Written by DJ Johnson
Photos by Shrodrick Spikes
This goes past a rivalry. This is more than just bragging right for 365 days. It’s about Identity. Who are we if this is not our own? What will we become?
“… Super Bowl XLVII, y’all (Falcons fans) don’t appreciate stuff like that. Arthur Blank built that for US so we could show y’all how to win a championship in ATL.” When my coworker said this to me last week, it struck a different nerve than her normal hatred filled rants. A realization hit me that I never considered and it made my heart drop like never before.
The last three decades of Falcons football have been an emotional cluster fuck. A series of the HIGHEST HIGHS followed by the most devastating lows a football fan can endure. During the forgettable 90’s, we actually had a Super Bowl run.
We were victimized by John Elway in Super Bowl XXII, and the 2000s were stained with the Vick debacle. The “20-teens” (2013-present) were supposed to be ours. Our time. Our era. But it hasn’t been. (Notice how I didn’t even mention the most recent Super Bowl loss. It still hurts dammit.)
This is a story of supposition - when you open your doors to your displaced neighbor and they try to take over your shit .
What we face now seems like a twisted version of manifest destiny, or sports colonialism. The Saints are winning. But this time, it's not about the two games we play annually. It’s about rights. It’s about a claim of territory. Whether we realize it or not, Mercedes-Benz Stadium is the battle zone. Super Bowl is the day. And we don’t even have a chance to fight them off.
What’s at stake here is the feeling that the city is truly not our own anymore. Only 37 percent of Atlanta residents are native ATLiens. For the most part, that’s where the Falcons fan base lies. Strangely, not everyone FROM Atlanta cheers for the home team. It’s been estimated that 45,000-80,000 New Orleans natives now call Atlanta home, post-Katrina. ALL of those heauxs, even the ones who never followed football before relocating, are Aints fans (although a lot of them were Dallas Cowboys fans before Drew Brees came to town, but I’m not mentioning that today).
The devastation of Hurricane Katrina is still unimaginable. I remember seeing pictures of locals trapped on their roofs and in boats, and thousands being housed inside of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. That city still hasn’t completely recovered, so it’s understandable why many residents never went back. The following year, the Saints marched on to win the Super Bowl. It seemed like the football gods smiled on that city and said, “It's your time”.
Now, that time seems to be running a little long, Mr. Football God. The city of Atlanta CANNOT emotionally stand a New Orleans championship… won in Atlanta... in a building that has the SAME NAME as the stadium in New Orleans. Especially since Saints fans revel in the Falcons misfortunes. On a trip to New Orleans, it’s very common to see banners, signs and graphics that display the score of the devastating Super Bowl loss to New England (There. I mentioned it).
And we’re still happy to embrace transplant Saints fans. However, in making room for our new rival brothers and sisters, we were not prepared for the measure of colonialism that followed.
What will it mean for Atlanta - having thoroughly prepared for this moment for the last decade - only to see the New Orleans Saints play in and possibly win the Super Bowl in Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium?
Saints fans line Northside Drive during home games and even tailgate during Falcons games. Is this a sense of ownership, entitlement, or just good neighborly camaraderie? My vote is for the latter. It adds to the Sunday football rivalry in the city. But how will these moods change, if the Saints win the Big Game, right there on NorthSide Drive? Will that section become the new New Orleans? Will they second line down Walker Street on Sundays? Will there be hand grenade booths at Pascals? We’ll see. But with gentrification already snatching away our cultural identity, I’m scared to imagine what it will possibly mean (in the long term) for a Saints fan if they win it all… in Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium.
Just imagine; we work with Saints fans, we now hang out with Saints fans. Some of us even find ourselves dating (even married to) Saints fans. We risk raising a house divided. Kids born in Atlanta but raised in “Sainthood”, all because one parent feels like they have a measure of claim to our city. That’s UnATLien.