The story behind Atlanta’s national anthem “KNIGHTS” tradition

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

24 years ago, one of Atlanta sports’ longest lasting traditions began -- or at least ignited -- with this guy.

That gloriously ponytailed gentleman in the suit and rose combo is Rick Morgan. Rick, a former Atlanta rock musician, spent much of his time in Atlanta singing, but his most lasting contribution to Atlanta culture are the seconds he decided not to sing. You can sometimes catch it faintly over the TV broadcast at Atlanta United games but you have to be there live to really experience it.

The National Anthem is as routine a happening as any at sporting events. Protests against police brutality excluded, the only time it’s ever notable is if something goes catastrophically wrong (like none of the mics working YYY) or if Whitney Houston is singing it. Much of the crowd absent-mindedly sings along to kill the time until the game starts and then forgets about it in perpetuity. At Atlanta United games this is still mostly true. The singalong is boring. The crowd mumbles while the singer does their best to win a Grammy push back kick off.

But then...

“...andthe rah kits red glare, thebombs brrrr sting in a-e-air, gay-ayve proof through the *SHOUTING*”

A portion of the crowd springs to life to scream...something. If you attended a game uninitiated to the tradition, you likely spent some time reckoning with some things after you got over the shock of someone yelling in your ear during the national anthem.

“Oh cool we’re yelling things. Yelling things is fun. Wait. What were they yelling? Unite? Nights? Knights? Ok cool, yeah, I’m going to yell Knights too……………….wait, why the hell are they yelling Knights?”

The answers all come back to a minor league hockey team and the rocker in his prom night best, Rick Morgan.

Before soccer came to the South to cohabitate with the Hawks, Braves and Falcons, hockey offered a fourth option to Atlanta sports fans. It was decidedly less successful.

The first edition of Atlanta hockey began in 1972 with the expansion, Atlanta Flames. After years and bunch of empty seats at the Omni, they left for Calgary. Hockey didn’t return until 1992 when the minor league International Hockey League (IHL) awarded Atlanta a new team to skate around the frozen floor of the Omni. The Atlanta Knights were born and brought Atlanta something the Flames never did: A winning team.

The Knights won the division in their inaugural season and attendance clung to around 8,000 fans per night. Somewhere in those 8,000 regulars, a scattered group of fans began to exchange the lyrics “Gave proof through the night” with “Gave proof through the KNIIIGHHTS!”

Rick Morgan was among those fans that first season. The following year Morgan became the permanent anthem singer for the Knights.

“I was in a rock n’ roll band and a friend of my was the marketing guy for the Atlanta Knights,” Morgan said in a phone interview last week. “He said, ‘Why don’t you come sing for opening night for 93-4 season?’ I did and they said ‘Can you do the whole weekend?’ and then they said ‘Can you do the whole season?”

While other singers may have shied away from 8,000+ fans shouting during the middle of their performance, Morgan outright encouraged it.

“I had gone to a couple of games at the end of the first season and a few of us were yelling “Knights” in the crowd” he said. “When I got to be the singer I just carried that into what I was doing. During the anthem I would hold up the mic and do it with them. It just kind of caught on.”

By the time the Knights reached the 1993-94 Turner Cup, the IHL a crowd of over 15,000 was fully prepared for their cue during the anthem. That crowd helped push the Knights to the first Atlanta professional championship since the Atlanta Chiefs of the North American Soccer League in 1968.

Rick Morgan continued to sing the anthem before every Knights game until the team left Atlanta in 1996 to make way for Atlanta’s second NHL team, the Atlanta Thrashers. Even with the Knights gone and Morgan moving away to Alabama, the national anthem still received the “Knights!” treatment.

And then, in 2011, the Thrashers left. “Knights!” seemed to leave with them. You could head to Gwinnett and hear a few shouts at the minor league hockey games but it never caught on with the other Atlanta teams. But six years after the Thrashers became the third Atlanta hockey team to be shipped off to Canada, Atlanta United began and, for whatever reason, “Knights!” returned from the dead.

Sometimes there’s fewer voices behind it than others, but it’s always there. Although Morgan doesn’t get behind the mic much anymore, he’s happy to know the tradition he reared 24 years ago has found life, even if it’s with the fanbase of a sport he’s not entirely familiar with.

“It pleases me,” Morgan said. “I’ve never been to a Major League Soccer game. I can’t say I’ve ever been to a soccer game. But it sounds pretty interesting, maybe I’ll have to go to Atlanta and check you guys out. And I guess if you want me to sing, I’ll come do it.”

Comments

Approved

As one who grew up in Nashville with the Nashville Knights having the same tradition, this brings together a bit of my growing up and adult life. I love that it exists and proudly yell it at every home game.

thank you

i have been wondering whether i heard KNIGHTS at a predators game because of the Nashville Knights or because the Preds were playing the Jets and Thrashers fans had made the trip..

I kinda like it too and I think those in opposition are missing the point...

It’s not about paying tribute to a now-defunct minor league hockey team. It’s about paying tribute to Atlanta sports history and its fans. Soccer is full of quirky history and traditions and this is one that is unique to Atlanta. The spirit that existed among those Knights fans back in the 90’s is similar to the spirit that exists among ATL UTD fans today. And it doesn’t matter that it was a hockey tradition. To me it’s no different than having Vic Beasely or some Braves player doing the Golden Spike in pre-game.

It’s unique to Atlanta and it’s harmless fun. I say keep it alive.

Go Preds!

I yelled it at Thrashers games but it doesn’t belong at United games or Preds games IMO. The Las Vegas Golden Knights now do it though.

It SHOULD have died decades ago

So thanks, Sam, thank you SO MUCH, for shining a spotlight on this.

