By Kieran Darcy
Page 2

EDITOR'S NOTE: Page 2, along with ESPN2's "Cold Pizza," is counting down the 15 Most Tortured Sports Cities in America. Today we feel the pain of No. 8, Atlanta, as we present a transcript of an Atlanta Anonymous meeting, along with our list of the Top 10 most painful moments in Atlanta's sports history.

What's more excruciating -- rooting for a team that has never been to the NBA Finals (the Hawks, since they moved to Atlanta in 1968), or rooting for a team that has come up short in 11 of 12 consecutive tries at baseball's postseason (the Braves)? Take a look at what Atlanta fans have had to endure.

THE 15 MOST TORTURED SPORTS CITIES
15. Tampa Bay
14. Kansas City
13. Cincinnati
12. Phoenix
11. Washington, D.C.
10. Houston
9. San Diego
8. Atlanta
7. ???

Want to find out what the No. 7 city is? Tune into ESPN2's "Cold Pizza" next Tuesday morning. Then head back to Page 2 to read all about it.

10. Atlanta loses the Flames, May 21, 1980
Atlanta had an NHL team before the Thrashers. From 1972-1980, the Flames were based in Atlanta. But they never finished higher than third in their division, and never won a playoff series. On May 21, 1980, Nelson Skalbania announced that he and a group of Calgary businessmen had purchased the team and were moving it to Calgary. Since then, the Flames have won a Stanley Cup (1989) and are in this season's conference finals. The NHL awarded Atlanta the expansion Thrashers, who began play in 1999. But so far, they haven't qualified for the postseason.

9. Hawks lose No. 1 draft choices, July, 1975
In the 1973-74 season, the Hawks finished 35-47 and missed the postseason for the first time in 12 years. Team management decided to make wholesale changes. Pete Maravich was traded to the expansion New Orleans Jazz for several players and draft picks. After they won only 31 games the next year, Atlanta owned both the No. 1 and No. 3 picks in the 1975 NBA draft. The Hawks selected David Thompson of N.C. State and Marvin Webster of Morgan State. But both players spurned Atlanta to sign with the ABA's Denver Nuggets. It was a total disaster. The team finished the following season at 29-53, and went 31-51 the year after that.

Danny White
Danny White haunted the Falcons on more than one occasion.

8. Falcons vs. Cowboys, Dec. 30, 1978
A week earlier, the Falcons notched their first-ever playoff win, 14-13 over the Eagles, after they'd trailed 13-0 in the fourth quarter. The following week, in Dallas, they led the heavily-favored Cowboys 20-13 at the half, and they'd knocked out Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach just before halftime. But Danny White led the Cowboys back, and Dallas took a 27-20 lead in the fourth quarter. The Falcons marched down the field late in the game and were in position to tie. They had a fourth-and-1 at the Dallas 32-yard line, but came up inches short, and never got the ball back.

7. Braves vs. Phillies, Oct. 11, 1993
The Braves had been in an intense race with the Giants for the NL West title. On July 22, they were 10 games out of first place, but went 54-19 over the second half of the season -- the third-best second half in major league history -- to capture the division crown on the final day of the season. They were hot, and they'd won 104 games overall, the most in the majors. They led the Phillies 2-1 in the NLCS, before losing a nailbiter, 2-1, in Game 4. The backbreaker came in Game 5 in Atlanta. The Braves tied the game in the ninth inning by scoring three runs. But Philadelphia's Lenny Dykstra smacked a homer in the top of the tenth, and the Phillies won 4-3. They wrapped up the series in Philadelphia in Game 6.

6. Braves vs. Blue Jays, Oct. 24, 1992
The Braves trailed the Blue Jays, 3 games to 2, heading into Game 6 of the '92 World Series. But they had reason to be optimistic. They were back in Atlanta for Game 6, and a potential Game 7. And all three of their losses to the Blue Jays had been by one run. The Braves trailed, 2-1, heading into the bottom of the ninth in Game 6 -- but Otis Nixon singled home the tying run, and the game went to extra innings. Toronto's Dave Winfield hit a two-run double in the top of the 11th. But the Braves weren't done. They got a run in the bottom of the 11th and had the tying run on third base with two outs. Nixon tried to bunt his way on base to score the run, but Mike Timlin threw him out at first, and the Series was suddenly over.

