Neighbors poured into John Simpson’s yard Sunday afternoon with dishes of food and high hopes the Atlanta Falcons could push on to the Super Bowl.
But first, they had to vanquish the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship, which they failed to do, losing by a score of 28-24.
Early on, the group at Simpson’s house off Cumberland Drive in Gainesville had much to cheer about, as the Falcons scored the first 17 points in the game.
The fans, some decked out in red-and-black jerseys and other team attire, had come hoping to see the Falcons pull off a rare playoff victory but also to enjoy social time with each other.
“I’ve been a Falcons fan all my life, ever since I can remember,” said Simpson, dean of students at Gainesville’s Lakeview Academy, speaking before the opening kickoff.
“I feel good about this year’s team. I guess, being a Falcons fan, you doubt it most of your life, but I think this team will rise up, as the statement says.”
“Rise up” has been the Falcons’ season-long mantra, and was the message in a banner on Simpson’s porch.
Sunday’s game was long overdue for many rabid fans, such as Deuce Roark, who recalls going to Falcons games at the old Fulton County Stadium. Atlanta’s last best run was in 1998, when the team lost big to the Denver Broncos.
“The momentum’s with them ... and they’ve just had a great season,” Roark said. “It’s their time — it’s time for the Falcons to win.”
Emory Aycock, a fan since the Falcons franchise started in 1965, said he believes this team was special and had Super Bowl quality.
“If it’s not, it’ll come close,” he said.
Next-door neighbor Elyse Vandiver wasn’t as pumped about Sunday’s game as her husband, Blake, who wore a jersey bearing the name and number of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
“It’s more the guys’ thing, but I’m just here to support and spend time with the neighbors,” she said. “The boys have been watching them all season and (spouses) have just kind of tagged along toward the end and been a part of it with them.”
Blake was hopeful as the Falcons picked up early touchdowns, pondering a Super Bowl matchup on Feb. 3 that was not to be.
“I sure hope they (make it), because I’d like to do this (outing) again,” he said.