Friday, November 22, 2013

New Orleans Saints 17 at Atlanta Falcons 13 - November 21, 2013

Although I am not a true member of the media, my work with Stadium Journey has allowed me to contact teams to request a media credential or a ticket for the games on my trip. Some clubs are happy to help with a freebie, while others respond with an apology as the game I am attending is sold out or complimentary tickets are not available. I certainly do not expect a ticket but on a trip like this, every little bit helps. so it is worth asking. For the 20 games where I needed a ticket, I emailed a member of the team's media relations in advance of the game, and in each case, I received a reply. Until now. For some reason, the Falcons felt that somebody driving to all 32 NFL stadiums is not worthy of even a token response. I was actually quite annoyed by this until I entered the stadium. Then I realized that it wasn't just me who was treated with a lack of respect, but the entire fan base.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let's take a few steps back. I like to arrive at the stadium early to experience the pregame atmosphere. Around 3:30 p.m, a full 5 hours before game time, there was already a large contingent of fans of both teams around The Georgia Dome and roaming downtown. The stadium has its own MARTA stop, but I prefer to use Peachtree Center, which allows you to walk a few blocks and pass by Centennial Olympic Park.

When you approach this way along Andrew Young Blvd, you will reach the Georgia International Plaza, which is where the pregame party is held. There are a couple of dozen sponsor booths here, and you can grab a beer and try your luck at a few games to pick up a free t-shirt or some other useless swag.

You will notice the Rise Up signs everywhere, that is Atlanta's slogan. Still, it doesn't mean it's OK to give wedgies to Saints players!

You can walk around the entire stadium, but you'll have to take an elevator or ramp down from here as there are two entry levels. Ticket windows are down below between Gates A and D (you can also find a few resellers here) but there isn't much else. If you complete the circle, you'll take stairs back up to the plaza. Note that there are upper and lower C and D gates, which makes a difference when exiting the stadium. In particular, if you are going to walk back to MARTA at Peachtree Center, exit out of the Upper Gate C and head back along Andrew Young Blvd.

The pregame festival is one of the better ones in league; Arby's was giving away roast beef burgers with a donation to a charity. There was a DJ playing 70s and 80s tunes, while Saints fans were yelling "Who Dat!" to one another. Falcons fans just grimaced in envy.

When  gates opened, I wanted to get inside and do my usual tour. I picked up a ticket from a scalper, who told me it was a club seat. Given that its face value was $85, I doubted that, but would a scalper lie? Regardless, I was happy to sit low (row 3) in the second deck and the ticket was cheap enough. When I got through security and into the dome, I made a beeline for the lower level concourse, only to be stopped. If you want to tour the 100-level concourse, you better have a 100-level ticket. I have attended sporting events in nearly 450 venues and this was the first time I had ever seen this. Some stadiums keep the riffraff out of the seating bowl, but to close off the concourse is just stupid. For example, if you enter via the incorrect gate, you will miss the GHSA helmet display, which is pretty cool.  I saw one young guy looking for his team's helmet with anticipation; this sort of addition is interesting and should easily be available to all.

Having given up on entering the 100-level concourse, my annoyance had become frustration, and then the second problem happened. My seat was in section 228 in the mezzanine, which consists of sections in the 200 level that are not part of club seating. To be fair, I entered by a different gate than that printed on my ticket, so I was in the wrong spot. Still, there was no direct path to my seat; I was supposed to walk up a ramp to the third level, walk around to the other side, walk back down a ramp to the first level, and then walk up a stairway. This is certainly not intuitive, so instead I entered the club and showed them my ticket. The nice lady told me to turn left, when in fact, I should have been told to turn right. Actually, she should have told me "This is not a club seat, get out," but she was nice, although misinformed. Anyway, when I reached the other club section, the properly informed ushers told me that I couldn't cut through to get to my seat. Given that the 100 level was closed off and I was being shuttled around without a clear explanation, I was in a very bad mood when I finally got to my seat about ten minutes later. Again, it was partially my fault for not entering at the correct gate, but I've never seen a venue with such a convoluted seating arrangement and so many ushers there to tell you where not to go. Anyway, my view was more or less as below.

Once settled, I returned to the upper deck and took a few pictures. Actually, just two.

I like that the red and black seats match the team colours. There are also honoured numbers and championship banners around the roof.

