In 2017, team owner Arthur Blank began his descent from the rich guy’s box within NRG Stadium in Houston with his Atlanta Falcons holding a sizable Super Bowl lead.
You know the rest: Once ahead by as much as 28-3 – a lead that turned into a punchline – the Falcons went on to infamously lose that one to New England. While Blank watched the final unraveling up close, at field level.
So, when his people started suggesting Blank begin the trip from on high to the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with 15-plus minutes left in Saturday’s MLS Cup final, his Atlanta United up 2-0, he kind of dug in his heels. Normally, he’s so eager to join his team and get in the on-field mix that he has even been occasionally criticized for it.
“Having gone through what we went through in 2017, they asked me to come down to the pitch at 75 minutes and I said, ‘Too early, I’m not doing it.’ I wanted to wait a while longer.
“I only came down when we had to come down. I didn’t want to leave, they said you have to come down for the awards ceremony. If I have to, I have to. But I wasn’t happy about it.
“It worked out fine.”
Better than fine. That 2-0 lead was soon set in the concrete of history, and Blank’s baby, just two years old, was a champion. A NFL owner since the 2002 season, Blank wouldn’t get to experience the sensation of winning a title until he turned his weighty attentions to the sport of soccer.
On the Mercedes-Benz field afterward, sporting a nice silver medal around his neck that proclaimed him a 2018 MLS Cup champion, Blank expressed a sense of wonder and satisfaction at a championship played out before more than 73,000 fans inside the home stadium.
“I was crying inside,” he said.
“My greatest joy whether it’s the Atlanta Falcons or Atlanta United is pleasing others, bringing joy to others. So, tonight to see the joy we brought to the city of Atlanta and really the world of Major League soccer, means a lot to me personally.”
“I’m looking forward to enjoying this week, celebrating. In professional sports, next year comes sooner than you believe.”
Once the owner of a team that suffered one of sport’s great meltdowns, Blank got to experience the flip side of disappointment. From the competitive valley to the peak, in a couple short years.
That this title came in soccer and not in the most important league in America, the NFL, mattered not one bit to him. The importance of this one was obvious, Blank insisted.
“If there were 7,300 people here it would be one thing. The fact you have 73,000 people in the building, the most the building can hold, tells you what it means to the city of Atlanta,” he said. “It means a lot them. It means a lot to the sport. It means a lot to our citizens. I’m going to celebrate it and appreciate it as much as everybody else in the city. I’m very thankful to have the opportunity.”
And he even gets to be in a parade Monday, he was reminded.
“That’s right, first one since 1995,” he said, invoking a long-ago Braves World Series.
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