GAME TIME: 49ers at Falcons
When: 3 p.m. today
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
TV: Fox; pregame show starts at 2 p.m.
It’s been eight years since the Atlanta Falcons played for an NFC championship, 14 years since their lone conference title and Super Bowl berth, with years of ups and downs in-between.
Yet fans geared up for today’s NFC title game at the Georgia Dome say this year’s team has what it takes to go the distance.
What makes today’s championship game against San Francisco different? According to Falcons fans at Crossroads Bar & Grill in Flowery Branch, this is a different team than the one that lost at Philadelphia in 2005, with better coaching and the Georgia Dome on its side.
“I’ve lived in Atlanta my whole life. I’m going to the game, sixth row,” said 24-year-old Jordan Otting, bartender at Crossroads. “They’re in our stadium and it will be big if we can get the fans that straddle the fence to jump on the Falcons’ side. That dome’s going to be rockin’.”
The Falcons are 8-1 at home this year but underdogs against the 49ers, who lost last year’s NFC title game to the New York Giants.
Atlanta rallied to beat Seattle 30-28 last week and sits one victory from a berth in the Super Bowl.
Falcons fan Jamie Cuthbert said she’s, “very, very nervous” about today’s game. And after last week’s gut-checking win over the Seahawks, Cuthbert doesn’t want to see her daughter’s favorite player eliminated from the playoffs.
“(It’s) Tony Gonzalez’s last season and in the playoffs; my daughter’s his No. 1 fan,” she said of the Falcons’ veteran tight end who plans to retire at season’s end.
Cuthbert also said last week’s game made her bite her fingernails and left her angry, but Matt Bryant’s game-winning field goal “brought it.”
If the Falcons win today, Cuthbert said she would be, “so happy and ecstatic” about reaching the Super Bowl.
Flowery Branch Mayor Mike Miller said the team’s playoff run is having a positive impact on the community.
“It’s been positive for the community. Even non-football fans are a part of it,” he said. “I’ve been at (stores), and people are making comments about the game. (The Falcons) are a part of the community, and we support the Falcons.”
Husband and wife Uel and Merla Sawyer have been fans of the team since the early 1980s, but lost interest after former quarterback Steve Bartkowski left. However, their interest peaked again when Mike Smith became head coach in 2008.
“He’s a people person,” Uel Sawyer said of Smith.
Merla Sawyer echoed her husband’s statement. “Mike Smith’s doing a great job.”
But after last week’s game, she said she’s not sure if she can watch another thriller.
“I’m afraid if they win I may have a heart attack,” she said. “I think the Falcons are the best.”
Otting also expressed support of the Falcons’ coach.
“Smith’s pulled the city together. We love Mike Smith,” said Otting, who predicted a 31-28 Falcons victory today.
However, not everyone in the area will be pulling for the home team today. Stephanie Fuqua, 50, originally from California, said she remains a 49ers fan since moving to Georgia in 1984, and will be cheering them on against the Falcons.
“I’m looking forward to the game, a lot. I’m surrounded by a lot of Falcons fans, including my family. My husband’s a Falcons fan,” she said. “At work, everyone else is a Falcons fan. I’m like ‘Hey, 49ers.’ I think the 49ers are going to win. I’m confident. I think it won’t be close. I hope I’m right.”