On the trail of Super Bowl 51 stories, The MMQB road trip set up camp in Atlanta and spent time with two of the Falcons’ most stylish fans
ATLANTA — Day four truly began at 2 a.m. when we checked into our rooms at the Courtyard in Atlanta. Thanks to Jenny’s Marriott platinum status, she and I were upgraded to the “newly renovated” suite. The bedroom looked nice enough and so did the living room area. I had just laid my head on my pillow when Jenny came out of the bathroom, clearly distressed. “Hair. There’s hair. On the floor.” I was too tired to be bothered by this, and I thought it couldn’t be that gross. But in the morning I saw the hair on the floor, directly behind the bathroom door, leftover from the last guest. Or maybe it’s been there even longer, I’m not sure. Probably longer.
Jenny was still very disgusted as we headed out to the van. “I just can’t stop replaying it in my mind,” she said, shaking her head. We’re staying in this Atlanta Courtyard for the next few nights, so we prayed that the hair would be gone when we returned to our room in the afternoon. But no, it was still there. We are currently struggling to coexist with this tumbleweed of grime. Maybe we will leave some very specific cleaning instructions tomorrow. When Jenny found out that I planned to write about this, she begged me to stop. “It haunts me enough already,” she said. “I don’t need a permanent record of it!”
[Editor’s note: this can be reconciled with a call to the front desk. If not, then platinum status means nothing. Or, if you have the entrepreneurial spirit, you can pick it up with paper towels and throw it in the trash or flush it.]
Meeting with Falcons owner Arthur Blank was our first stop of the day. We pulled up in the circular drive in front of the building’s opulent exterior where his charity foundation is housed. Our Expedition towered over the security call box, so I had to jump out of the car and literally crouch to ring security to open the visitor parking gates. (I think the call box was made for tricycles.) The visitors’ parking garage was packed, every space full except for the electric car charging port. It appears Mr. Blank is a very popular man this week. As we walked toward the elevator, we all admired the fountain built into one wall of the parking garage and the engraved insignia on the elevator doors. Here’s a picture.
The walls of Blank’s conference room (and the entire building) are decorated with some of the most unique artwork I’ve ever seen. Each piece has the look of a scrapbook collage, a collection of digital images blended together. The three pieces in our room reflected Blank’s family life from childhood, to fatherhood, to older age. The first piece showed his mother holding a young Blank in her arms, his college yearbook photo listing his many leadership roles there, and Blank and his older brother as toddlers, all over a background of New York City, where he grew up. The last one showed an older Blank, floating in an ocean and reading a newspaper. A large portrait-like photo of a smiling Blank took up the right side of the canvas. A quote about family ran down the middle: “Life’s journey is uncertain, but these remain sure. The love and joy of my family.”
Blank wore a black suit with a red tie, red pocket square and two Falcons pins on his lapel. Tim asked him about his great sense of style, and Blank told a story about his mother, who lived to be 100 years old. She always insisted on dressing up and looking nice, even for his grandchildren and family. Blank said that he’s even received compliments on his sharp dressing from Falcons players. After last week’s win, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu complimented his burgundy suit. We also learned that a motto of Blank’s is “Buy it and fix it.” He told us that’s just part of his personality. Rather than sit and watch something go poorly, he’d rather buy it and fix it. After the interview, on our way to Cheesecake Factory for lunch, John joked that our team doesn’t have much in common with Blank. We buy things and then break them… R.I.P. GoPro.
After lunch, Colin and I dropped off Jenny, Tim and John at the hotel because they needed to get work done. The two of us headed to Macon, about an hour and a half south of Atlanta to visit with the Bird Lady, an Atlanta super fan. When I asked the Bird Lady (real name: Carolyn Freeman) for her address, she said her nest was listed on Google maps. Sure enough, if you type in her address in Google, the listing comes up as “AF Bird Lady’s Nest.”
As soon as we turned down her street, we started looking for the right house number. We really didn’t need to strain ourselves to find it. Her house is grey with black and red accents. The Bird Lady herself was standing on her front stoop, in her wild costume, waving us down as we pulled into her driveway. Her garage door is painted with a bird’s nest and the words, “AF Bird Lady’s Nest.” Her Volvo, named Falco, was parked in front of her garage. Falco is her third Falcon-inspired car; the first was given to her by the 1998 Super Bowl team. “I think I am going to cause an accident one day because people are always taking pictures,” she said. “I’m always stopping and starting.”
“I didn’t choose the super fan life,” she said. “The super fan life chose me. And I think I wear it well.” She’s not just an obsessed Falcons memorabilia collector who paints her face for games. She has her own foundation and inspirational backstory (more on that in our video piece); she has backup dancers and a personal stylist and her entire wardrobe is red, black and silver. She has never repeated an outfit at the Georgia Dome, and her outfits are totally wild. “I take inspiration from Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show,” she said. She doesn’t sleep on the night before games because she has to leave her house at 5 a.m. and it takes her a good five hours to get into full Bird Lady uniform. “My neighbors will line the street at 5 in the morning because they want to see my outfit,” she said. Before she was Bird Lady (a time she refers to as B.B.L.), Carolyn worked as a deputy sheriff from 1980 to 1985, so she always stops at a couple exits along the highway to Atlanta so that her former law enforcement co-workers can catch a glimpse.
Her garage is full of autographed Falcons gear, her own game day accessories, photographs, posters, and souvenirs from the 1998 trip to the Super Bowl. Carolyn requested that I queue up her theme song, “Bird Lady Bird Call.” I found it after a quick YouTube search, and she danced her Bird Lady routine for us. She even plans to help Mr. Blank with his funny dance moves that went viral after the Falcons divisional round win. “I’m teaching him a new Super Bowl dance,” she said. “He’s going to be good for the Super Bowl.”
Carolyn is sure that the Falcons will win because it’s the 51st Super Bowl and also the Falcon’s 51st year. If that’s not a sign, then what is?
Before we left, Bird Lady showed us her signature, “HOOTY HOO!” Check out the video.
Our next stop also involves birds and a nest.