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Super Bowl 51 buzz: Talking Falcons with fans in Atlanta

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This week, I took the time to talk to some Atlanta residents about the team and the Super Bowl. It was pretty neat.

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons are just days away from playing in the second Super Bowl in franchise history. All week we have heard about how long Atlanta has waited for a moment like this and we’ve been told how stark the contrast between the two cities’ sports history. Atlanta is, once again, the underdog taking on the traditional powerhouse.

We’ve seen the media from each city taking shots (whether serious or in jest) at the other town, and we have seen the social media riffs between each fanbase in the last week or so. These cities are ready, they are excited, and they can’t wait until Sunday afternoon.

I took a couple of laps through the heart of downtown Atlanta: down Marietta and back, through CNN center, Centennial and Woodruff parks, and a quick walk down Broad right in the middle of Georgia State University’s campus. As I walked around I tried to talk to people who would have a pretty good pulse for what the city is feeling and how much this team means to the city of Atlanta, and, of course, I got some predictions from a couple of folks.

Starting at STATS

The first place I thought to go was STATS, one of the premier sports locales in Atlanta and the home of one of the biggest Super Bowl parties in the city—they have sold out every single table and event space that they offer for Sunday. One of the staff members, when asked if she felt the city was excited for the Super Bowl, gave a pretty succinct answer: “Heck. Yes.”

She said, “People might as well start flying, because the streets are going to be packed.”

After that I spoke to one of the managers from STATS, a lifelong Falcons fan who grew up in the city. There was a lot of great stuff in this interview, so I’ll give you guys some quick quotes:

  • On the magnitude and impact of this game: “It is the largest game the city has ever seen. It’s changed the culture ... it’s energized the spirit of the Falcons fans.”
  • On the vibe of the city as Super Bowl LI approaches: “There is some trepidation there [with Falcons fans]. People are excited but they are scared because we are going against the Patriots.”
  • I asked about the sense of “Brotherhood” carrying over into the fan base: “You see it. You see more and more Falcons gear around the city... Just seeing that energy. That momentum and getting to this point has banded a lot of people together.”
  • Then I asked for a quick prediction: “I can go on record and say that we will win by at least nine points.”

After STATS, I stopped by Chick-fil-A to grab some lunch. A quick note: I was wearing my NFC Championship shirt to see what reactions I would get from folks downtown. Right when I walked in, I heard, “I like that shirt!” from one person, “Rise Up!” from another one, and then an “Oh yeah!” from someone else. There was very little interaction prior to that but it felt like I could have stayed in that building for the rest of the day and they would have been totally fine with it.

Back up Marietta

Moving back up Marietta St, I stopped and asked a couple of members of the GSUPD—I think one of them may have been a Pats fan because he didn’t say very much. The other guy, though, kept it pretty simple: “They better win.”

He cited the number of transplants we have in the city and the amount of pressure that adds: “We’ve got all of these 49ers, Packers, Saints, and Panthers fans that are just waiting for us to stumble. It adds some more pressure because I think the city is confident, but those folks will be there if/when things go wrong.”

Broad St and Georgia State

Finally, I took a trip down Broad St and then right into the middle of GSU’s campus. On Broad, I stopped by a little shop that was filled with Falcons gear—this guys has had this shop for years and really notices a difference in the city this season.

“I think the city is confident. Normally we are kind of cautious and a little scared, but I think the city is confident. I’m confident,” he said, as his buddy, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan looked on, shaking his head.

After a couple of minutes, his friend chimed in: “Atlanta is scared. A lot of folks will act confident but you can just hear it in their voice—they’re a little scared. Everything is, ‘Oh we’ll win, but if we don’t, there is always next year.’” He said he is pulling for Atlanta but he doesn’t think it will happen. I wanted to ask him where the Steelers were this week, but I had to keep it somewhat professional. Oh well.

Back to the owner of the merchandise stand. I asked him for a prediction and, while I couldn’t get a score out of him, he was pretty plain in terms of who he liked in the matchup.

“Atlanta will win. I’m confident in that. Atlanta will win.”

The last person I interviewed was a Georgia State student. This was probably the best answer I got all day, because it was the most genuine answer I got all day. Isaiah Chrstie gave me permission to use his name when publishing the story as well.

Isaiah said, “It’s just so cool to see the city of Atlanta so energized and so unified. This is probably the most unified the city has been on... anything. Ever. It has made the city of Atlanta feel like a small town before a high school football game—everyone is together and everyone is ready. It’s awesome to see.”

Christie also said he is confident in a Falcons win on Sunday.

A city primed to erupt

While walking around downtown there was one thing that was incredibly clear: the city of Atlanta is ready. Just walking from block to block, you see cars go by with Falcons flags on their cars, a person with a Michael Vick jersey, a young kid with a Falcons hat on, and driving on I-75 there are billboards congratulating the Falcons on a great season and wishing them luck.

Speaking with people in the city, I got the sense that people are ready to put this narrative behind us. We’re ready to have a parade. We’re ready to bathe in confetti in downtown Atlanta. We’re ready to take off that “underdog” tag and establish ourselves as a bonafide force. Atlanta is pretty crazy on normal days, but I want to go ahead and let everyone know: the city is going to explode on Sunday night.

The days of fear and caution are gone. It’s time to reach the top. The team is ready, the coaches are ready, but more importantly, the city is ready.