No fan base in the entire country has had to endure as much heartbreak as Atlanta fans. For the older fans, there’s the original heartbreaks. Larry Bird carrying Boston over Dominique and the Hawks in 1988. The 1996 World Series collapse from the Braves. Who could forget Eugene Robinson’s arrest before the Falcons were beaten down in the Super Bowl in 1998?
But it didn’t get much easier the following decade.
The face of the Atlanta Falcons was sentenced to almost two years in Federal Prison. The Hawks drafted Marvin Williams over Chris Paul. None of our teams even got remotely close to winning a championship. Yet despite the previously mentioned meltdowns and collapses, it all pales in comparison to what was in store for the following decade.
The Braves lost the 2012 National League wild card game after a questionable infield-fly rule call. They then proceeded to blow up the entire roster. The Hawks treated us with years and years of upper-tier mediocrity before a 60-win team got swept in the Eastern Conference Finals. Not to be outdone, the Georgia Bulldogs have now lost three consecutive championship games to the Alabama Crimson Tide after leading by double-digits in each game.
Of course, lastly we have arguably the most embarrassing and disappointing moment in Atlanta sports history. Four years after blowing a 17-point lead in the 2012 NFC Championship game, the Falcons delivered the biggest collapse in professional sports history.
Atlanta sports fans have had to endure over twenty years of agony, heartbreak, and gut-wrenching defeat. We’ve continuously watched our teams disappoint us as they somehow manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Atlanta sports fans have been through so much, which is exactly why Atlanta United’s championship means the world.
I get it, everyone in and around Atlanta isn’t a soccer fan. I wholeheartedly understand that. However there were 73,019 fans inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium having one of the best nights of their lives, in addition to the tens of thousands of United fans elsewhere. We understand that it may not matter to outsiders, but we don’t care.
When the idea that the MLS would expand to Atlanta suddenly became a reality, many people thought it was laughable. Many people, such as SB Nation’s Jeremiah Oshan, used this as an opportunity to peddle the tired and false narrative that Atlanta is a bad sports town. That take ended up aging like fine milk.
Atlanta United began their inaugural 2017 season at Bobby Dodd before the Mercedes-Benz Stadium was constructed. Despite the fact that Bobby Dodd seats almost 20,000 fewer people than the Benz, United still broke the record for average attendance in a season (48,200). For context, Georgia Tech drew an average crowd of 46,885 in that same stadium in 2017. Granted, United only played about half of their home games on Tech’s campus, but the energy inside that stadium for United games has never been matched by Georgia Tech crowds.
The love and support that the team receives from its fans around town is magical. You can drive around the northern suburbs and see a countless number of United flags proudly waving outside houses. Go into the city and you can find a plethora of “We Gon’ Shine” bumper stickers. Everywhere you look, people are supporting this team. The love, the vibe; it’s all infectious.
The vibe around Atlanta last Saturday was absolutely insane. Despite the rain and freezing cold temperatures, fans were outside hours before the match began. The gulch was alive with United supporters chanting and yelling literally five hours before the match even began. The energy outside the stadium was matched only by the energy inside, as the 17s somehow found a way to dial up the intensity once the match began.
For more than an hour and a half, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium was alive with the infectious energy of United supporters. I’ve attended hundreds of sporting events and dozens of United games over the past two years. But he environment during that MLS Cup Final was far and away the most electric atmosphere I’ve ever experienced.
When the horn signaled the end of the match, the building exploded. Tears were shed, hugs were given and the stadium was filled with an overall sense of joy. The players on the pitch were met with a resounding cheer when they hoisted the MLS Cup. Finally, Atlanta had its first champion in 23 years.
I was sure nothing could match the insanity, electricity, and sheer wildness of the MLS Cup Final, but I was wrong. The parade on Monday did just that. A crowd of well over 100,000 fans surrounded the bus that carried the 2018 MLS Champions. The supporter groups brought their drums and led chants for hours as the crowd made its way through downtown Atlanta.
We laughed, we sang, we cheered, and we chanted in the streets for hours.
Waking up and you're still a champion ? pic.twitter.com/Qx9ry6F1pQ
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) December 15, 2018
Atlanta United showed the world what Atlanta really is. We are diverse, young and passionate. This is not only one of the best sports towns in the nation, but one of the best soccer towns in the world.
No matter what you say about Atlanta, We Gon’ Shine.