Though the Falcoholic Meet and Greet turned into a non-event, I was still able to take the Dome tour and enjoy myself. What follows is a 2800-word-long, by-the-minute account of my February 28th, 2009 visit to the Dome. I have included 49 pictures along with lengthy text explanations. Those of you without broadband may have to wait a while for everything to load.
6:00am: The alarm, obnoxiously effective, jars me out of slumber. I ooze out of bed and into the bathroom. God bowls a strike and dances, sending a rumbling thunder across the sky that shakes the apartment floor beneath my cold bare feet. I shower and shave through the drowsiness, actions so automatic I’ve forgotten how to think my way through them. In what seems the length of a commercial break, I’m dressed and making coffee.
6:45am: My fiancée stirs in bed as I sip coffee at her computer desk, blinking away the remnants of what should have been three more hours of sleep. Her computer, newer and fancier than mine, whirs and clicks and grinds in my imagination. In reality it’s as silent as my brain was during science class.
6:46am: The Falcoholic loads in a heartbeat and has never looked better, flourishing under the bells and whistles of Windows Vista, an operating system I refuse to use because I’m too set in my ways. I check my latest Meet and Greet post to see if anyone has made any last minute decisions and, seeing no new comments, close Internet Explorer.
6:47am: I venture into the living room and watch 11Alive’s morning show. Somehow, despite its complete lack of substance, I’m sucked in.
8:45am: I eat a bowl of Frosted Flakes. What, you want more? It had skim milk in it.
9:15am: With a peck on my fiancée’s cheek, I leave the apartment and head for that maze of an interstate called 85.
9:40am: I miss my exit (246 Central Avenue)
9:41am: I curse. A lot.
9:43am: I’ve somehow managed to turn around and get back on 85. I aim to take the Central Avenue exit from the southbound lane.
9:45am: I take the Martin Luther King Jr exit by mistake.
9:46am: I curse again. A lot.
9:47am: I pull over on Perennial and get out my Georgia map. I’m in luck. Martin Luther goes right to Central Avenue.
9:50am: I see this:
9:53am: It’s getting bigger.
10:00am: I’m turning on Northside. This greets me as I turn:
10:05am: I pull into the Gold Parking Lot, pay my parking fee ($10.00, for those curious), and marvel at all the people. Turns out that there’s something going on at the Congress Center. I admit to imagining sharing a tour with a ton of fans. Once I reach the plaza I realize that such a dream is not a reality. It’s empty, but I am comforted by what looms ahead of me.
10:15am: Pulling myself away from the scene of magnificence in the plaza, I locate the stairs leading down to the Administrative Entrance.
10:16am: Turns out, I could have just came to this entrance from my parking spot in the Gold Deck. The proximity of this deck to the E gate will be explained later.
10:17am: I am actually pretty amazed that the Georgia Dome is so kitted out with Falcons colors and banners. I know that Arthur Blank threw some cash at a renovation project to make the Dome feel more like the true home of the Falcons but the extent of this goes far beyond new flat screen TVs across the mezzanine and a new coat of paint on the outside of the Dome. It’s a complete rebranding of the entire structure, inside and out. The E gate is certainly evidence of this, adorned with banners depicting the Dome logo, the image of a real falcon, and the Falcons logo:
The directory post and gate awning are both loaded with Falcons colors
10:45am: No one has shown. I’m fully prepared with a memo pad, pen, and newfangled camera that I have yet to sink my teeth into. A young woman comes out to ask me if I’m there for the tour. I nod and tell her that I am, but that I’m waiting on someone.
10:55am: I walk through the nearest door. The lobby that I enter is actually fairly devoid of Falcon memorabilia. Instead, wood-trimmed window display niches are set in the walls; they detail the history of the Dome, recent events (AMA Supercross one weekend prior, the Georgia state high school football championship, the SEC championship), and display plaques of particular achievements (Olympic games in 96, Billy Graham record breaking ministry, special donors).
