On Nov. 12, 1978, Big Ben struck for the first time.
The people of New Orleans — my cousins, uncles and former high school classmates included — have wished the Atlanta Falcons nothing but evil things ever since.
Once upon a time, the cities of Atlanta and New Orleans were like Deep South twins, joined at the “colored only” water fountain sign. But Atlanta saw beyond the Gone With the Wind closing credits.
New Orleans had crawfish and Mardi Gras, but Atlanta became the home of Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines. Diversity, in more ways than one, lifted Atlanta into its role as unofficial capital of the South.
The NFL Falcons arrived in 1966. The Saints were born one year later. The two fan bases resented each other from the start.
Which brings us to Big Ben. The two perennial losers met in the Superdome in mid-November of 1978, both fighting to make the NFL playoffs for the first time. The Saints, quarterbacked by Archie Manning, had a 17-6 lead with 2:23 left in the game.
The Falcons drove to a touchdown and then found themselves on their own 43-yard line with just 19 seconds remaining.
The play, as the Falcons would explain later, was called Big Ben Right.
From his own 35 or so, quarterback Steve Bartkowski flung the ball toward the goal line. Two Saints defenders leaped along with Atlanta receiver Wallace Francis, who deftly tipped the ball into the air, where it was caught by teammate Alfred Jackson for the game-winning touchdown.
Atlanta went on to the playoffs. The Saints went into symbolic therapy and ended up waiting another nine years.
And this is why Saints fans believe that they were the first of the two franchises to eventually win a Super Bowl.
In New Orleans next week, you can bet they’re pulling for Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Whether it was gris-gris from their division rivals or just lousy quarterbacking, the Falcons have yet to get over the NFL hump. The 2012 team blew a 10-point halftime lead in the NFC championship game and lost at home to the 49ers.
Do I think New Orleans fans put some voodoo hex on Atlanta?
I dare you to prove otherwise.
The Atlanta Falcons, 1966 to present, 51 seasons: no NFL titles.
The Atlanta Hawks, 1968 to present, 48 seasons: no NBA titles.
The Atlanta Braves, 1966 to present, 51 seasons: one World Series title.
The Atlanta Flames-Thrashers, etc.,1999-2011, 12 seasons: no NHL titles.
Karma, darlin’. That’s one championship in a combined 162 seasons of professional sports.
Maybe Super Bowl LI, therefore, will be the Falcons’ deliverance. Maybe quarterback Matt Ryan will finally be the one to lift the curse, and he’ll become more famous in Atlanta than Wolf Blitzer.
Beyond this pro sports thing, the city of Atlanta has much going for it. It boasts what’s been called the “world’s busiest airport.” Atlanta is the home of the Civil Rights Movement and the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King.
Blitzer’s CNN is headquartered there, as well as the aforementioned Coke. Singers/rappers Ludacris, Usher, CeeLo Green and Soulja Boy, among many, all hail from Atlanta, and it is roundly considered the Emerald City of strip clubs.
I wish the Falcons no evil in Houston next week. I have cousins that are probably handling that.
But just as Landry’s Cowboys had the Redskins and the Aggies have the Longhorns, the Saints have had the Falcons, and they’ve been sticking pins in the Dirty Birds’ voodoo doll for 51 years.
Good luck with all that next week in Houston, Matt Ryan.
Super Bowl LI
Patriots vs. Falcons, 5:30 p.m. Feb. 5, KDFW/4