The Atlanta Knights have been gone for over 20 years. I questioned the wisdom of even doing the Knights yell during Thrashers games. The Knights were a minor league hockey team. I felt that it was disrespectful to the Thrashers for so many to do it. It made Atlanta look like idiots, to chant that for a team that didn’t even exist any more. But by the end of the Thrashers, I still didn’t like it, but I thought that maybe the Thrashers actually deserved it. The Knights used to make the playoffs and actually won the IHL championship once. The Thrashers went to the playoffs once and never won a game there.

But folks, this is soccer. It’s NOT hockey. WAY past time for this stupid chant to die. But hey, if you want to give the rest of the country yet another reason to mock us and hate, yes, for sure please let more people chant this for a team that died over 20 years ago.

Wait.

Atlanta United is a soccer team?? I was so confused, no wonder my articles suck.

Make this Green!!!!

You're welcome

It’s a unique part of Atlanta culture and Atlanta is at its best when it’s unique. Who cares if it’s not hockey? It’s not about what sport it came from it’s about doing something original and solely "Atlanta". The idea that you think doing something different makes us joke is the reason it’s easy to make jokes about our fan base. "Plastic", "Boring", it all comes from this stupid gatekeeping mentality that keeps the stuff we do as fans so stale.

How about the cell phone flash light thing that happened during the playoff game? I really like that one.

That’s now everywhere

That was fun and good. But again, most of this comment section is acting like we can’t yell Knights because it’s related to another team. UGA has been doing the cell phone flashlight thing in the fourth quarter for a few years now. Heck, the Braves were doing the flashlights with the chop WEEKS before United lit up the stadium.

Thanks for the history on this

I’ve heard people do it at GT games since (at least) 2004 and had no idea what it was because I’m not a native.

I'm not a fan of this tradition

I’m in favor of singing the national anthem the way it was written. (Actually, I’m in favor of NOT signing the national anthem before games; I’d rather sing "God Bless America," but that is off topic.) If we are going to sing the song, let’s do it correctly. Now, I would love it if the crowd sings it a cappella with the performer just starting us off and helping us out a bit!

Went to nearly every game and never noticed. Huh. Interesting article nonetheless, I love the pieces on obscure parts of Atlanta sports history.

That’s because like 12 people do it. Or at least that was true. We’ll see if it still is true after this.

And by the way, the Atlanta Knights moved – BY CHOICE – from Atlanta to Quebec City YEARS before the Thrashers even started play. So those of you who still think this is awesome can decide if you still think it’s worth "honoring" a team that flipped Atlanta the bird and left by choice.

Lol. "Years". My favorite part of this comment is how you definitely read the article.

Atlanta Knights final game – IHL first round playoffs 1996, which would probably put it in April 1996 or at the absolute latest, May 1996.
Atlanta Thrashers first game – Oct. 2, 1999

There’s over 3 years difference between those dates so it looks like a reasonably good definition of "years" to me.

The Knights didn’t move to "make room for the Thrashers". That was just their excuse. The owners got pissy because it became clear that they wouldn’t be accepted as NHL owners so while they could have stayed in Atlanta for up to 3 more seasons before the Thrashers ever took the ice, they chose to take the puck and go home, so to speak. They actually moved to Quebec City a full year before the NHL even announced an expansion team in Atlanta (July 1997) so agree to disagree on your bad writing that the Knights moved to "make room" for a team that officially didn’t even exist when they bailed.

They tore down the Omni in ‘97 for the express purpose of making a venue for an NHL team. That was well established as a prerequisite for Turner to get a team and the plan to tear it down was in place before the Knights were to begin play in the 96-97 season. What a ridiculous idea to think that a minor league team should stay when they’re so obviously being replaced.

Stupid

Went to Knights games as a kid and I was a big Thrashers fan (Wearing my Playoff Scarf right now in this stupid cold). I was all for the "Knights" chant at Thrashers games. I liked that the fans showed pride in the city’s hockey history. But this is Soccer! I don’t see any need to pay tribute to a Minor League Hockey team that has been gone for over 20 years. Let it go. The NHL showed that it doesn’t care about Atlanta. I have moved on and don’t care about Ice Hockey.

Are you guys sure that Atlanta United isn’t a hockey team? Should I quit asking players about their slapshots after the game? Please help.

Let’s start doing the Chop too!

Perfect

I’ve heard the chop a couple of times at games and I hear at concerts and pretty much anywhere else I’ve been to an even in Atlanta. It’s as Atlanta as "Knights". No one is complaining about singing "We Ready" and the Falcons did that long before United. You’re acting like the whole point of calling a team "United" is to exclude other parts of Atlanta culture as you see fit.

I just hate the Braves

can’t we all hate the Braves?

I can’t say I hate the Braves, but something happened last year that made me feel sore and let’s say that my love (more like tolerance) for baseball went down a few notches…

So I was at this Guston’s bar close to home. They have several big screens at the bar. It’s a typical L shaped bar and I was sitting at the long part, a bit to the right of the middle, facing a big screen right in front of me. The bar was half full. They were playing a Braves game that non of the patrons was watching and a AUFC game was just starting. So the bartenders set the AUFC game on a big screen on the wall to my right, so that I had to turn my head almost 90 degrees to watch (I was finishing dinner). Feeling like conditions could improve and that given the circumstances I actually deserved a better view, I asked the bartenders to put the AUFC game in front of me, since nobody was watching anything anyway. They looked at each other and then I got my answer: "We can’t do that because the owner is a big Braves fan and every time the Braves are playing they have to be in the main screens" Two minutes later I asked for my bill and went home. On my way to the car several curse words placed before and after "Braves" and "baseball" were said. I still have the bitter taste of "rejection by bartender" and "defeated by baseball" since then.

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