10:58am: The first sign of Falcons colors is a desk marked "Services" with a woman manning(ironic, no?) a computer terminal. She notices my approach and asks "Have they arrived yet?" I shake my head. "Nope, just me I guess." A male tour guide (henceforth known as Awesome Wally) is leading a group of Irish gentlemen back to the desk. He’s telling them about the Turner Field tour. The Irishmen seem interested and exit as I pay my tour fee. Here’s a scan of the ticket
11:00am: Disappointed but excited, I follow my tour guide, Monica, to the center elevator. When the doors open, I am standing where VanGorder and Mularkey view the home games. I am in complete and total awe.
The Coordinator’s Box is the highest point in the Dome (that doesn’t require a Maintenance badge to enter) and built of wood with black and red Formica topping every surface. The box has three rooms: one for our coordinators, one for the visitors’ coordinators, and one for a camera crew from Dome Productions/NFL Films to get far shots from.
The roof, often seen as a clothy material is actually a coated Teflon that is hard enough for a man to safely walk on. No one has yet tried that challenge yet. Everyone has so far taken the Teflon company’s word for it.
11:10am: On our way to the next tour stop, I see that West Plaza, the area I was able to take those lovely Dome shots in, is actually a football field. Cool!
11:12am: We enter SuperSuite 7.
Ever wanted to have the suite experience but didn’t know someone who knows someone? For a mere $4,000 dollars a season, you too may lease one of these plush leather seats:
Enjoy this full food and spirit bar complete with tender (soft drinks and meals are free, booze will cost ya):
Don’t feel like watching the game? Watch any local, national, or international television program on these wall mounted TVs!
11:25am: We enter the South Educators 16 seat company suite.
Suites come in 16 and 24 seat varieties. They have a full bar
Glass separators for when that icky crowd noise gets too loud
And a great view of other successful people!
Did I mention that the interior box has plush leather seats? It feels expensive! (yes, that’s me)
If these images have impressed you, a suite can be yours for as little as $212,000 a year*!
*contracts must be 3 to 7 years in length; minimum contract price is $0.6 million.
11:21am: We enter the press box. I hope to one day sit at this desk.
11:25am: On our way to the Verizon Club level, I get a glance of the super cool Verizon Restaurant. The pillars have famous player numbers on them! Yay for Nobis, our first ever draft pick!
11:30am: We enter the Verizon Club level.
What’s nice about this level is that for $112 dollars a ticket (about $900 for a season) you get a nice black leather seat
and access to the Verizon Club and Restaurant, which is like a suite in itself, complete with TVs to watch the game on, food, a bar, computer terminals with internet access, and plenty of plush leather seating. I couldn’t take any more images because the Falcons administration was hosting a reception in the club on Saturday night and (apparently) the place settings are pivotal in the 2009 season game plan and couldn’t be leaked*.
*this is partly a lie. The reception was real, but I had to change batteries and didn’t have time to take any Restaurant pics
11:35am: While ogling the Verizon Club seats (and seriously considering getting a 09 club ticket) Monica points my attention to a particular spot in the roof.
ANECDOTE ALERT: Last year around this time, I was planning to attend a dental conference with my fiancée in the World Congress Center. Unfortunately, a tornado decided to do something they don’t normally do: attack a metropolis. The Congress Center was flooded and we weren’t going to make the conference. While watching Fox 5 for updates, we saw footage of an ACC basketball game going on during the tornado in the Dome. All of a sudden, the cameras panned up to a torn piece of the roof and dangerously dangling rafters.
See if you can spot the repair in the following image:
11:40am: Our next stop is the mezzanine! It’s…filthy. Thanks AMA Supercross. As it was fairly uninteresting, this is your only pic. Notice the trash bag.
11:45am: Down to field level! Wanna see a behind the scenes ugly shot of the Dome? Of course you do.
How about a two story Falcons logo? Blank’s rebranding has even leaked to the bowels of the Dome.
Ooo, an EMS cart.
Monica also shows me the Georgia High School Hall of Fame, which has nearly every High School’s football helmet mounted on it. It’s huge.
11:48am: Finally getting to the good stuff, I get to take the same walk the players do, walking through the northeast tunnel and onto the field…well, it would be a field during football season. Right now, it’s being turned into a basketball court. But there is one piece of field open to my fingers. Yes, I touch it. Yes, it feels real. And yes, I do believe I feel some of Matty Ice’s cleat rubber in there.
