If I had started this by going over the list of those moments your first instinct would likely have been to scamper to the back button. That’s completely understandable.
The content of the list has been hashed out ceaselessly to the point where the names of those involved in the moments can supersede the moments themselves, and Brooks Conrad, Kyle Shanahan, Matthew Dellavedova and Sam Holbrook can independently trigger their own visceral responses. There’s no need to rehash the list, because each time the dang list is brought up it comes to the same god-forsaken conclusion; Atlanta is a city practically devoid of happy sports moments, making it a city devoid of happy sports fans.
And for that we’ve been labeled. We’re a bad sports town. Say it a thousand times over to get the full effect. The slur has nestled itself comfortably in the subconscious of the Atlanta sports fan’s psyche due to incessant use from the rest of the sports world.
Atlanta is a bad sports town.
It feels as if Atlanta has walked an Escher staircase in its attempts to get away from the phrase. Just when it reaches what any reasonable person would assume is the end, there it is, starting its walk back up the staircase.
We had heard that we were a bad sports town so often that we had no choice to start believing it ourselves. The phrase even made an initial assault on our new soccer team.
“Atlanta is getting a team? It won’t work there. It’s a bad sports town.”
To be honest I believed that. I couldn’t have been more excited for the team. Looking around, I didn’t see anyone else that felt the same. That was two years ago.
Atlanta United became a part of the city at the perfect time. The bad sports town moniker had bullied Atlanta fans into a corner. This decade, Atlanta fans have finally began to fight back.
The great trashing of Turner Field may not have been the turning point for Atlanta fandom but it’s unignorable as a moment that showed a national audience for the first time in a while that we, you know, actually cared.
It seemed as if years of frustration from being labeled as a cause for Atlanta’s minuscule amount of championships exploded in a big, trashy, cathartic haymaker to a national perception. We cared.
Atlanta fans have continued working to shed that label to varying degrees of success, but the frustration may be at an all-time high. There’s been one championship in 51 years of professional sports in Atlanta, the Braves are in the midst of a rebuild that feels impossibly slow, the Hawks...are trying, the Falcons ended their season with the definitive Atlanta game, and dang it if it doesn’t hurt just existing as Atlanta sports fan. It’s a recurring nightmare where you attempt to jump a gap and no matter how close you seem to get to the other side you know you’ll fall into the crevice at any moment. The Super Bowl embodied this on a scale we didn’t know was possible, and brought this city’s sports watching public to its lowest point in history.
And then, out of the ashes of 28-3, there was Atlanta United. A Deus Ex Machina of talent, excitement and -- most importantly -- winning the city could instantly latch on to. Game one, 57,000 people showed up to a beat up old stadium, unfurled an immensely appropriate Phoenix tifo before the game and produced a building rattling explosion of noise for the first goal in club history on national TV.
When the team began to lose, the fans threw trash.
There’s that frustration.
But then they sold out the next game. And the next. And a every one after that. And on top of that they’re LOUD. All the time. And now the team is winning. All the time.
In addition to playing fantastic soccer, the club and its fans have launched a full scale assault on that pesky label. The soccer-watching world has taken notice of Atlanta’s incredible support. The rest of the nation is taking notice too.
The town that couldn’t sell out Braves playoff games 15 years ago is now bringing 42,000 to midweek soccer games. The town whose teams can’t stop letting its fans down has another team primed to challenge for a championship against all expectations. The bad sports town where soccer would never succeed is in love with its club.
Enjoy today, not only because we’re probably going to thrash Orlando, but also because of what it represents.
Today, 72,000 people will pack into the greatest stadium in the world and break the record for MLS attendance. The first game at Bobby Dodd was a coming out party for a fan base. Today is a coronation of that same base as the best in the league.
It’s appropriate that many of those fans will be wearing black. At 4 p.m., there’s a funeral for a bad sports town. Dammit if we don’t deserve it.