Other than that, nothing much to talk about here. I didn't eat as there wasn't anything appealing and I didn't feel like giving the Falcons any of my money. The Georgia Dome will be demolished in 2017 as a new stadium is in the works, with only 20-30% of funding coming from the public (visitors paying a hotel tax). I hope that the Falcons learn how to treat their fans properly before then; going to a game should be fun, not an exercise in being given the runaround. There is a reason you are 2-9 now guys, and it all comes from the top. Treat your fans and fans of the game like garbage, and it will come back to haunt you.

The Game

I was above the Falcons' entrance area, which is not a bad spot, as long as you have your trusty binoculars. With New Orleans at 8-2 and the Falcons at 2-8, a blowout could have been reasonably expected and the Saints were favoured by 9, but it turned out to be a close game that could have gone either way.

After New Orleans was stopped on 3 plays on the opening possession, Atlanta drove confidently down the field, culminating in a 6-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan (above) to Darius Johnson (below). Oops, not so fast. Johnson was ruled to have been down before the goal line, so Steven Jackson jumped over the line on the next play for the real TD, and it was 7-0 Atlanta. The fans cheered, but I remembered how Jacksonville had scored on their first possession on Sunday before losing badly, and I didn't think the Saints' defense would be so easily overrun the rest of the way. For once, I was right.

The Saints received the kickoff and took 15 plays and 7:31 to move 78 yards, with Brees hitting Ben Watson on a 1-yard TD pass (below) to tie the game.

After the Falcons added a field goal on their next drive, the Saints responded immediately when Brees connected with Jimmy Graham for a 44-yard touchdown (the longest play of the game) to take the lead for good. Atlanta got the ball back and marched 89 yards over 7:31 but a Ryan scramble on 3rd-and-goal from the 10 was stopped at the 4 and Atlanta settled for another field goal. Halftime arrived with the Saints up 14-13; each club had 4 meaningful possessions and there were 5 scores, but that would be about it.

New Orleans managed a field goal in the 3rd quarter, but when that frame ended, the teams were pretty much even in the stats department. The number that stood out was 0 combined turnovers. I expected that whichever team would give the ball up via a fumble or interception would lose, and as soon as I tweeted said thought, Johnson fumbled a completed pass at the Saints 18-yard line and New Orleans recovered.

Although the Saints could not capitalize, they took 5 valuable minutes off the clock and left Atlanta at their own 9-yard line after a punt. The Falcons drove nicely, including a 13-yard pass to Roddy White (above) but they used a lot of time. They reached the Saints' 34 with 2:24 left, but on 4th-and-15, Coach Mike Smith opted to try a 52-yard field goal. Matt Bryant kicked it through, but Saints' coach Sean Payton had called timeout to ice the kicker. Suitably chilled, Bryant missed his next attempt and the Saints managed to take all but 5 seconds off the clock on their ensuing drive.

Atlanta had one play, but a short pass to Harry Douglas (#83 above) ended when Douglas threw forward in an attempt to lateral and the Saints won 17-13. I don't like to root for the visitors other than Buffalo on this trip, but I can't say I was unhappy to see the Falcons fall short in this one.


At halftime, I met up with a gentleman named Kevin Kelley, who runs FBSchedules. Very useful info about the scheduling of games, particularly those in college, where games are often agreed to years in advance. Always good to meet fellow sports fans on these trips.

Two fans showed up with 3:40 to go in the game. Yes, the game. They missed 56:20 of action in other words. Of course, they had first row seats in front of me. Rather than sit down and shut up, they remained standing, turned around and yelled to their friends "We finally made it", as if showing up for the last 5% of the contest was a worthy accomplishment. The game was still in doubt then, and I would much rather see the players, thank you very much. Of course, with one minute to go, they got up and left their seats, for no apparent reason. Sports fans and logic are sadly too often mutually exclusive these days.

Next Up

I'm on my way to Kansas City for what promises to be a very cold game with forecast temperatures just above freezing. I've picked up a ticket from StubHub, low down in one end zone, so I won't have to freeze while looking for a cheapie on the street. With the Chargers visiting, it could be a low-scoring affair. The Chiefs should win, but as they ignored my emails as well, the SportsRoadTrips gods might have another outcome in mind.

Update: The Chiefs responded with a ticket, but they still lost! And the game was anything but low-scoring.



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