It's no secret that sports are ultimately all about the numbers. Every player has a number prominently displayed on his jersey. Numbers tell us who wins, and by how much. Numbers allow us to measure each player's contributions to a team (or lack thereof). Perhaps most importantly, numbers give us a concrete way of remembering the great events and players of the past.
While Atlanta does not have a long or illustrious sports history (outside of college football), it has still seen its share of interesting and important numbers. Here are the 10 numbers that every Atlanta sports fan should know:
The number of Hank Aaron's record-setting home run.
Although Hank only hit 335 of his 755 home runs in an Atlanta Braves uniform, he hit his most important homer right here, in old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on April 8, 1974. The homer broke Babe Ruth's longstanding (and cherished) record of 714 and cemented Aaron's status as an Atlanta icon. Though the stadium has long since been torn down, you can still view the fence over which Hank hit his legendary homer, in the Green Lot outside of Turner Field.
The number of seasons that the Falcons played before having back-to-back winning records.
The Falcons came to Atlanta in 1966. For the first 12 years, they were defined by their futility, posting only 2 winning records in that time and missing the playoffs every year. Though they had some good seasons after that, making the playoffs 9 times, they were never able to put together any kind of lasting success. The Falcons finally broke through in 2009, following up their stellar 2008 season (in which they went 11-5) with a 9-7 mark. Sure, they missed the playoffs, but the season has to be seen as a moral victory for long-suffering Falcons fans.
The record of the UGA football team versus Georgia Tech in its long-standing rivalry.
If you are a Tech fan, just go ahead and reverse the first two numbers above. This yearly rivalry--also called "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate"--is known for its intensity and unpredictability. Many times, the lower-ranked team has prevailed in the Tech-Georgia game (the latest being just last year, in which a rebuilding UGA squad took down ACC champion Georgia Tech). So far, UGA has gotten the better of the rivalry, but Tech can at least take solace from the fact that it has shared a national title more recently than UGA has.
The number of points scored by Dominique Wilkins as an Atlanta Hawk, most in franchise history.
The "Human Highlight Reel," one of the top scorers in the NBA during the 1980s, is unquestionably the most electric player in Hawks' history. Though he never offered much in the way of rebounding or assists, 'Nique could score with ease--and looked good doing it, too.
The number of wins by Bobby Cox as Braves manager (and counting).
Though his first stint as a Braves manager, from 1978-1981, was not very successful, Cox would lead the Braves throughout a remarkable era of success soon after re-taking the reins in 1990. Bobby has led the Braves for the last 21 seasons (25 overall), meaning that many Braves fans today were not even alive the last time the Braves were managed by someone else. Cox, who has announced that he is retiring at the end of the 2010 season, ranks 5th on the all-time wins list as a manager, with an overall total of 2455.
The score of the Georgia Tech football team's 1916 win over Cumberland College.
Yes, you read that correctly. This game is the most lopsided in college football history--and really, I suspect that it is the most lopsided in all of football, at any level. The halftime score was 126-0. Tech rushed 40 times for 1,620 yards and 28 TDs. Cumberland had -82 total yards and 15 turnovers.
But why was it so lopsided? It seems that Tech's hall-of-fame coach, John Heisman (as in the trophy), was angry at Cumberland College for allegedly fielding a team of professional "ringers" in a baseball game against Tech earlier that year. Even though Cumberland had disbanded its football team, Heisman insisted that the school honor its scheduling agreement and play a game against the "Engineers" (as Tech's team was then called). And so Cumberland scraped together 14 scrubs, none of whom were able to stop Tech's offense from scoring at will.
The number of rushing yards put up by Jamal Anderson in 1998, easily a Falcons season record.
The 1998 season was a remarkable one for many reasons, but Anderson's career year would have to be at the top of the list. Armed with a bruising running style and excellent durability, he led the team to a 14-2 record and the Falcons' lone Super Bowl berth. Though neither he nor the team were as successful in the years afterward, Anderson's fantastic season still stands out as probably the best in Falcons history.
The number of consecutive division titles (in completed seasons) by the Braves from 1991-2005.
Though the Braves only won a single championship in this era (in 1995), that does not diminish the accomplishment. Despite a consistently changing cast of players, Braves' manager Bobby Cox and general manager John Scheurholtz somehow managed to guide the team to the postseason year after year. The extended run of dominance is unmatched in major professional sports. I highly doubt that we will live to see another team match this mark.
The number of yards gained by Bulldogs running back Herschel Walker during his 3-year career at UGA.
Walker was a college player like no other. He was one of the first freshmen to receive serious Heisman Trophy consideration after leading UGA to a national title in 1980. He finished second in 1981, and finally won the award in 1982. Though he never achieved the same level of success in the NFL, Walker will always be remembered in Georgia for his dominant time in red and black. Walker is still in great shape, too--he recently began a career as a professional mixed martial arts fighter.
The number of countries represented at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
The fact that the world's largest sporting event took place in my hometown still boggles my mind. While they may not have been the greatest Olympics ever, Atlanta's games offered many memorable moments, including Michael Johnson leaving the rest of the world in his dust, Muhammad Ali lighting the torch, and Kerri Strug landing a vault on an injured ankle to secure the gold for the USA gymnastics team. Though I hope we can all forget that Whatizit ever existed.