5. Falcons vs. Cowboys, Jan. 4, 1981
The Falcons finished the 1980 regular season at 12-4, winners of nine straight games, and arguably were the best team in the NFC. In front of over 60,000 fans at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, they led the Cowboys, 24-10, heading into the fourth quarter of an NFC Divisional Playoff game. They even led 27-17 with five minutes left to play. But Danny White wouldn't let his Cowboys lose. He led them on a five-play, 62-yard drive, connecting with Drew Pearson on a 14-yard TD pass to cut the lead to 27-24. The Cowboys immediately stopped the Falcons, and then White hit Pearson in the end zone again with 52 seconds left in the game for the shocking win.

Dominique Wilkins
'Nique may have gotten the better of Bird, but the Celts won the series.

4. Hawks vs. Celtics, May 22, 1988
The Hawks won 50 games during the 1987-88 regular season -- the third season in a row in which they'd won at least 50 games. They'd established themselves as legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference. Dominique Wilkins, the "Human Highlight Film," averaged 30.7 points per game that season. In the second round of the playoffs, the Celtics and Hawks hooked up in a legendary seven-game series. The Hawks led the series, 3 games to 2, but lost Game 6 by two points. And in Game 7, Wilkins and Larry Bird engaged in a classic scoring duel. Wilkins won that battle, outscoring Bird, 47-34. But 20 of Bird's points came in the fourth quarter, as he hit nine of his 10 shots from the field and the Celtics won the game, 118-116, and the series.

3. Falcons vs. Broncos, Jan. 31, 1999
The Falcons had a tremendous season in 1998, going 14-2 and upsetting the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings on the road in the NFC Championship game. But they did not perform particularly well in their first and only Super Bowl appearance. They did take an early lead, 3-0, in the first quarter. But a critical momentum shift occurred when kicker Morten Andersen missed a 26-yard field goal with five minutes left in the first half that would have cut Denver's lead to 10-6. John Elway soon connected on an 80-yard touchdown pass to Rod Smith. The Broncos led 17-6 at the half, and opened it up to 31-6 at one point in the fourth quarter, eventually winning the game 34-19. And Atlanta fans will always remember defensive back Eugene Robinson being arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer for oral sex the night before the game.

Jim Leyritz
Leyritz watches his historic home run, which changed the fate of two franchises.

2. Braves vs. Yankees, Oct. 23, 1996
A year after they defeated the Indians in the '95 World Series, the Braves appeared on their way to a second consecutive world championship. Atlanta won both Game 1 and Game 2 of the '96 Series at Yankee Stadium, by scores of 12-1 and 4-0. In Game 3 in Atlanta, Bernie Williams broke a 1-1 tie in the eighth inning with a two-run homer, and the Yankees went on to win, 5-2. But the crushing blow came in Game 4. The Braves led 6-0 entering the sixth inning. The Yankees scored three runs in the sixth, cutting the lead in half -- that lasted until the eighth. That's when Jim Leyritz hit an oh-so-dramatic three-run homer off Mark Wohlers to tie the game. And the Yanks scored twice more in the 10th to win it. In the end, the Yanks won four straight to take the Series in six games. Andy Pettitte and John Smoltz dueled in Game 5, with the Yankees winning 1-0 on an unearned run in the fourth. The Yankees clinched the championship with a 3-2 win in Game 6.

1. Braves vs. Twins, Oct. 27, 1991
The Braves, who had the worst record in baseball in 1990, made a remarkable turnaround to make the World Series the following year. Despite that, their loss in the World Series was excruciating. Five of the games were decided by one run. Four of the last five games were decided on the final pitch. Three games went into extra innings -- including Game 6, when the Twins' Kirby Puckett hit a game-winning homer in the 11th. It all came down to Game 7 -- which was scoreless after nine regulation innings. Twins starting pitcher Jack Morris convinced manager Tom Kelly to let him pitch the 10th as well, and he held the Braves scoreless. In the bottom of the 10th, Minnesota loaded the bases, and pinch hitter Gene Larkin delivered the hit that utterly devastated Atlanta fans. It ended what arguably was the greatest World Series ever played.




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TORTURED CITIES