Atlanta, I have come to confess my crimes to you: I prefer Pepsi to Coke, I fly American over Delta, and most importantly, I am a fan of the New Orleans Saints. So, of course, I found myself at the Saints-Falcons game yesterday amidst the Georgia Dome’s crimson sea, a traitor to my current home.
It’s a rivalry that goes back to the 1960s, when both teams came into existence a year apart from each other. For most of that time, it has been something more exclusive to Atlanta and New Orleans. It wouldn’t be until the rise of New Orleans head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees that the rest of the nation began to take notice.
It was New Orleans’ 2006 home opener against Atlanta–the first Saints game played in the Superdome post-Katrina. The nation tuned in to see a city rebuilt, and instead saw Steve Gleason famously block the Falcon’s punt, leading to a Saints touchdown and the eventual win over Atlanta.
To be fair, as much as it pains me to say, the Falcons have answered back since those days quite strongly. Head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan have developed the team into a strong rival, playoff contender, and made the NFC South much more interesting year after year. And, as I was reminded many, many times on Sunday afternoon, you won. Good for you. I attribute it to Samuel L. Jackson’s fanspiration videos.
If you didn’t know better, you might look at the Saints-Falcons rivalry and think the two cities are perpetually inches away from war. We like to heckle each other, spitting fire and venom, trying to draw ire from the other side. For Saints and Falcons fans alike, this is all in good fun. It is a special unseen brotherhood that few will admit and others will simply be ignorant of. At the end of the day, most of us know it’s more of a game than a Game of Thrones.
True to this, my time behind enemy lines in the Georgia Dome was mainly civil with a good bit of rousing. I received more than a few loud taunts and was able to answer back freely, flanked by an impressive number of black-and-gold guards. That’s the nice thing about this rivalry–whether you’re from NOLA or the ATL, the other team’s temple is only seven hours away by car or just down the line via Amtrak and Megabus. So you get what seems to be a pretty evenly split crowd feeding off each other’s quips.
I sat on the visitor side of the stadium with a fair number of Saints and Falcons fans around me. We’d yell at each other over every play, firing back and forth, trying to hex each other or enchant our heroes. At one point, a black Saints balloon landed squarely in the lap of a Falcons supporter–he promptly popped it.
As the tensions mounted in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, both those in red and in gold stood up. My section was quick to mock each other’s team but was just as quick to exchange kudos. When we reached overtime and the Saints lost (yeah, yeah, I remember, Atlanta), Falcons fans exclaimed “We dat!” referencing the popular “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?” chant. The corridors echoed their mantras as we left. All around me, Saints fan were quick to remind Atlantans to come on down in December, to the “real dome” as one fan put it, for the rematch game.
To me, this is the rivalry that makes football great. The fans on both sides, for the most part, are sharp-witted, loyal, and good sports. They know we’re all just two sides of the same coin. They say that Atlanta is the city that’s too busy to hate–even us Saints fans.