Chris Riggall stood in the sun on a hill at the Atlanta Falcons complex practice fields in a vintage Atlanta Crackers T-shirt and a 1995 Atlanta Braves World Series cap.
Though Riggall said he loves the Braves, on this day he had binoculars in hand watching the Falcons run through plays during training camp.
Falcons training camp
This week’s practices open to the public
Where: Falcons complex, 4400 Falcon Parkway, Flowery Branch
Today: Noon, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
Monday July 30: 9:20 a.m., Flowery Branch
Wednesday, Aug. 1: 9:20 a.m., Flowery Branch
Thursday, Aug. 2: 9:20 a.m., Flowery Branch
Friday, Aug. 3: 9:20 a.m., Flowery Branch
Saturday, Aug. 4: Military Day, 9:20 a.m., Flowery Branch
He was surrounded by hundreds of other fans on blankets and in lawn chairs. Children were lined along the fence near the field hoping for a player’s autograph. No matter their reason for being in Flowery Branch on Saturday, July 28, they all got their first look at this year’s team.
“I’m a native Atlantan,” Riggall said. “I’ve been an Atlanta fan since 1966. This is exciting. We’ve got an opportunity to be relevant again this year. ... I think we’ve got a shot of doing something big. We’ve been waiting 52 years.”
Riggall said he’s only been to training camp for the past few years since it’s a long drive for him from Atlanta. He enjoys seeing all the new players in a much smaller and closer setting than he would at a game.
“It’s not quite as crowded, but I suspect it’s because they’ve got 60,000 coming to practice at (Mercedes-Benz Stadium today),” Riggall said. “But I mean, it’s a good crowd. Don’t get me wrong. I just think last year it was a little bit bigger.”
Riggall was at training camp by himself this year after making the trip with his wife last season. He said she was disappointed she couldn’t come this time around because last year, she was pleasantly surprised.
“She loved it,” Riggall said. “By the end of the day she was like, ‘I had a blast.’ She couldn’t believe it because she had never been out here before.”
Even though it’s been only a year, Riggall’s wife may have had a different experience at training camp this year. Just before the season started in 2017, a new supporters club, ATL CAST, was introduced and has been making noise ever since. It was at Falcons training camp for the first time this year.
“A cast is two or more falcons coordinating their hunt,” said Bill Ingram, president of the club and a Gainesville resident. “Our mission is to spread fandom of the Falcons internationally, make (Mercedes-Benz Stadium) the loudest place to play, make it intimidating and have a lot of fun doing it.”
Ingram has been a season-ticket holder since 2002, and after taking a poll the team sent out, was selected as one of the most passionate fans. The Falcons called him and some others to a focus group to find a way to encourage other fans to become more like them, and ATL CAST was born.
“I was a Falcons fan in 1998 when I moved up here from Miami because I needed a home team,” Ingram said. “I became a season-ticket holder because (former Falcons quarterback Michael) Vick came and I loved Vick. Ever since then I’ve been a loyal fan, but I’ve never been crazy like I am now. This group has made me crazy.”
It’s a volunteer job, so outside of his normal 40-hour work week where he manufactures information technology security for 3M Co., he’s been adding 15 to 20 volunteer hours for ATL CAST.
All the time put into the club has paid off, though. He said it has the full support of the Falcons organization and has grown to 270 members.
“We love it,” Ingram said. “We’re here to support them and they support us. It’s a great relationship. Steve Cannon, the (CEO) of AMB Group, he said he sees us at 1,000 members by the first game.”
With the way Ingram promotes the club, that could happen. He was at the Falcons complex sweating, yelling and holding up signs, getting fans excited about something as small as practice. And even though he doesn’t get paid for it, he said that’s his job and he’s more than happy to do it.
“Excitement feeds off each other, and that’s the whole point of our group,” Ingram said. “People don’t like to do things on their own, they don’t want to be the only one out there doing it. So our job is to make people more comfortable yelling and get more people yelling. It works.”