Sunday, January 22, 2017
Farewell To The Dome.
By mutual agreement, only one thing escaped the great purge: Our respective collections of commemorative stadium drink cups. For Ags, this means truckloads from every athletic venue on UNC's campus and a bunch of Orioles swag. For me, it's mostly Braves cups from the 1991 worst-to-first team all the way up through 1998, and a handful from some other baseball stadiums I've visited. There's also one from the old Omni that a: has the home schedules for both the Hawks and my (beloved and dearly departed) IHL Atlanta Knights and b: you can't even drink out of anymore because there is a huge crack in the bottom but I'm keeping it anyway. And there's the one pictured above, from the Georgia Dome's first season in 1992.
Over the last 24 years, The Dome has been a fixture in Atlanta, that distinctive geodesic roof as essential to the skyline as the Peachtree Plaza. And mostly, it has been a home for misery and mediocrity. In honor of tonight's final game in the building, SportsCenter ran a special Top 10 dedicated to moments in the Georgia Dome. It was ... not pretty, if you're a fan of sports in the Peach State. There were highlights from the Final Fours the Dome has hosted. There was Kerri Strug sticking the one-foot vault landing in the 1996 Olympics. There was a Wrestlemania clip. And then, there were highlights of bad things happening to our teams. There was Neon Deion, beloved former Falcon and Brave, returning in a 49ers jersey and taking one to the house against us. There was the 2012 NFC Championship Game collapse the Falcons suffered (also against San Francisco, who may very well pull off a hat trick of pain if they steal Falcons offensive guru Kyle Shanahan away after the season is over. Damn you, Niners.) There were the Bulldogs, coming up five yards short against 'Bama in the SEC Championship game. (Which, yes, it's a divided state and I know Tech fans delighted in this, but I'm just talking about teams within the geographic confines of our borders.) Watching all of this in rapid succession was awful. Not only were they replaying some of our lowest moments as fans, there wasn't one damn happy memory to balance it out.
Then tonight happened. I spent the game drinking out of that cup in the picture up top. I drank the last of the bourbon out of it. I drank a few beers out of it. I'm drinking very cheap red wine out of it as I write this. It seemed appropriate to celebrate the Dome's last game with a relic from its first. And the Falcons. My lord. I think it's fair to say no one saw that coming. The offense has been historically brilliant all year, just staggering in their excellence and consistency. The defense has evolved, even after losing Desmond Trufant, into something of a respectable unit. And what they just did to a smokin' hot Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers was phenomenal beyond words. The most terrifying QB in the NFL, a superhuman demigod running an offense that had obliterated everything in their path and had Jordy Nelson back, and Atlanta shut that mess down. Just absolutely destroyed the Packers on both sides of the ball. A complete, utter, gleeful ass kicking. Abd it still never felt safe until the clock finally hit zeros.
I won't speak for all Falcons fans, but even after pitching a shutout on defense and blowing the doors off on the other side of the ball, I went into halftime remembering 2012. And everything else this franchise has been through. I have dear friends and some family members who are Packers fans, and I have friends who root for different teams altogether, and all of them were texting me or messaging me about midway through the third quarter that it was over. I didn't buy it. Intrinsic fear and doubt, honed over decades of futility, are tough to shake. But in the end, we DESTROYED the Packers, just completely torched them, whistle to whistle.
The Dome has housed nearly everything over its existence. Concerts, soccer, the Olympics, even the Hawks while they transitioned from the Omni to Philips Arena. But mostly, that distinctive, memorable roof has rested over the Falcons, in all their myriad failures and brief successes. (For all of our historical inepititude, never forget that this building birthed the Dirty Bird '98 season and some legitimately insane Vick performances and the Matty Ice era.)
Tonight was the last of it, at least where sports are concerned. There are a handful of concerts scheduled to take place before the lights go out and the concourses are silent and The Dome ceases to be a place people go to experience memorable events. But damn if we didn't send it out in style. The demolition is scheduled for sometime later this year, but that doesn't matter right now. The Falcons already gave the Georgia Dome its perfect ending: they burned that motherfucker down.