With an influx of people in metro Atlanta for Super Bowl 53, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has taken time to highlight five faces in the crowd of thousands each day leading up to the big game. They may be from miles away, or they may be your neighbor. Here are the five stories from Sunday you should know.
Longtime Budweiser Clydesdales driver loves his job
On Friday the Budweiser Clydesdales, in town for the Super
Bowl, made a visit to the Shops at Buckhead, and very few people paid attention to the fellow holding the reins.
That didn’t bother Dave Thomas. Dressed in a green, double-breasted suit and cap, Thomas sat atop the iconic wooden wagon in the surprisingly warm afternoon sun and enjoyed the show, while children laughed and grown-ups took photographs.
Thomas, 38, has been working for Anheuser-Busch for 15 years and driving the Clydesdales hitch for 10. To become a driver, he happened to be in the right place at the right time.
He grew up in Hawthorn Woods, about 40 miles north of Chicago, where the neighbors had a farm and raised Belgian draft horses. Thomas learned how to drive a team on that neighbor’s farm — the same place the Clydesdales when they visit Chicago.
Driving horses just seemed entertaining. After college, he said to himself, “I guess I’ll try this until it’s not fun any more.”
Some would find it excessively rigorous. There are no weekends nor holidays off.
“For some reason the horses expect to eat every day of the year,” he said jokingly.
He travels 46 weeks of the year, and has taken the team to every state in the union except Hawaii.
He and his colleagues not only feed and groom the “gentle giants,” they also braid flowers into their manes and polish the shiny metal in the harnesses.
But despite all that, it’s still fun.
His home is in St. Louis, though he rarely sees it. “My wife sends me a picture of the house from time to time,” said Thomas, “so I can remember what it looks like.”
— Bo Emerson
Celebration greets Rams fan as he arrives for game
When Ryan Hehir walked off his plane at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, he was greeted with a drum line, dancing mascots and former Falcons player Roddy White waiting for his flight at the gate.
That’s because he was flying to Atlanta from Los Angeles, home of the Rams, and Delta decided to surprise flights from LA and Boston with celebrations on the Friday before the Super Bowl.
“I was not expecting it,” Hehir said over the thrumming of drums at the gate. While some passengers appeared bewildered as they tried to navigate through the hub-bub to make their connection, Hehir was among those bound for Atlanta, headed to the game and in a celebratory mood.
Hehir isn’t from Los Angeles, but was there for the week for work, and thus ended up on a flight from a Super Bowl team’s city to the game itself.
In LA, “the city was definitely excited. There were signs everywhere. People were excited, they were talking about it,” he said.
Hehir lives in Yorktown, Va., but watched the Rams growing up.
“When I was young, they were the greatest show on turf, and I loved the team then,” Hehir said. “Of course they sucked for 15 years, and now they’re finally good again.”
It’s Hehir’s first Super Bowl, and said he made the decision to go to the game “because of my team. I don’t know when they’ll be back.”
He said he’s read that Atlanta “has a lot of security that they beefed up on. I guess they learned, taking things from past Super Bowls and when they had the Olympics.”
This weekend, Hehir said he plans to spend plenty of time in downtown Atlanta.
“I’m hoping it’s going to be exciting, lots of fun, lots of stuff to do,” he said. “I’m pumped.”
— Kelly Yamanouchi
Veteran spending his nights keeping Atlanta’s streets clean
When the final whistle blows on Super Bowl LIII, employees at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will have a huge cleanup job ahead of them. But for folks like Kholoma Murray, the undertaking is much greater than tidying an 80,000-seat stadium cluttered with empty cups, food containers and dirty napkins.
Murray, 41, is an equipment operator for the city of Atlanta, and part of the team responsible for keeping downtown looking spick and span throughout the multi-day Super Bowl festivities.
The refuse team works in 12-hour shifts, according to Murray. He’s on the late-night shift, which runs from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. Since Jan. 26, he’s been walking his designated zone with his trash grabber to pick up errant debris. He’ll keep on this assignment until Feb. 4.
Murray has been employed by the city for almost a year, about the same amount of time that he’s been back living in his native Atlanta. He moved here from San Diego, where he resided after serving 13 years in the military.
Who is Murray rooting for on Sunday?
“I’m a Falcons fan,” he replied, then continued at a brisk pace down Marietta Street.
He crossed Baker Street, barely slowing his gait to snap up some trash, drop it into the can on the curb and move along in the middle of the night.
— Ligaya Figueras
Preachers like Jones spread the word at many big event
They’re at virtually every major sporting event, as ubiquitous as corporate sponsorships and overpriced parking.
Super Bowl weekend saw these street preachers stationed just outside the Georgia World Congress Center MARTA station, handing out religious tracts at a fever pitch. Most people try to avoid eye contact with them. Some nod in solidarity. Others are dismissive, if not downright hostile.
Regardless of the reaction, Tyler Jones, 24, kept smiling, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ with vigor. You’d never know it was his first time.
He’s among 90 volunteers in Atlanta with Sports Fan Outreach, an evangelical organization that shares its message of salvation with fans worldwide.
Jones, a college student from Kentucky, was anxious before making his debut Friday morning. “At first I was really nervous,” timidly approaching passersby, he said.
He was put to the test right away, encountering a stranger eager to debate the concept of eternal life.
“He was super upset at me,” Jones said. “It was discouraging at first.”
But then he found his groove. As dusk approached, Jones estimated he had passed out some 400 tracts.
The pavement pastors would be calling it a day soon, retiring to the spartan comforts of the Salvation Army. They’d be back at it Saturday, and again on Sunday, spreading the word right up to kickoff.
Jones isn’t planning on watching Super Bowl 53 — “I’m not really much of a sports fan,” he said.
But it won’t be his last big game.
“I definitely want to do this again,” Jones said. “I’ll go wherever the Lord directs me.”
— Christian Boone
Keeping bars stocked with beer has been an around-the-clock job
Clay Darity tapped the palm of hand on the side of a 35-foot trailer. It was stocked with Bud Light, Michelob Ultra and other Anheuser-Busch products.
“This is our safety net,” said the senior account manager for Atlanta Beverage.
Darity, 26, handles key accounts for the local beverage distributor. Right now, beer giant and mega Super Bowl sponsor A-B is pretty much all that’s on his mind.
He stood under streetlights, in the shadow of the Tabernacle, among a cluster of these trailers, each stashed with brews ready for the Atlanta Beverage delivery team to run to nearby bars in need of emergency restocking.
It’s one of a handful of staging locations throughout the city – from downtown to Buckhead – that the company arranged as part of what Darity called their “rapid response to formidable issues” surrounding Super Bowl festivities. Translation: No beer? No good.
In addition, Atlanta Beverage has two metro Atlanta warehouses – one in Marietta, the other near Six Flags – with staff working around the clock.
“This is hour 16 of my day,” Darity said.
It was nearing midnight on Thursday. He planned to call it a day at 1 a.m. since he’d have to be back to work six hours later.
“Even though the hours are long, this is kind of half-time for us,” Darity said of the days leading up to Sunday. “To watch people be part of the Super Bowl – it’s been quite a sight to see. It’s been fun.”
— Ligaya Figueras