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Sports 101

The Atlanta Falcons have been overshadowed by their city's successful baseball team, the Atlanta Braves. At the end of last season, the Falcons' franchise record was a paltry 182 victories, 293 losses, and five ties - among the worst in the league. But 1998 is a different ballgame. Suddenly, the Falcons are contenders. There's even talk of going to the Super Bowl.

Q: Just how bad were the Falcons?

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A: The team has never made it to the Super Bowl or even to a National Football Conference title game. In the team's 32-year history, it has had only seven winning seasons and two playoff victories.

Q: And this season?

A: Atlanta improved its NFC West-leading record to 11-2 and has clinched a playoff berth. Atlanta can match the most wins in franchise history (12 in 1980) with a win at New Orleans Sunday.

Q: Why the sudden turnaround?

A: One reason is coach Dan Reeves, in his second season. In the last 16 games under Reeves, the Falcons are 12-4. That's impressive: only one of the other eight coaches who took over new teams at the start of 1997 can match that record. The winning performance can also be traced to great play by quarterback Chris Chandler, running back Jamal Anderson, and a resurgent defense.

Q: Are Atlanta fans getting excited?

A: Last year around this time, the Falcons attracted 36,583 per game to the 71,228-seat Georgia Dome. But the fans are warming up to their home team. In a recent game against the San Francisco 49ers, the Dome sold out (the Falcons won, 31-19).

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Anthony Crane writes via e-mail: "I've just read the online version of "Sports 101," Nov. 27. Three times you refer to the work stoppage in the NBA as a "strike." It is not a strike, it is a lockout. Big difference."

Mr. Crane is right. A strike is initiated by employees; a lockout is the refusal of an employer to allow employees to come to work until an agreement is reached, which is the case with the NBA.

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