Kia Motors Friday Night Lights
When: Gates open at 6 p.m. Scrimmage starts at 6:45 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2
Where: Bobby Gruhn Field at City Park Stadium in Gainesville
Ten years ago, lifelong Atlanta Falcons fan Howard Hopper saw his first professional football game as his favorite team played the Cincinnati Bengals in Atlanta.
“It was awesome,” he said earlier this week. “I had never been to a dome game.”
But that experience looks to pale in comparison as Hopper and thousands of other Falcons fans prepare to descend upon Bobby Gruhn Field at City Park stadium in Gainesville on Friday to watch Atlanta’s home team play a scrimmage game.
“I am pretty excited,” said Hopper, who plans to don red scrubs, black-and-red shoes and his Deion Sanders’ jersey. “I went to Gainesville High School and (the Falcons) will be there where I used to cheer on the Red Elephants.”
Hopper, 41, won’t be the only Gainesville High School grad there either. His Buffalo Wild Wings co-worker and GHS grad Tony Bailey will wear his Deion Sanders or Julio Jones jersey as he cheers on the team. But Bailey, 29, will have a companion in tow.
“I thought about taking my nephew down to see them play,” he said. “We can get to see how far they will go this year.”
Bailey was not the only local fan planning on taking a younger relative, either. When Chris Burns heard about the Falcons being in town, he immediately thought it would make a good outing for him and his 2 ½-year-old son.
“I would not take him to a full game,” said Burns, the associate pastor of students at First Baptist Church in Gainesville. “But a practice scrimmage, I could take him to that.”
In fact, he is looking forward to his son Andrew’s first NFL experience.
“That’s what I would like seeing,” he said. “Seeing the game through his eyes.”
Burns is also looking forward to watching his current favorite player, tight end Tony Gonzalez.
“He’s been around for a long time and he’s about my age and he’s still playing,” the 38-year-old said. “I just like to see the man going at it still.”
Lisa Carette is looking forward to seeing wide receiver Roddy White play.
“He has done so much for the community,” Carette said, noting White lives in the Braselton area. “He is always out in public and I’ve seen him multiple times and he is as friendly as can be ... And he is a great wide receiver. How could you not like him?”
But Carette was more excited about being off of work to watch the team play in her hometown. The 33-year-old is employed at Buffalo Wild Wings.
“When I heard they were coming, I thought ‘Thank goodness I was scheduled for that day off,’” Carette said. “I was so excited. I tried to go to all of their training camps when I’m not at work. And I try to go to all the home games I can.”
Curtis Studivant hasn’t been to very many home games, but the Gainesville resident has supported the team since 1978.
“I just have followed them for so long, even when they were losing,” he said. “Now they are winning. It makes it more exciting when they are winning and I get into more and more now.”
Studivant, 50, also will look to see who will make the cut and who won’t.
“I want to see that new running back Steven Jackson,” he said. “But I’m excited about the whole team being here in Gainesville.”
Before the fans watch the game in Gainesville’s city stadium, they can partake of pre-game activities provided by the sponsors, said Falcons live events and promotions coordinator Brandon Ruth.
“Once the gates open, we do sponsor activations,” Ruth said. “Different sponsors will be activating things such as face painters and different giveaways.”