From the break of dawn until kickoff Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons faithful gathered under drizzly skies for a final tailgating sendoff for the Georgia Dome. Like all Falcons tailgates, the scene was a raucous melting pot—and one quintessentially Atlanta. But on this day, fans brimmed with bold predictions and high hopes for a team and city long deprived of Super Bowl moxie. Their wishful thinking came to pass: Halfway through the third quarter, Atlanta’s victory over the Packers was assured. Next stop? Houston, and Super Bowl LI. —as told to Josh Green
Nino Ramos, Marietta
We come as a group. We bring in about 30 or 40. There’s a limited number of people that can buy tickets, so we prefer to watch [on television] out here. We’ve been doing it about five years, all during the Mike Smith era. We consider this family.
We’re going to Houston. That’s a guarantee. We’re already planning. We’re going to rent out an RV. We’re going to tailgate down there to support the Falcons. This is our year.
Hanisha Weathers, Union City
The first game I saw was like four years ago, when the Falcons played the Saints, and we won. Ever since then, I’ve been a fan. I never did like football! That’s my favorite memory of the Dome.
We tailgate every Sunday, and we get out here early—we got the fish fry, the chicken fry, the barbecue, two big flat-screens, so we’re going to have a good time. Rain, sleet, or snow don’t stop us.
They said we can’t make the Super Bowl. I’m tired of hearing, “They’re gonna get this far and let you down.” We’re going to the Super Bowl, and we’re going to win. No if, ands, or buts about it. Today, one last time for the Dome. There it is!
Brian McCarthy, Carrolton
I’ve been coming to games since the late ‘70s as a little kid. And I’ve probably missed five games at the Dome.
My dream has always been to see us go to the Super Bowl from our own home stadium. That’s why I think today—it’s got to be. The Dome’s last game ever. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay. All the history. I may cry—I’ve never really cried. It’ll be emotional, for sure, to go out on top.
Mario Hogan, Conyers
We show up, have a good time, eat, drink, that’s it. The people make it great. You see Green Bay fans right there—everybody gets along. You got to be here early to get a good spot. It costs $60 to park right here.
If they make the Super Bowl, this place is going to go crazy. I’ll tell you right now. It’s been a long time. I was here the last time they made it—we partied.
I can’t wait for the new stadium. It’s going to be the best stadium in the NFL. We’ll miss the Dome, yeah. No matter what the temperature is outside, it’s always comfortable in there. And very loud!
Barry and Andrea Sours, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Andrea: It’s my first time at the Dome. We drove down. Took about five hours. My old roommate is from Wisconsin, so she made me watch them, and I became a fan because I knew all the players. And I just kind of continued to like them.
Barry: I grew up a Falcons fan in a little town not too far from Murphy, North Carolina. This is our team. There’s quite a few [Falcons fans] still up there.
Growing up, we used to come [to Falcons games at the Dome]. It was just a big event. Coming from where we were at—there was nothing. It was nice.
On the weekends, I [give her hell] about the Packers. Yep.
Bobby Stephens, Gainesville, and Veronica Wheeler
Bobby: I paid $849 for two tickets today. That’s eight! Forty! Nine!
My favorite Dome memories were seeing No. 21—Deion Sanders—take a punt and run it all the way back. Deion was off the chain. He turned it into a show. He made football into a show. Ain’t nothing like Deion.
We gonna win the Super Bowl. We used to play conservative—now we don’t play conservative at all. You can’t touch that thing. That’s a machine!
Chase Rainey, Powder Springs
I raise these pigs, a Yorkshire breed. They’re three and a half months old and about 100 pounds. I did all of this for today.
This is the heart of Atlanta today. I’ve been here since about 8 a.m.
The minute they won against Seattle, I started calling—tickets, tickets, tickets. I didn’t care. They didn’t go on sale for 30 minutes after the game—oh my gosh! I thought “There’s no way, it’s sold out.” But I got [me and my girlfriend] tickets. Thought we might as well come out, do it up the most.