I’m standing behind the yellow line on the small patch of green. Monica informed me that if this were a game and I did not have a press or player or coach or admin or worker badge around my neck, crossing that yellow line would get me arrested.
11:55am: Having returned to the hall with the huge Falcons logo, I become aware that there is only one stop left on the tour. It is a spot often dreamed about, hardly ever realized. Above an unassuming doorway is this plaque:
Below it stands a plain blue door that requires a magnetic card swipe to enter. Monica swipes her skeleton card through, the light turns green, and she steps into a place I’ve only dreamed of. She beckons. I get to enter the Falcons’ locker room.
I gush on and on about how this is a dream come true for me, but Monica, having given this tour for years, merely smiles exasperatedly and stands back, letting me soak it in. I then ask the one question I had prepared for this entire journey: "Which one is Matt Ryan’s locker?" Behold.
I bow and say a silent prayer for an even better sophomore season for our wunderkind quarterback. And then I go to the showers. No, I didn’t take any pics. It’s a shower room. Big deal.
Here are some more images of the locker room
I tell Monica that I love the color scheme. She laughs and says, "This red and black trim on top of gray is what we call Aggressive Falcon. It’s meant to pump the boys up and get them ready to kick some butt."
I laugh and tell her that I would love to paint my own house in these colors, but that the fiancée wouldn’t alow it. She giggles and tells me something that makes me infinitely proud of the Georgia Dome Authority and Mr. Blank: "During the remodel, we repainted the Visitor’s Locker room. Guess what we painted it?"
"Hot pink and purple!"
I love this team.
12:05pm: As we make our way back to the front desk, I see something I didn’t expect: The coach’s cart. Funny little thing, isn’t it? I want one.
As we walk, I think of another question.
"Monica, how do the players arrive? By bus or individually?"
"They arrive individually. They park in the Gold Deck Parking area, walk through the administration gate (E gate), go straight to the locker room, and then walk out through the tunnel when its time. Their wives and family also park there. We have a fully functioning nursery for their children."
"Can you speak to them?"
"What do you mean?"
"About all we can do is smile at them and say ‘Hello, how are you?’ Anything else is forbidden. No autographs, no pictures, no delaying them to the locker room. NFL security is tough."
"NFL security is like the secret service," adds Awesome Wally as we arrive at the desk. "But I guess they have to be!"
12:10pm: The tour ends where it started. Monica goes on her lunch break after asking her coworker to give me something nice to go home with. Awesome Wally, who had catered to the Irish gentlemen, sees my attire and says "Ok, this guy gets two souvenirs." Awesome Wally and I start talking. Turns out, Awesome Wally was at the press conference where it was announced that the Falcons had chosen Tommy Nobis as their first ever draft pick. Awesome Wally is sad to see Brooking go but is optimistic about the coming season. He works Gate C, thinks I’m one cool dude, and promises to visit The Falcoholic to share fond Falcons memories with the community.
12:40pm: After talking draft, free agency, and the upcoming season with Awesome Wally, I leave with my souvenirs:
Falcons/Verizon football car magnet (to add to my other car décor)
The 2008 Falcons Football Yearbook (program offered at games)
Some Dome facts:
- 28 months building time; completed August 1992
- $214 million dollar building cost
- Hosted 2 Super Bowls
- Olympic Games
- 71,250 seats
- Owned by State of Georgia
- Operated by Georgia Dome Authority
Hours (Off Season):
- Monday – Saturday (unless event is occurring) 10:00am to 3:00pm
Hours (During Season):
- Tuesday – Saturday (locker room access not guaranteed on Friday/Saturday) 10:00am to 3:00pm
- $6 Adult ($5 with stub from World of Coke, CNN Center, Turner Field)
- $4 Children, Students, Elderly
Training Camp (Flowery Branch, GA) Information (thanks Wally!):
- 8am to Practice End
- Limited at facility, available throughout town. Shuttles available.
- Available at end of practice