Champions, collapses and goodbyes: Moments that defined Georgia sports in 2010s

Champions, collapses and goodbyes: Moments that defined Georgia sports in 2010s
From championship games to new stadiums, there have been plenty of memorable moments in the last decade. (Photos: AJC Photography Staff) (Curtis Compton)

Another year is coming to end, but it’s also the end of a decade.

Georgia sports fans have seen their fair share of good, bad and ugly moments. There have been thrilling games, unbelievable comebacks and swan songs for sports legends.

From new beginnings to crowning champions, let’s take a look back at the moments that defined Georgia sports over the last 10 years.

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Championship and playoff moments

Kings of the South and MLS

Atlanta United took the city and state over by storm when the franchise started in 2017. It didn’t take long for the Kings of the South to make themselves known. Their matches have been some of the highest-attended soccer games in the world, week after week.

Everything built up to the 2018 season when Atlanta defeated the Portland Timbers 2-0 in the MLS Cup, winning a championship in just its second season.

Fans celebrated with a massive parade through downtown and couldn’t be happier to see a championship team in the city again.

Swarm breaks the drought

Many people will recognize Atlanta United’s championship as breaking the so-called Atlanta sports curse. But to local lacrosse fans, the Georgia Swarm was actually the first team to win a professional championship in Atlanta area since 1995.

The Swarm defeated the Saskatchewan Rush in the National Lacrosse League championship series in 2017 at home in Gwinnett County.

Georgia wins SEC Championship

The 2017 Georgia football season will be infamously connected to 2nd and 26, which we will get to later. But, it’s also the year the Dawgs broke their SEC Championship drought.

The win over Auburn in Atlanta marked UGA’s first SEC Championship since 2005. It landed the Dawgs in the College Football Playoff where they defeated Oklahoma in an overtime thriller at the Rose Bowl.

Tiger Woods comeback

Everyone wondered when Tiger Woods would be back. The comeback finally started to come together when Tiger won the Tour Championship at East Lake in 2018. It’s hard to forget the chilling moment the crowd swarmed Tiger for that final descent on the 18th green.

Braves win back-to-back NL East titles

The last half of the decade was supposed to be the rebuilding years for the Atlanta Braves. But somehow the 2018 Braves were ahead of schedule.

The young talent led by Ronald Acuna Jr. helped the organization win 90 games and its first NL East pennant in five years. The Braves repeated this year with another division pennant and 90-win season behind stellar young pitching in Mike Soroka and Max Fried.

While the playoffs ended in disappointment, the young Braves talent will have more chances in the future, especially with with Acuna and Albies locked on long-term deals.

Hawks 60 wins

The 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks remain one of the most memorable teams in Atlanta sports history. What’s even more impressive is the Hawks didn’t have a splashy star that season. A team of role players featuring Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap led the Hawks to a 60-win season, the most in franchise history.

The biggest stretch during that 60-win season came in January when the Hawks posted an undefeated 17-0 record. That push sent the Hawks to the top of the Eastern Conference, where the team eventually earned the No. 1 seed.

While magic of that season came to a devastating end in the conference finals, it’s something to reflect on as a major turning point for the franchise.

Fan hope the young talent of Trae Young and John Collins can lead the franchise to another 60 win season or better in the future.

Atlanta Dream Eastern Conference champs

The beginning of this decade marked the start of something special for the Atlanta Dream. While it took three seasons in the league, the Dream finally pushed through and claimed their first Eastern Conference title in 2010.

Despite star player injuries, coaching changes and difficult starts, the Dream would add two more conference championship banners in 2011 and 2013.

Close calls and collapses

There are numbers that Falcons and Bulldogs fans will never forget: 28-3 and 2nd-and-26.

The Falcons looked on top of the world in Super Bowl LI when they jumped out to a commanding 28-3 lead at halftime. But Tom Brady and the New England Patriots couldn’t be counted out.

Fans couldn’t believe what they witnessed that night in Houston and it still hurts to talk about it. But the collapse will forever be ingrained in NFL history.

If the Patriots winning wasn’t bad enough, UGA fans had their own bad luck the next year. The Dawgs had a chance at winning the College Football Playoff in front of the home crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

But who could have predicted that a true freshman quarterback named Tua would come off the Alabama bench and crush the hearts of everyone wearing red and black.

The Falcons and Dawgs aren’t the only Georgia teams that came up short. The Atlanta Dream lost all three of their trips to the WNBA finals. The Hawks’ 60 wins team mentioned earlier? Swept by the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

It wasn’t just metaphorical collapses. Who could forget this iconic moment when Georgia State’s upset over Baylor in March Madness had head coach Ron Hunter on the floor?

Saying goodbye and new beginnings

Bobby Cox decided to leave his days in the dugout and getting ejected from games behind. Cox retired in 2010 after spending years as the Braves manager.

Two years after Cox stepped down, Chipper Jones also retired. Jones spent his entire 19-year career with the Braves as generations of fans grew up watching him across 90s, 00s and 2010s. Sadly Larry’s final game will always be connected with the infamous infield fly call in the 2012 NL Wild Card game.

In 2015, Georgia and head coach Mark Richt parted ways in a stunning move. Richt coached the Dawgs for 15 years and led them to a SEC title in 2002 and 2005.

Richt coached his alma mater Miami for three years before he retired from coaching.

Paul Johnson rounded out the notable retirements in the last decade. The Georgia Tech head coach stepped away in 2018. Johnson’s triple option offense defined the football program and left behind a lasting legacy.

During his tenure in Atlanta, the Yellow Jackets won four ACC coastal division titles including 2014. The 2014 season proved to be the most successful in the Johnson era as the Yellow Jackets went 11-3 and finished No. 8 in the first College Football Playoff rankings.

It wasn’t just influential coaches and players that fans said goodbye to.

Atlanta once again lost another NHL team. More than 30 years after the Flames left for Calgary, the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Canada and became the Winnipeg Jets in 2011.

Both the Braves and Falcons left their homes at Turner Field and the Georgia Dome.

The Atlanta Braves made a shocking announcement in late 2013 that they would leave Turner Field for the suburbs in Cobb County. SunTrust Park opened less than three years later in March 2017.

The Falcons moved into a new stadium that year, too, just yards away from where the Georgia Dome stood. The $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium officially opened in August 2017 for the Falcons and Atlanta United.

Crews demolished the former Georgia Dome at the end of 2017. The Dome hosted nearly 31.6 million fans from over 1,400 events including the Olympics, three Final Fours, two Super Bowls, 199 regular-season Falcons games and 152 college football games

But at least Atlanta will always have the moment a MARTA bus wasn’t ready to say goodbye either.

Another new addition came to Georgia this decade: The new College Football Hall of Fame opened its doors downtown in 2014.

Hall of Famers

We could go on and on about the accomplishments Georgia athletes and coaches achieved. But there is no higher honor that getting inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Here are some notable inductions from the last decade:

  • 2011: Atlanta Falcons corner Deion Sanders
  • 2014: Atlanta Falcons defensive end Claude Humphrey
  • 2014: Braves pitching duo Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, Baseball HOF
  • 2014: Braves manager Bobby Cox, Baseball HOF
  • 2015: Braves pitcher John Smoltz, Baseball HOF
  • 2017: Falcons kicker Morten Andersen
  • 2018: Braves infielder Chipper Jones, Baseball HOF
  • 2019: Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, Pro Football HOF
  • 2019: Georgia cornerback Champ Bailey, Pro Football HOF