ATLANTA/NEW YORK (Reuters) - For any U.S. city, hosting the Super Bowl is the dream: A chance to attract thousands of tourists and capture the national spotlight.
For fans of the Atlanta Falcons, hosting this year’s NFL championship on Sunday is a bit more complicated.
“I really don’t like the Patriots being here,” said Keith Cowan, a 35-year-old a warehouse operations specialist, proudly wearing his Falcons cap in Atlanta on Tuesday.
As quarterback Tom Brady and his AFC title-holding team landed in Georgia, they brought with them painful memories for some Falcons stalwarts still reeling from a devastating, last-minute loss to New England in the Super Bowl two years ago.
Cowan, like other locals, said he was choosing to embrace what he and other fans were calling “the Atlanta Rams.”
That is of course, the Los Angeles Rams, who snatched the NFC Championship from Atlanta’s archenemy New Orleans Saints, the only team Falcons fans might have dreaded seeing in town more than the Patriots.
Naomi Mercier, 38, a manager at the Midway Pub in Atlanta, said cheering for the Rams this year was a natural fit.
“They’re not the Patriots and they’re not the Saints!” Mercier said. “Rooting for the underdog is what most people like to do here in Atlanta.”
Of course, New Englanders were not exactly outnumbered in Atlanta.
Dan Corso, president of the Atlanta Sports Council and a member of the Atlanta Super Bowl LIII Host Committee, said a large contingent of Patriots fans were already in town, and that residents were embracing the “vibe and the energy” of the week.
“I’m just excited that it is here in Atlanta as a football fan,” said DeMarco King, 35, who works at the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta.
Candace Bazemore, who has lived in Atlanta for over 20 years, said having the Patriots in town had not put a damper on the festivities — but said she would like to see someone put a “whoopin’” on quarterback Brady.
“Because of southern hospitality it doesn’t have to be us,” Bazemore said. “But it has to be somebody.”
Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York and Brendan O'Brien in Atlanta; Editing by Lisa Shumaker