Falcons fans Ryan Montgomery (from left), Tiffany McCoy, Timothy Kotoski and Raegan McCoy cheer as the Rams score against the Saints while watching the NFC Championship game at Elbow Room Sports Pub & Pizzeria on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Atlanta. The Rams went on to defeat the Falcons’ dreaded rivals from New Orleans. (Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Falcons fans find something to cheer about in Super Bowl matchup

Well, how ‘bout dat?

Thanks to a 57-yard, overtime field goal, Falcons fans were saved the embarrassment of watching their hated rival, the New Orleans Saints, compete in the Super Bowl in two weeks in Atlanta’s glitzy new stadium.

Anyone who doubts the deep veins in this Deep South rivalry wasn’t at the Midway Pub in East Atlanta Sunday when Los Angeles Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein nailed a kick that looked like it started in Metairie.

“It sounds like the Falcons won!” one bar patron shouted over the cheers as the kick sailed through.

The celebration was the release of pent-up anxiety, the dread that thousands of members of Who Dat Nation would flood the city and never let us forget it. That was the mood at Elbow Room Sports Pub in Buckhead when the NFC championship kicked off Sunday afternoon. Falcons fans lined the bar, glued to a bank of televisions tuned to the game.

“Everybody is suddenly the biggest Rams fan,” said Tim Katoski, 42.

Falcons fans Albert Hopkins (left) and Dale Lee react in jubilation as the Rams beat the Saints 26-23 in overtime to win the NFC Championship game while watching at Midway Pub on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Atlanta. Falcons fans have been dreading their rivals advancing to the Super Bowl in Atlanta. (Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)
Photo: Curtis Compton

Elbow Room owner Joe Bonanno grew up on Staten Island, NY, but he relocated to Atlanta a quarter century ago to get into the thriving Buckhead bar scene. In that time, he’s become a fan of the local team and an intimate of the pain that goes with it.

“It’s hard to take,” Bonanno said the Falcons’ 7-9 record this year. “But we will get there again.”

While we wait for the rising up, Atlanta sports fans began the day with the twitching, head-smacking possibility that the city would play host, not only to the ‘Aints, but also to the team that embarrassed it in the big game just two years earlier: the New England Patriots.

Falcons fans did not need a Saints-Pats cherry on top of their misery sundae, Bonanno said. No one needs their nose rubbed in it quite that way.

So there were loud groans early in the Saints-Rams game when Rams quarterback Jared Goff’s pass to former University of Georgia standout Todd Gurley was intercepted, leading the Saints to an early 6-0 lead. It also explains the cheers as Gurley rammed in a touchdown right before the half to bring the Rams back within a field goal.

Chiefs fan Becky Taylor and Patriots fan Patrick Hughes face off while watching the AFC Championship game at Midway Pub with a trip to the Super Bowl in Atlanta on the line on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Atlanta. (Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)
Photo: Curtis Compton

One of the most demonstrative was Elbow Room regular and diehard Falcons fan Thomas Bianca, 49.

“It’s anybody but the Saints, just like the mayor said,” Bianca said, referencing Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ statement in a Twitter video last week. “There is no way they can win a Super Bowl in our stadium. We will never, ever, ever hear the end of it.”

After the thrilling Rams victory, the AFC Championship game had the feel of an under card. Yes, the Patriots overcame a 28-3 deficit to beat the Falcons in an especially demoralizing way in the Super Bowl in 2017. But Falcons fans do not have a special claim to the popular sport of Patriot hating.

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Still, the vast majority of fans out Sunday night were ready for the Patriot dynasty to give way to the youthful excitement of the Chiefs.

“It will be nice to see someone else in it,” said Albert Hopkins, 38, who came to the Midway Pub in a Julio Jones jersey (with a Super Bowl patch).

“That high scoring game with the Rams and Chiefs,” he said, referring to the 54-51 regular season Rams victory over the Chiefs in November. “I’d love to see that in the Super Bowl.”

“I’m tired of the Patriots. We’ve seen enough of them,” Shellie Marino, 46, agreed. “I’d love to see a young up-and-comer like (Chiefs quarterback) Patrick Mahomes come in and just blow people’s minds.”

Maybe next year. On this night, 41-year-old Patriots quarterback Tom Brady led his squad down field in overtime, earning (yawn) yet another trip to the Super Bowl.

Falcons fans have a little advice for the Rams: Save the dancing until after the game is won.

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