atlanta Falcons, a team that has never won a Superbowl. I’ll think about the sacrifice he made in being a player.

And I’ll think about what a fine human being he proved himself to be outside the game and outside the realm of celebrity.

Rock on, Tommy Nobis.

Eddie Whitlock is a Georgia native, a graduate of UGA, and wannabe writer. He retired in 2021 from the Athens-Clarke County Library, where he worked as coordinator of volunteers, community service supervisor, and vending machine scapegoat.

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