If you hung out by the main entrance to Atlanta’s new Mercedes Benz Stadium on Sunday night, you’d hear a constant refrain “woaaaah” or maybe a “now that’s cool,” and even an occasional “holy s***” as fans walked in and glimpsed their team’s first ever regular season game in their new stadium.
A 1.5 billion dollar stadium can have that kind of effect on people.
It was an appropriate time for expletives as Falcons fans got to witness their team play an open air game at home for the first time since 1991. The roof was open on Mercedes Benz Stadium, a late surprise that the Falcons unveiled to their fans this past week. The roof had caused some trouble for the construction crews, leaving some to speculate if the roof would even be ready for the start of the season. But to the delight of the 70,000 in attendance, the roof opened, and the hot Atlanta night embalmed the city’s newest marvel.
Those lucky enough to get a ticket got the red carpet treatment as they strolled into the stadium and enjoyed that ultra-rare new stadium smell. They shared the stadium with NFL royalty; commissioner Roger Goodell and the NBC Primetime crew were on hand to officially open owner Arthur Blank’s masterpiece. Even Herschel Walker showed up at halftime to give away a car.
On the field, the Falcons gave their fans even more to be happy about. The offense returned to 2016 form, with Matt Ryan directing a lethal squad of playmakers around him to slice up the Packers defense and earn a comfortable 34-23 win. It was a full-team performance that should do enough to silence the whispers that maybe the Falcons were a one-year phenomenon.
But for tonight at least, the excitement wasn’t on the field. It was on the faces of those walking around the stadium with wide eyes, mouths open, and cameras out. It was a long time coming for Falcons fans, and one many can not believe is finally here. Talk to some of the older generation, and you’ll hear the horror stories of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, a hunk of steel that the Falcons called home from 1966-1991. It was in all respects, a pretty unremarkable stadium that housed an equally unremarkable franchise in those days.
But fast forward a few decades and the Falcons are one of the NFL’s premiere teams, playing in what they hope will become the NFL’s premiere venue. This year, the Falcons will play five games in primetime – only one team plays more. One of those games will be the all-important rematch vs the Patriots with the chance to get some slight revenge on the 28-3 jokes they’ve had to endure.
For Arthur Blank though, the goal is to turn the Falcons into more than just a team, the goal is to become a national brand. One that’s inescapable like the Cowboys, Steelers, or Patriots. It’s still a ways off, but as the Falcons poured it on against the Packers in their mammoth new stadium, you couldn’t help but get the sense that it may be getting closer.