By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Falcons fans light up City Park for scrimmage event
More than 14,000 fill Gainesville field to welcome local NFL team
0803LIGHTS 1
Freddie Falcon grabs Nasir Stephens' nose after signing an autograph before the Atlanta Falcons take to the practice field Friday evening. Nasir, 7, is from Winder. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Coming tonight: Video of tonight's Friday Night Lights scrimmage at City Park.

Thousands of Atlanta Falcons fans anxiously waited in line for several hours prior to the gates opening in order to secure a good seat for Friday night’s scrimmage. Turns out, there weren’t enough seats for all the fans that stood in long lines that wrapped around Gainesville’s City Park Stadium.

A crowd of more than 14,000 fans filed into the home of the Red Elephants for the Falcons’ annual Friday Night Lights intrasquad scrimmage. The event was widely accepted by Falcons fans, from both near and far.

“I’m a big Falcons fan, I wouldn’t miss this,” said Katie Perkins, who claimed her spot in line around noon on Friday. “I live in Helen and it is hard to afford to go down to Atlanta, so to see them here today is pretty awesome.”

Perkins’ enthusiasm for the hometown Falcons was shared by thousands in attendance, including a family of eight that traveled to Gainesville from Warner Robins, a three-hour drive.

“About 2:20, we got on the interstate,” said Cody Young, wearing his Roddy White No. 84 uniform. “We got stuck in traffic; we tried to get here earlier. It was open to the public, that’s why (we came). We are huge fans.”

The Falcons started the night by taking the field around 6:15 p.m., although the event didn’t officially begin until 6:45 p.m. By time the event officially began, City Park Stadium was filled to capacity, with fans finding relief on the hillside in the corner of the stadium and the open area in the west end zone.

Despite the large amount of fans and warm temperatures, nobody seemed to care Friday night. It was all about the Falcons.

“It is pretty exciting. This is good for Gainesville, I think,” said Flowery Branch resident and longtime Falcons fan Chris Young. “This is awesome. This is pretty cool.”

The night included a semi-normal practice routine for the Falcons; player warm-ups took place for nearly the first 35 minutes. It continued with the team running scripted plays across several series, entertaining the thousands in attendance.

The only main differences from normal practices were the scenery, the large number of fans and a national anthem that included sky divers who landed on the field’s playing surface, which was painted with the Falcons’ motto “Rise Up” in the end zones and a Falcons logo at midfield.

Following the intrasquad scrimmage, the night was capped off with a 15-minute autograph session and a fireworks display.

Fans arrived early, spending the time beforehand posing for pictures with Falcons’ mascot Freddie the Falcon, and discussing their team’s potential for the season. One thing was widely agreed upon by fans: It’s Super Bowl or bust for the Falcons.

“I think they are going to win it this year,” Young said. “It is Super Bowl or bust, but I will still be a fan.”

While many discussed the goal for the Falcons this season, others arrived Friday night looking to find answers to their concerns about their team, such as who will play certain positions and how the young guys will perform on the bright stage of the NFL.

“What is going to happen to our defensive ends, specifically?” said Jeff Derwinski, an Atlanta native. “What is going to happen to our cornerbacks? How is (the offense) going to change with (running back Steven) Jackson in the mix and everything?”

“I want to focus on the defense tonight,” Young said. “I want to see (cornerback Robert) Alford. I want to watch him tonight, and I also want to see some tackling tonight.”

Falcons fans got some of their answers throughout Friday night’s two-hour scrimmage, but they will get more answers when the team opens preseason play Thursday night against the Cincinnati Bengals at the Georgia Dome.

The Falcons and Bengals will practice together on Monday and Tuesday in Flowery Branch prior to Thursday night’s game, which will air on ESPN.

Regional events