It all came down to this. Two years of planning and preparation, a week of concerts, parties, award ceremonies, charity events, and press conferences—all to culminate in one of the biggest and most-talked about sporting events in the country. All eyes were on Atlanta, but more importantly, all of Atlanta’s eyes were on Atlanta. How would we fare? Would the weather throw us for a loop like it did in 2000? (It tried with a threat of ice on Tuesday, but by Sunday, temperatures sat comfortably in the 60s.) Would Mercedes-Benz’s roof malfunction? (It didn’t, opening on schedule for Gladys Knight’s national anthem and the Thunderbird fly-over before closing for the game itself.) Could MARTA and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport handle the traffic? (They did.) Would the road traffic be awful? (It was downtown, but let’s be real, that was unavoidable.)
All things considered, Atlanta put on quite a show, and when it was time for The Big Show, fans began trickling into Centennial Olympic Park well before 2 p.m., when Mercedes-Benz’s gates opened. The Park’s Super Bowl LIVE fan fest activities had ended the night before, but ESPN was still broadcasting live from their tent, and the mammoth plastic Lombardi Trophy erected in the center of the park still served as a coveted photo opp. Some people had game day tickets, some just wanted to see the spectacle. Many with tickets wore them around their necks in a clear souvenir pouch sold all week at the gift shops, with a red and blue lanyard declaring, “I WAS THERE.”
Patriots fans vastly outnumbered Rams fans, and Mercedes-Benz Stadium was packed to brim before kickoff—the official game attendance was announced as 70,081—as fans slowly circumnavigated the 100-level, standing in lines for the gift shop or to snag a $2 hot dog. But for all the spectacle, for all the pomp and circumstance, at the end of the day, the Super Bowl is indeed a football game. It wasn’t too unlike any other Falcons game, other than the fact that the field colors were different, that black curtains covered the Mercedes car near the stadium’s main entrance and pieces of Falcons decor, that if you were lucky, you might spot someone famous in the crowd, and that the halftime show involved Billboard 200 Chart-topping artists and enough pyrotechnics to fill the stadium with fog on into the fourth quarter.
But watching videos on the halo board, glancing over to the stadium’s windows as the sun set over the downtown Westin, and sipping a $4 refillable Coke in a souvenir cup, it still felt authentically like a football game in Atlanta. And not the most exciting game—a defensive lock by both teams meant the first touchdown wasn’t scored until the fourth quarter, with the Patriots ultimately winning 13-3. Then, as quickly as it came, it was gone. Pop-up NFL gift shops disappeared. Banners came down. Out-of-town fans, media, and celebrities went home. Onward to the Final Four, the last chapter in Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s first trilogy of national sports championships. —Myrydd Wells