Our Atlanta: the team, the city, the culture.
Written by Kaedus Hines.
Photos by Shrodrick Spikes
This isn't for the gentrifiers in Old 4th Ward. This isn't for the transplants who have worn opponents' colors into our dome for years, rooting against the team that represents their adopted home. This isn't for the indigenous Atlantans that decided to desert the team after Vick's turmoil, or worse, chose long ago to hop on the bandwagon of a more storied franchise instead of staying true to their own. And this for damn sure isn't for anyone who thinks the Atlanta Streetcar is a good idea. This is for Atlanta, the real Atlanta. The So So Def billboard on 75/85 Atlanta. The Atlanta that remembers when the Underground was more than just... whatever it is now. The "how the hell did we get the Olympics?" Atlanta. The Fulton County Stadium and the Omni Atlanta. The Dirty Birds Atlanta.
As the Falcons prepare to play in their second Super Bowl, the atmosphere in Atlanta is far different then it was for their first appearance. The city and the team have both experienced changes over the last 18 years, ones that mirror one another in multiple ways.
In 1998, Atlanta was a team, and a city, looking for respect on a national level, something that was often overlooked. All eyes were turned here, fans included, as our Dirty Birds pulled off one of the greatest upsets in NFL history in the NFC Championship game, only to suffer unceremonious defeat in the Super Bowl. We couldn't recapture that magic on the field, but we kept a bit of it in the city.
Over the next decade, Atlanta and the Falcons gained the notoriety they sought after. As the Atlanta hip hop scene flourished, The Falcons pushed forward with the most electrifying player in the NFL, Michael Vick. The city grew into an international epicenter for business, culture, and media. We went from being a surprise underdog to being superstar overachievers. However, these expectations did not harvest the desired results. The team struggled with inconsistency and scandal, as the city handled similar issues in its transition to become an international metropolis.
In 2008 the Falcons drafted Matt Ryan and began their ascension to what will hopefully culminate with hoisting that Lombardi tomorrow. Over the past 9 seasons, the team has gone through a major overhaul in image, personnel, and public opinion. The Falcons had to shed themselves of the negativity surrounding the team following the Vick era in favor of a new, more polished persona. The same can be said for a city that dealt with grade school cheating scandals, expanding tourist attractions, and the mishandling of "Snowpocalypse." The city has been enveloped in a period of transition in efforts to shed itself of its old image as well.
The Falcons played their final game in the fabled Georgia Dome on January 1, 2017. As part of the closing ceremony, Michael Vick returned to the field, #7 on his back and all, during the halftime festivities. It was a moving sight to anyone who has seen what this team has been through over the past two decades. It represented an appreciation for where we have come from and a connection to where we are going as a franchise.
The city of Atlanta could learn a lot from this, as it's going through a critical time in urban development and gentrification. The Falcons themselves are a part of the act, tearing up historic streets and churches to make space for their new monolithic stadium due to open next year. We can move forward and reach never before seen new heights, but we mustn't forget where we have been on the path to where we are going.
The ever-expanding transient population of Atlanta has given the impression over the years to the rest of the sports world that it is a bad sports town, as most of these transplants brought their pre-established fanhoods with them. Decades marred by futility for the first 30 years or so of Falcons history have also contributed to the lack of team spirit around this city in the past as well. There are but a chosen few that have truly been through hell and back as Falcons fans that deserve to see the glory we will witness Sunday night.
THIS IS FOR US.
Kaedus Hines. is an Atlanta native, Falcons fan, and artist. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @Kaedushines
Shrodrick Spikes is an Atlanta native, artist, and designer. For more on his work, visit his website www.shrodrickspikes.com and follow him on Instagram at @shrodrick