How an Atlanta United Crowd’s Energy Reconnected Me With My Roots

I’ve witnessed plenty of thrilling sporting events. This Atlanta United FC game–in the team’s inaugural year, no less–was a new experience. This post originally appeared on Dirty South Soccer.

atlanta united fireworks

CREDIT: Courtesy author

I felt it in the 53rd minute.

That feeling I’d only ever felt twice before. Once at my first (and only) Atlanta Braves playoff game, a loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001. Again seven years later at the Georgia Dome, when the Atlanta Falcons pulled off a miracle comeback as time expired to beat the Chicago Bears.

How to describe it? It’s when you feel the emotions of every fan, not just yourself, ebbing and flowing with every ooh and ahh. When the stadium’s tensions are collective, every fan on the edge of his or her seat without realizing it. When you lose yourself in the experience, the rest of the world melts away, and you catch your jaw half-open in wonder.

The atmosphere at Atlanta United home games isn’t a surprise–it’s practically the brand-new team’s calling card. But knowing what to expect doesn’t make it any less incredible.

In that 53rd minute, Atlanta United was losing 0-1 to a ten-man San Jose Earthquakes side on Independence Day. The entire first half was lackluster, but in that 53rd minute, it was like someone flipped a switch in the crowd. I caught my jaw half-open in wonder. Two minutes later, United scored an equalizer and the tension of nearly 45,000 crazed fans erupted. The guy next to me, whom I’d never met before, hugged me so hard I shook from side to side. I screamed like a madman right back into his manic face.

Of course, you can find madmen at sporting events anywhere in the world. What really got me was the stadium-wide Viking chant in the game’s dying moments. By then, United had built a 4-2 lead that would prove unassailable. It wasn’t the first Viking chant the 45,000 of us had unleashed that day, but with victory in hand, I found myself yelling A-T-L not to motivate my team but to celebrate my city. A line from the pregame video that played on the jumbotron popped into my mind: “The South’s got something to say.”

I’ve spent the past almost-two years working as a journalist in New York, which is just long enough to start feeling disconnected. Sure, I teared up a little when I watched that Ludacris-narrated video–more an homage to Atlanta than a pump-up montage–four days before the Super Bowl earlier this year. But that moment at Bobby Dodd Stadium, calling out the letters of my city, barely able to hear myself over the roar of the crowd? I felt connected for the first time in a long while.

My job is in New York. So is my social life. But for a split second, overwhelmed by the spirit of Atlanta, I truly wondered why I’d ever moved away.

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