Some were downtown for their fixes of sci-fi, comics or horror. Others whetted their appetites for fall and the near-religion of Southern sports — college football. Tens of thousands more sought the thrills of another kind of football — as in fútbol, soccer, the beautiful game.
From Comic Con to the pre-season kickoff to SEC football to World Cup and Atlanta United soccer, downtown was filled with a mix of events, normally typical of the Labor Day weekend, attracting tens of thousands to the blocks around Centennial Olympic Park.
As much as Atlanta is an American football town on fall Saturdays and Sundays, it was a soccer town this Sunday.
The day started early, with Atlanta United fans staking out the best spots for tailgating. At 11 a.m., the United played host to a special screening at Mercedes-Benz Stadium of the World Cup Final between France and Croatia (France took the title in a thrilling 4-2 match). Then the United followed, squaring off against the Seattle Sounders FC before yet another MLS record crowd that witnessed a 1-1 tie.
Mark and Cindy McCloud of Moreland set up their tailgate in a parking lot near CNN Center about 9 a.m., hoping to avoid traffic. Decked out in their Atlanta United gear, they said they planned to catch the World Cup finale on the giant halo board at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The United, Cindy McCloud said, fulfilled a need in the city.
“I don’t think it’ll ever replace American football, but it’s giving football a run for its money,” she said.
Sunday’s throngs of people felt a little like Labor Day weekend, when the city’s core attracts six-figure crowds for Dragon Con, Atlanta Black Pride and the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.
“It’s an interesting mix,” said Travis Hutto of Douglas. Hutto came to Atlanta from South Georgia this weekend for the inaugural Comic Con. A regular at Dragon Con, Hutto strolled with friends through Centennial Olympic Park dressed as Jason Voorhees from the “Friday the 13th” horror movie series.
No one seemed to bat an eye.
“You got people in jerseys and Superman outfits,” he said. “It’s a diverse crowd.”
Kids splashed in the park’s fountain to ward off the heat and tourists cycled through nearby attractions, including the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium.
By late afternoon, fans sporting jerseys of the Georgia Bulldogs, Florida Gators, Alabama Crimson Tide and others filled the park for SEC Summerfest. The festival was the kickoff for SEC Media Days — in Atlanta for the first time — where representatives of all 14 SEC schools will gather this week as a prelude for the highly anticipated 2018 season.
The marquee event for Bennie and Vandy McDonald of Locust Grove was an appearance by Georgia head coach Kirby Smart at a live broadcast of the SEC Nation show.
Bennie McDonald appeared bemused by the soccer crowd, declaring college football the event to see in town.
The Bulldogs’ dream season, which included an SEC title and thrilling win in the Rose Bowl over the Oklahoma Sooners, ended in heartbreaking fashion with an overtime loss to the Tide in the national championship game.
Vandy McDonald said she and her husband went to Georgia’s spring football game and Summerfest to prepare for the new season.
“We’re going to win it,” she said. “Georgia is going all the way.”
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