I took three weeks off from my groudhopping adventure to enjoy an exciting honeymoon in the USA. Fortunately, I managed to include a trip to see the Atlanta Falcons v Green Packers at the Georgia team’s brand new stadium, during the break.
I saw Atlanta at Wembley in 2013, at my first NFL game. When our honeymoon itinerary meant we’d be in Atlanta on a Sunday night I anxiously awaited the fixtures announcement in April. Fortunately they had a home game, and it was against one of their main NFC rivals Green Bay.
Refreshments: $2 refillable soft drink, $5 beer
Star player: Devonta Freeman
Tickets were fairly easy to find, via Stub Hub, but prices were quite high as it was the Falcons first regular season game at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium. Prices are usually lower and ticket resale sites like Stub Hub seem to be more widely used across the pond and are part of team’s overall ticketing service.
I received the tickets via email a couple of days before the game and downloaded them via the free Falcons app. The app also provided lots of game-day information and advice on travel and food and drink provided at the stadium.
Getting to the Atlanta Falcons stadium
The new stadium is located downtown and easily reached from many of the city’s main hotels on foot or via public transport. Downtown Atlanta has a few attractions that may be worth visiting before a game.
There is one of America’s largest aquariums, The World of Coca Cola and the College Football Hall of Fame to name a few. We opted for the World of Coca Cola which was a fun way to kill a couple of hours. It included a room where you can sample all of the drinks, across the World that Coke own.
After we’d filled ourselves up on soft drinks we walked over to the new stadium. There was a large fan park outside with lots of activities and refreshment stands. There were also lots of things going on inside the stadium complex including music and official clothing stores.
The Atlanta Falcons experience
We picked up our refillable drinks and found our seats. On our seats were free Falcons hats and a game preview (programme). The programme contained the key info about the teams and a few adverts but had limited content. It was mostly full of short bios and pictures of everyone involved with the team. The players, coaching staff, and even the cheerleaders were all featured.
The game got underway with the riotous fanfare you’d expect at an NFL game. The Falcons owner appeared on the pitch to officially open the new stadium. A well-known (to the locals) saxophonist also played the national anthem.
The atmosphere was considerably better than I thought it would be. My first experience of watching American Football at Wembley was constantly punctuated by people getting up from their seats to get more food or drink. In Atlanta, however, people were much more involved with the action. The locals stood and cheered for every key bit of action. There was also plenty of, mostly friendly, interaction between fans of both sides.
The view was great even though we were quite high up. We were on top of the pitch and it felt closer than most equally sized stadiums in Europe. This could be because NFL pitches are smaller than our football surfaces. Food and drink were plentiful, even at half-time and the only thing I queued for was the toilet.
You often hear of the Americanisation of football in the UK with larger stadiums changing the overall experience of watching a game. There were some little touches evident in Atlanta, however, that improved the overall experience and helped create an atmosphere.
Atlanta Falcons claim the victory
Anyone that has seen a live NFL game will tell you it’s easier to watch in person (without all the adverts) as you don’t notice the stoppages as much. The game was entertaining from the beginning as both sides scored from their first possessions.
Atlanta used their talented and flexible offence to great affect and built up a bit of a cushion. The Green Bay quarterback, Aaron, Rodgers, looked like he had all the time in the World in the first quarter, but things soon changed. The hosts managed to apply some pressure in the second quarter and established control of the game. Freeman and Coleman made consistent dents in the visitors defence and Julio Jones was always on hand for larger gains.
At the beginning of the third quarter Atlanta scored directly from a turnover and established a lead they’d never relinquish. The visitors scored a few points in the final 15 minutes but it was too little too late and Atlanta beat their NFC rivals for the third time in two seasons.
I followed the NFL coverage on US TV before and after the game (it’s hard to escape from). Popular consensus seemed to be that Atlanta are showing signs of improvement from last season and could be Superbowl challengers again. Suggestions were, however, that the strongest teams might be in the AFC in the form of Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Denver and, defending champions, New England.