Essay: An Evolving Sports City, Atlanta Chases a Championship


Ryan Cameron, 47, an Atlanta radio personality and a season-ticket holder since 1998, explained that phenomenon like this:

“There are people who will fight you about these Falcons,” he said. “But we’re not trying to prove to you that we’re so crazy. For us, it’s just being loud. We don’t have to brag. It’s Southern charm.”

Still, Atlanta’s gentility, a core virtue, would give way to utter delirium on Sunday — and for weeks and months thereafter — if the Falcons were to win.

This city has been teased before, by those Braves behemoths of the ’90s, by the Falcons in 1998, even by the Hawks, who went 60-22 two seasons ago before losing in the conference finals. Counting the futility of its two departed N.H.L. franchises, the Flames and Thrashers, Atlanta can claim only one championship — Braves, 1995 — across a combined 167 completed seasons.

Pellom McDaniels, who played the final two of his eight N.F.L. seasons with the Falcons, suggested that a victory would register a psychological impact — an acknowledgment of the city’s trajectory, from aspirational to grown-up and mature.

During the 1996 Olympics, and in the years that followed, Atlanta seemed eager to convince others that it was cosmopolitan, sophisticated, worth exploring. Even as it grapples with its identity now, reckoning with gentrification and redevelopment forces that are at once eroding and improving neighborhoods, Atlanta projects a different image — of comfort and confidence in its direction, whatever that is.

“It would be almost like a beacon,” said McDaniels, now the curator of African-American collections at Emory, said of a potential title. “That we’re working together as a community, and the success the Falcons have experienced is our success — that we’re doing something right.”

The term Mitchell used was runway, a point of departure for a nascent sports city that has added a Major League Soccer franchise set to begin play next season. The Falcons are thriving, interest is soaring, and from Mitchell’s perspective, he sure likes the view.

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