A friend and I drove over from college and sat in cheap seats to watch my Falcons and his Bears in September 2002, a game that meant more about the future than anything.
Michael Vick was making his first home start at quarterback for Atlanta, and it was also the debut of Arthur Blank as an owner.
Blank promised a world-class organization for a world-class city. He set the tone with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra taking the field. A symphony orchestra, on a football field, along with Jo Dee Messina!
And the Falcons — well, the Falcons led at halftime but let the Bears come back and win, so clearly the Rankin Smith days couldn’t be excommunicated overnight.
It also took quite a while to get Blank the stadium he wanted. The Georgia Dome, by all accounts, never was Blank’s favorite place, even if it was the house that Deion Sanders built just a decade earlier.
Blank didn’t get to be a billionaire by accident, and he brought his business acumen to bear on state and city officials who eventually cleared a path to a new stadium in place of the — well, not really “old” one, but at least the previous one.
That brought us to last Sunday night and the official debut of Mercedes-Benz Stadium (if you don’t count two Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games, three Atlanta United Football Club matches and two Falcons preseason games).
Blank was all-smiles as he cut the ribbon, standing with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed 20 minutes before the Falcons dismantled the Green Bay Packers.
World class, indeed.
My view from the top of The Benz — although “Stankonia Dome” proffered by the Dirty South Soccer blog has a pretty nice ring to it too — confirms this to be one of the nicest sports palaces you’re going to find. Where the Braves’ SunTrust Park strikes you with its charm and all the amenities nearby at The Battery, Mercedes-Benz Stadium knocks you down with its glitz and immensity, all in red and black.
(The eye can’t find a speck of the early 1990s Georgia Dome teal, which is a real blessing.)
Local Falcons fans I spoke with through with through The News’ Facebook page said they enjoyed the experience of the Sept. 17 opener.
Lindsey Annese Loew sat in a suite with her husband, Robby, after he won tickets in a golf tournament. She called it “an experience of a lifetime.”
“The stadium is very unique and captures the experience of the city very well,” she said. “It was an experience I recommend everyone to do if able!”
Adam Keith Satterfield said he thought the game — a 34-23 Falcons victory — was “awesome.”
“Everyone was friendly and was enjoying the games,” he said. “Even though there were a few Packers fans around, everyone treated everyone with respect and was enjoying the game.”
He gave credit to the stadium staff and said the event was safe. I’d agree, even with riding MARTA after midnight.
Shakila Henderson-Baker also reported a great experience. The only caveat was thinking it might have been too warm a night to play an open-air game. Temperatures were in the upper 70s in downtown Atlanta even into the second half.
“They should have waited for late fall to do that,” she said.
I wonder if they might not in later years. I think there was some excitement about finally playing an open-air game. Remember, Blank’s first plan was to build an open-air stadium for the Falcons and to keep the Georgia Dome for events that needed enclosed space. (That would have kept the cost far below the $1.5 billion or so where it ended up for Mercedes-Benz Stadium.) Opening the roof last Sunday gave the Falcons their first open-air home game since December 1991 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
On the plus side, Henderson-Baker said lines to enter Mercedes-Benz Stadium moved much faster than those at the Georgia Dome.
So, the grade from the east side visitors looks to be a consistent A for the new stadium. The grade for the Falcons is yet to be written, but their performance against the Packers looked to score pretty well too.
David Clemons is the editor and publisher of The Covington News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @scoopclemons.