Rhonda Whiters, Stockbridge
I’m from Florida. I came to college here in 1987, and I’ve been a Falcons fan ever since. I’m more than diehard. I’ve been a season ticket holder for the last 10 years.
It’s bittersweet, but this is the best way to say goodbye to the Dome. It’s like a getting a divorce, but we’re going to something better. One door closes and a bigger one opens. I’ve already got my tickets at [Mercedes-Benz].
Carolyn “BirdLady” Freeman, Macon
I was a cop, and I had an on-the-job injury: I got rear-ended, broke my neck and my back, and I got double pneumonia with a viral infection. I was on life support for four months. They told my family I was brain-dead. They pronounced me dead four times.
I had actually been on my deathbed, and I saw [former Falcons running back] Gerald Riggs having a surgery that they said I’d never recover from. I called my girlfriend, said, “Listen, this pity party is over. I’m going to start going to Falcons games.”
[After a game in 1998, I saw former running back] Jamal Anderson standing, talking, but he wouldn’t pay me any attention. Finally, [former linebacker] Jessie Tuggle pulled him over to me, and I said “I want you to teach me the Dirty Bird.” He looked at me, so sad, and I said, “Don’t feel sorry for me—teach me to dance!” So I threw the crutches, grabbed the rail, and Jamal says, “You dance.” I started flapping one arms, shaking my butt, and they started dying laughing. Jesse said, “That’s your Dirty Bird.” Jamal said, “Naw, that’s our BirdLady.” That’s it. I’ve been that ever since.
This year, with my nonprofit BirdLady Cares, I collected toys for 4,200 kids, sent a shipment to the Dominican Republic. I’m in the middle of a shoe drive for Haiti. The mayor gave me a proclamation for “BirdLady Day.”
I’m so excited. This is our year. I had to start my makeup over three times today. Too many tears. This is the last home game in the place where I was born.
My favorite tailgate was after the Seahawks win [in 2012], the first playoff win [for Matt Ryan]. You couldn’t even walk on Northside Drive; everybody was partying. We were stuck here for three hours. When you set your tailgate back up again after game—those are the best games.
We’re all natives of Atlanta. Thirty-five years [of Falcons support]. The Vick years were the highlight. The Carolina game, when Vick jumped from the 10-yard line all the way into the end zone—that was the best.
[A Super Bowl] trip would be life-changing for all of us. This is our year.
Jarvis Davis, Atlanta
I’m born and raised, a Westside native. Vine City. The Falcons fans make us proud, make the neighborhood want to do the right thing. There’s a transition with the new stadium. A lot of people are really excited about what Arthur Blank is doing. He’s really changing the culture of the Westside. New jobs. Westside Works is doing an amazing job. A lot of events are starting to happen.
My favorite Falcons memory would be—you know what, it’s this day. The last game in the Dome, and we’re one step away from the Super Bowl. How amazing can it get? It’s weird how it happens—like they had a plan.
Alessandro Maldonado, Lawrenceville, age 10
The Falcons are amazing—best team in the NFL. We’ve never won the Super Bowl, but this year we’re going to win it. We’re been playing really good, and Matt Ryan has been playing better over the years. We lost Roddy White, but we can still win.
Hal Hurston, Buckhead
We’ve been tailgating [in Lot M] probably six years. Before that, we were in The Gulch, ever since the Dome [opened]. Pro tailgates are a lot different than college tailgates. NFL tailgates are, uh, parental guidance is suggested. The Gulch gets really wild.
Probably my biggest memories of the Dome don’t really involve the Falcons. Where the World Congress Center is, that was my office for pretty much a month and a half during the summer of 1996. That whole two-week experience of the Olympics was just, you know—the gymnastics, the Dream Team II basketball. I’ve been to almost every SEC championship game that was played here. A lot of memories.
I haven’t been in [Mercedes-Benz Stadium], but I’ve bought my PSL. I’m excited about it, but I do kind of have mixed feelings. It’s just a shame to see a perfectly good building get torn down, but then again, we’re in Atlanta—this is what we do. We tear down things all the time to build something else.