Hundreds of people get the to check out the NFL Experience at the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta, before thousands arrive ahead of the Big Game. Video by Ryon Horne/AJC

Fans enjoy interactive fun with Super Bowl Experience

Clad in bright red Atlanta Falcons gear, the Daviou family arrived early Saturday morning to soak up a Super Bowl experience in Atlanta.

More than a week before the big game, they joined a steady stream of football fans pouring into the Super Bowl Experience Driven by Hyundai, a football theme park spread across 800,000 square feet of space inside the Georgia World Congress Center now through Feb. 2.

Michelle Baker, of Raleigh, NC, shows her game face as she plays a quick slant game during the Super Bowl Experience in the Georgia World Congress Center on Saturday. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

From mock drafts and interactive games to football skills and a simulation of an NFL locker room, the Daviou family and other fans of the game got to experience the kinds of things you only see on TV.

But the early arriving Daviou family, which includes Zac, wife Aiko and their two-a-half-year-old son Julian, were in for a special surprise when they stepped inside the Super Bowl Experience and Devonta Freeman took a seat on a small stage to sign autographs. Here they were meeting a star Falcons player who played in the Super Bowl two years ago.

Zac Daviou told Freeman, who missed most of this season because of injury, that they hoped he was continuing to get better, and “we are cheering for you.” Freeman thanked him, autographed a football and smiled for photos.

“It’s really awesome that he’s taking time to do this and be a part of this,” said Daviou said.

While Daviou, a 42-year-old Falcons season-ticket-holder, said he was disappointed his beloved team was not in the big game, he was still excited his city – where he was born and where has lived his entire life – would host the Super Bowl. And Daviou said he took comfort in that the Falcons’ greatest rival was not competing next Sunday.

“We are happy as long as (New Orleans) Saints fans aren’t here,” he added. “A Saints-New England matchup would have been a nightmare.”

Fans line up to look Super Bowl rings during the Super Bowl Experience in the Georgia World Congress Center on Saturday. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Regardless of football team allegiance or physical prowess, the Super Bowl Experience caters to even casual fans. The Vince Lombardi Trophy – which either the Los Angeles Rams or New England Patriots will hoist next Sunday night from Meredes-Benz Stadium – sits gleaming behind a Plexiglas cube, waiting to be ogled and photographed.

In another corner, the Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders posed with wide-eyed kids and their sheepish dads, while fans interested in the fundamentals could watch footballs being stitched.

Jerome Bettis, Super Bowl XL Champion and Pro Football Hall of Famer, helps with the delivery of the Vince Lombardi Trophy to the Super Bowl Experience in the Georgia World Congress Center on Saturday, January 26, 2019. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Looking back: Previous two Super Bowls in Atlanta

The football faithful showcased their loyalty in jerseys and caps bearing the logos of their favorite teams – the Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints and Cincinnati Bengals were well-represented among the crowd.

But the unique aspect of the Super Bowl Experience is the, well, experience.

Those 30-yard field goals that look so easy to bang through the uprights when sitting on your couch? Now is the opportunity to try to kick one - and watch the ball sputter a few yards across the artificial turf.

Or how about zipping a touch pass into a netted basket or uncorking a 40-yard Hail Mary? Good luck with that, wannabe Aaron Rodgers.

The more physically confident can also run a 40-yard dash, go airborne for a vertical jump and show off their strength at the bench press.

Meanwhile, Freeman said even though “unfortunately the Falcons are not in the Super Bowl,” it was still a joy for him to be a part of the Super Bowl experience Saturday morning, and interact with fans.

“This is a lot of fun,” said Freeman. “It’s really cool to see all of the kids. I like to tell them sky is the limit, and to believe in yourself.”

Meanwhile, for the Morris family (which is a divided household: Tyson is a Falcons fan, wife Kim is a Saints fan and their young children’s allegiances yet to be decided), the Super Bowl Experience was fun for everyone. They canvassed the area – checking out everything from the Lombardi trophy and Super Bowl rings to games in what was essentially a huge, carpeted playground for kids and adults.

Tyson and his 3-year-old son Hardin participated in a mock draft. They were selected together in the first round by the Atlanta Falcons — to the sound of loud cheers and high-fives all around.

“For us, it’s exciting it’s in Atlanta,” said Tyson Morris of Decatur. “It’s a great opportunity to show off Atlanta.”

“It really is amazing it’s in Atlanta and to experience this in Atlanta,” said Kim Morris, the Saints fan. “It would be much better if the Saints were in it, but I’m not bitter.”

“Maybe a little bitter,” added her husband.

“Yes, OK, maybe a little,” she said.

MORE: The keys to navigating Super Bowl 53 events in Atlanta

Jordyn Gruber poses during the Super Bowl Experience in the Georgia World Congress Center on Saturday.HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

For the Caruso family, four generations of New England Patriots fans took in the festive atmosphere, feeling upbeat and confident about a victory a week from Sunday.

“We are going to win for sure,” said Chris Caruso of Atlanta. “We have the greatest coach of all time and the greatest quarterback of all time.”

But here in Atlanta, a lot of football fans were not feeling it for the Patriots, or at least not rooting for the Patriots.

Adjacent to the Super Bowl Experience at Centennial Olympic Park, the first round of free concerts curated by Atlanta super producer Jermaine Dupri kicked off Saturday afternoon.

Shows are planned for Sunday, Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday with artists ranging from hip-hop (Goodie Mob), R&B (Monica), country (Craig Campbell) and electronic (Heroes X Villains).

As the Emerald Empire Band played in the background, Dupri, clad in a red Falcons jacket and a baseball cap bearing the logo of his So So Def record label, said his priority was to positively represent Atlanta.

“I want people to pay attention to the fact that Atlanta is not the city people think it is,” he said. “For the longest time, I feel (Atlanta) hasn’t gotten the credit other cities have gotten. It’s important for us to turn on for our city.”

As for his game prediction, the lifelong Falcons fan smiled.

“All Falcons fans are Rams fans this week.”

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Tickets for the Super Bowl Experience Driven by Hyundai

Prices and times may vary based on the date. For the first time, the NFL has introduced variable ticket pricing for the Super Bowl Experience. Take advantage of lower weekday prices. With the purchase of one $20 adult ticket, up to three complimentary tickets for kids 12 and under will be offered at the Super Bowl Experience box office only Jan. 28-30. Ticket prices are higher — $40 for adults and between $10 and $25 for children — on other days. The Super Bowl Experience box office is located at the Georgia World Congress Building B. The box office will close two hours prior to event closing time each day.

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