ATLANTA -- When Dansby Swanson arrived at Nashville International Airport on Jan. 22, he quickly made his way toward the exit while doing everything he could to remain oblivious to how his beloved Atlanta Falcons were doing in the NFC Championship Game, which had started 40 minutes before his flight
ATLANTA -- When Dansby Swanson arrived at Nashville International Airport on Jan. 22, he quickly made his way toward the exit while doing everything he could to remain oblivious to how his beloved Atlanta Falcons were doing in the NFC Championship Game, which had started 40 minutes before his flight landed.
"I was walking with my head down so I couldn't see anything," Swanson said. "I had my fingers in my ears so I couldn't hear anything. I didn't want to know anything."
Swanson, who is Atlanta's top prospect and the No. 4-ranked prospect in baseball, was in this situation because he had spent the previous day soaking in the splendor of witnessing his first basketball game at Duke University's Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Braves shortstop described himself as "a kid in a candy store" when this opportunity arose. Consequently, he booked his travel while forgetting about the possibility that the Falcons might be playing during a portion of his return flight.
Fortunately, Swanson successfully avoided receiving any updates before he returned to his Nashville residence to watch the entirety of the NFC Championship Game, which he had recorded. Swanson caught up to live action midway through the third quarter, then basked in the glory as the Falcons advanced to the Super Bowl with a convincing 44-21 win over the Green Bay Packers.
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"I was so ecstatic," Swanson said. "I get so intense when I watch games, especially big games with teams I'm passionate about. I was going nuts, to say the least."
Swanson weighed his excitement and disbelief for approximately an hour before he booked a flight to Houston for this weekend's Super Bowl. He'll be accompanied by his childhood friend Logan Marshall, who was still feeling some disbelief even after Swanson received their tickets in the mail earlier this week.
"[Marshall] was like, 'Send me a picture,' and I was like, 'I can't, because the picture wouldn't even do it justice,'" Swanson said. "I opened the envelope and it was like a light was coming out of them. It was like 'Space Jam,' where I was taking power from somebody."
Swanson was a couple weeks shy of his 5th birthday in January 1999, when the Falcons made their only other Super Bowl appearance. The suburban Atlanta native wore a Michael Vick Falcons jersey as early as second grade, and he vividly remembers some top moments -- like Vick's memorable run to end a 2002 overtime victory over the Vikings, and the '04 playoff win over the Rams.
Basketball has long been Swanson's favorite sport, and he has fervently followed Duke. But his passion for the Falcons might now supersede all of his other interests as a sports fan. He responded to their last-second playoff win over the Seahawks in 2013 by ecstatically running up and down the halls of his dorm at Vanderbilt University.
"Duke will lose a game, and I won't be very happy about it," Swanson said. "But if the Falcons lose a game, whoever is around me is probably going to be miserable for the rest of the day. I've always loved them, and I take a lot of pride in them. Now that I play for another Atlanta team, I just think it's so cool with what they're able to do to create unity with this whole #InBrotherhood thing. God, I love that so much."
Swanson doesn't want to mess with karma by predicting a score for Sunday's game, but what he has seen over the past couple weeks has strengthend his hope that Atlanta fans will have a chance to celebrate and express their passion again next week with a Super Bowl victory parade.
"If we take care of the ball and don't turn the ball over, I think we have a great shot," Swanson said. "When we don't turn the ball over, we're really hard to stop. With first-down plays, we can't have negative plays. Then, once we get in the red zone, we have to score touchdowns. If we do those things, I think we'll put ourselves in position to win. That's all you can really ask for."
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.