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 Tuesday you should know.
Special Olympics athlete shows skill in flag football
Morgan McNeal helped her Hall County basketball team bring home gold in the 2018 Special Olympics USA game. She also plays tennis and flag football.
This week, Morgan was invited to participate in flag football drills at the Super Bowl Experience which also included a Special Olympics Unified Flag Football game.
After quickly completing an obstacle course, she sprinted toward the end zone to catch a long pass.
“This is exciting,” said Morgan after working up a sweat on a turf field inside the Georgia World Congress Center.
Morgan, a 19-year-old senior at Chestatee High School in Gainesville, was diagnosed at age 6 with autism and Sensory Integration Disorder. About the same time, she developed an affinity for playing several sports and is currently one of two girls on the Special Olympics Georgia Hall County flag football team.
A few dozen Special Olympics athletes participated in the Unified Flag Football game, most from Henry and Haralson counties. The inclusive game featured athletes with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. Brooks Reed of the Atlanta Falcons, and Josh Dobbs of the Pittsburgh Steelers also participated. And cheerleaders from both Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriot were cheering.
After the game, the NFL surprised Morgan with two tickets to the Super Bowl.
“What do you hope people see when they see you and other Special Olympics athletes compete?” she was asked.
“I hope they see how amazing we are,” she said.
— Helena Oliviero
Stadium director plans to go extra mile for Sunday’s guests
If there’s one thing Brent Miller needs for Super Bowl LIII, it’s a comfortable pair of shoes.
Miller, senior director of guest and team member services for Mercedes-Benz Stadium, expects to log in about 10 miles on Super Bowl Sunday as he walks the facility making sure that visitors have a great experience.
“Those gel-cushioned insoles are a life saver,” he said.
Miller, 47, has worked at the stadium for nearly three years helping to create the framework for the event-day operation.
He has seven full-time and 850 part-time workers on the guest services team and nearly 5,000 team members in the overall stadium family for whom they provide training, best practices and support.
“At MBS we strive to set the bar in stadium hospitality,” said Miller. “This starts and ends with our team members, big smiles and Southern hospitality. We’ve made it a point to hire individuals who are naturally kind and compassionate - who see their experience at MBS as something bigger than themselves.”
Super Bowl may be one of the biggest tests yet. MBS is partnering with the NFL to make sure the experience goes on without a hitch.
“While every game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a party, together we’re throwing the biggest of them all,” he said.
Miller, a native of Somers, N.Y., has worked in hotel management in Seattle and spent eight years with the Seattle Mariners.
“Come Monday, I would love to hear more than anything that our guests had a safe and memorable experience of a lifetime.”
— Shelia M. Poole
Security guard is first stop at Ferris wheel for high-flying visitors
Before you can see the top of the Atlanta skyline, you’ve got to see Cameron Fuller.
The 26-year-old security worker waves through and wands hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people a day at Skyview, the oft-photographed Ferris wheel in downtown Atlanta.
Fuller was working the dayshift, but he said vistors prefer the view at night. He’s seen a Super Bowl uptick from the regular 500 to 1,500 visitors during his shift. Many are excited to get a unique view of the city, but some are scared of heights.
“We assure them and let them know everything will be OK,” he said, adding there’s a red panic button inside each pod.
But Fuller has been used to the view of downtown for years.
At two months old, his South Georgia family started bringing him to medical facilities in Atlanta for treatment of his congenital glaucoma, a disease that damages the optic nerve. Fuller faced blindness before he could ever talk.
That meant five or six trips a month from Moultrie, nearly 180 miles away, until he was 6.
His glasses now give him 20/30 vision, and he’s getting his Ph.D in biomedical research at the University of West Georgia with hopes of eventually specializing in pediatric ophthalmology – to help children like him.
The former defensive tackle for Colquitt High School, recently named one of the best high school programs in the country, said the Patriots will win the Super Bowl.
“I think they’ll really be able to manhandle the Rams front seven.”
— Ben Brasch
Driver finds her passion in steering Atlanta streetcars
Eraka Kilgore was visiting Atlanta in 2014 when she spotted
a streetcar running along Auburn Avenue. That made her want to move here.
“I saw it and my eyes lit up,” said the smiling 46-year-old mother of adult twins.
By the next year Kilgore was behind the master controls of the enormous vehicle that can seat 90 passengers.
“I just like driving large vehicles,” said Kilgore, who worked in her native Milwaukee as both a school bus and city transit driver. “The only thing I haven’t driven is a truck and an airplane.”
Her shift can start as early as 4:30 a.m. or as late as 4:30 p.m. She drives a 30-minute, 2.7 mile loop that takes her into the heart of downtown with stops at Georgia State University, along Auburn Avenue and Centennial Olympic Park.
MARTA assumed operation of the light rail system in 2018.
The biggest potential hazards? Drivers and pedestrians who are walking and listening to something with their headphones or a driver not paying attention to turns, running red lights or trying to go around a streetcar. “You have to be well aware of your surroundings,” she said.
Two streets generally run the circuit. A third is available, if needed.
The way the streetcar’s interior is designed there’s not a lot of opportunity for the driver to interact with passengers, unlike most city buses. Still, she has met many visitors from overseas who are in town for business or tourism.
One group was in town for a family reunion and made it a point to update Kilgore on each day’s happenings.
She loves the view of downtown Atlanta from her seat behind the controls. It will be especially exciting this weekend as an estimated 150,000 out-of-town visitors come for Super Bowl LIII.
She’s a big Green Bay Packers’ fan, so “my team isn’t in it, but I’m still good with it,” she said.
— Shelia M. Poole
Veteran says football helped as he healed from serious injury
Bobby Woods doesn’t have a dog in the fight for Super Bowl champion — but he does have some Dawgs he’s rooting for.
Woods, 33 and a 2008 University of Georgia graduate, said he cares primarily about the former Georgia running backs who will be playing at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sunday: Sony Michel for the New England Patriots and Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams.
“I hope they both play well,” he said. “I’m cheering for my Georgia boys that are out there.”
Woods came to the NFL’s Super Bowl Experience earlier this week as part of the Salute to Service program, which gives free tickets to veterans. Since shortly after he was shot in the forehead in August 2010 while in Afghanistan, Woods has been involved in the Wounded Warrior Project, one of the groups that benefits from the tickets.
He had to relearn language, impulse control, how to cook and how to live in mainstream America. As he went through therapy, the Watkinsville resident said the first person who talked to him about something other than his injury connected with him about college football.
At the military day, Woods saw friends he’d met at other events around the region, people who understood that it could sometimes be challenging to venture out in large groups. He was looking forward to trying his hand at a two-minute quarterback drill.
The NFL’s partnership with the military brings veterans “more honor and spotlight,” Woods said.
“I could’ve never done this when I first got back.”
— Arielle Kass
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