After 33 seasons of woe, it's Atlanta's turn

In dueling columns, two writers tell why their cities are superior onSuper Bowl eve. The winner gets a week in the rival city. The loser, two.

Atlanta and Denver have almost nothing to do with each other. They are as dissimilar as red clay and shale. One place is the capital of the new South. The other is Vail's doormat.

Forced together in a Super Bowl, the two places enjoy no natural animosity. So we grow one from the common backgrounds of the coaches involved. Their feud becomes our feud. We take sides accordingly.

This loudest form of sport in the US has been recast as a soap opera. It pits the Falcons Dan Reeves - fired in Denver in 1992 after 12 seasons as Denver's head coach - against the men said to have greased his departure, quarterback John Elway and current Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.

You could waste a lot of time weighing the sides, or just go with the Atlanta slant: Reeves was the innocent victim, his trust betrayed, his authority torpedoed. While Elway and Shanahan formed a cabal of pure evil.

We are here to convince you that the Falcons are the people's choice to win Sunday's Super Bowl. Just ask yourself: Would you rather the kindly Americus, Ga., coach finally lead a team to ultimate glory; or do you prefer that the cold incumbents from Denver repeat?

Sentiment may have favored the Broncos a season ago when Elway could have won his one title and ridden off into the setting sun. But he did not take the hint and retire. Now it's Dan Reeves who has a game to win and a long-suffering populace to uplift. Sorry, horse people, there's no fighting that.

Denver doesn't really need this game. It has its one Super Bowl title. The city now can fight the claim that it's merely a stopover on the way to the slopes, a convenient place to wax your skis.

To Atlanta, Sunday means the rewrite of 33 seasons of woe. No one can understand the depths of a franchise that in January has won as many postseason games (two) as during the other 32 years combined.

There have been other big events that have captured Atlanta's fancy, a Summer Olympics, the World Series and such. This Falcons journey to the Super Bowl, though, has touched a special kind of joy. It was all so unexpected - these same people began the 1997 season 1-7. It was all so dramatic - first facing down intradivisional bully San Francisco in the playoffs, then rallying to beat Minnesota in overtime.

Somewhere in Atlanta at this very moment, a fine, upstanding Miss Daisy is doing the Falcons Dirty Bird dance. And the best part, not a single International Olympic Committee official had to be bribed to be a part of these games.

Granted, Denver is the more devoted pro football town. Mile High Stadium has been nothing but full for three decades, while the Falcons had only two home sellouts in this winningest season ever. Some would say this makes Atlanta unworthy.

On the contrary. When you aren't living above the tree line, you see things a little more clearly. Let's call it perspective. Pro football is a nice diversion, but you shouldn't live for it. There are more important things: Faith, family, the Georgia-Auburn game.

A few points, just to stir the pot a bit:

* What's with that airport, anyway? All the pricey technology and art? Nobody needs his muse tickled on the way to Bozeman. An airport is just a place where people get on and off airplanes, with the reasonable expectation of getting their baggage before the clothes inside go out of fashion. Doesn't matter how much money you throw at your place, Denver. Eventually, you're going to have to change planes in Atlanta.

* There is no need to trick up eggs with peppers, onions, and salsa. A Denver omelet is for those who can't face the truth of two over-easy with grits.

* The Broncos most visible supporter is a large, allegedly naked man in an orange barrel. If that's by choice, OK, such is just the price of tolerance. If not, please don't let silly pride get in the way. Just ask. We'll start a clothing drive.

* Before Denver joined the National League, Atlanta was the highest city in major league baseball. It was a title yielded willingly. Altitude is no big deal. It is an accident of geography, not a bragging point.

* Thanks again for dumping Reeves. You will be repaid gladly on Sunday.

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