ATLANTA — There were partly cloudy skies in Atlanta on Monday, but the overcast looming over the city seemed to be more from the gloom of the Falcons’ gut-wrenching Super Bowl 51 loss.
Falcons’ fans are in a somber mood after their team blew a 25-point lead in a 34-28 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday night. The abundant excitement that engulfed the city leading up to the matchup had been replaced by another heartbreaking sports setback for the A-T-L.
Even for fans used to disappointment, this “L” was unprecedented.
“We came so far. We had the rings ready to be put on our fingers,” said Nylous Dickerson, a chef who watched from Dantanna’s, where he works at the CNN Center in the shadows of the Georgia Dome and the Falcons’ new stadium.
“We gave that game away. We gave Tom Brady too many chances. It was a somber wakeup. I still don’t feel good about this.”
Dickerson, like many Falcons fans, might not feel well for some time.
New England won even though the Patriots never snapped the ball with the lead. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Falcons found ways to lose that had never been done: in overtime at the Super Bowl after leading by 19 points heading into the fourth quarter.
The hangover apparently was so crushing that there was hardly any rush hour traffic Monday morning in city where traffic jams are the norm.
“We had a lady call in saying she didn’t want to go to work today,” said Carl Dukes of Atlanta radio show 92.9 FM The Game. “We had a student call in saying she told her parents she didn’t want to go to school because everybody would be talking about it. That’s the feeling. Everybody is kind of still in shock about how this all went down.”
Teneshia Ethridge saw a change of demeanor in Falcons fans before and after the game. She said she paid nearly $5,000 for a Super Bowl ticket to sit five rows behind the Falcons bench and watched Brady throw for Super Bowl record 466 yards for her team’s loss.
Ethridge said fans had planned on partying after the game, but the loss sent most of them back to their hotel rooms in shock.
“It was vibrant, alive and colorful when we left Saturday,” said Ethridge, who attends home and away games. “There was a tailgate at the gate at the airport when we were getting on the plane with a DJ. But when we came back today, it was like nobody wanted to talk. We didn’t want to speak to each other. I feel completely different. Nothing was supposed to happen like this.”
But this is Atlanta. The city has only one major sports championship in 169 combined seasons for its NFL team, Major League Baseball’s Braves, the NBA’s Hawks and two now-departed NHL teams, the Flames and the Thrashers. The Braves won the World Series in 1995.
Fans in Atlanta had hoped the Falcons would claim their first championship in their 51-year history. The anticipation was building throughout the city days leading up the big game with several rallies including one that featured Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and R&B singer Usher at City Hall.
Rapper Ludacris narrated a short video clip called “A City Waits” in honor of the Falcons. After the loss to the Patriots, Atlanta faithful will have to wait longer.
“It was like a punch in the gut,” said Demetrius Lewis, an Atlanta native who used to play football at the University of Florida. He struggled with the fact that the Falcons led the entire game until Patriots running back James White scored the winning touchdown in overtime.
“My stomach hurts after this one,” Lewis added. “We always come so close.”
Falcons running back Devonta Freeman could barely speak above a whisper while fighting back tears. But Freeman took to social media to thank fans for their support.
Tiffani Murray hopes the Falcons and fans can rebound from the painful loss.
“Atlanta is a city of hope,” she said. “I think that is why so many people move here and live here from different places.There is hope that the Falcons have reached the level of a championship game and will do so again. Hope will remain after we are through the mourning period and fans will rise up once again.”
It just might take a while.