ATLANTA to GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Our first stop of the day was the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where we got a tour of the Falcons’ new home. It’s still very much under construction, so we were required to suit up in protective gear. As many as 1,500 construction workers are involved in the project, and the work doesn’t stop on the weekends. The stadium’s first scheduled event, an Atlanta United MLS match, is just six months away.
We were shown the “halo” video board, a ring at the top of the stadium that will be a giant circular scoreboard. All of the signage at Mercedes-Benz will be digital, so the building will be able to transform at the click of a button from a Falcons stadium to an Atlanta United stadium to an NCAA Final Four stadium to a Beyoncé Formation tour stadium. And 70,000 people will be able to stream videos over the building’s WiFi network. The fan-friendly experience extends to the food: It will cost just $2 for a refillable soda. Instead of having a concessions worker fill up your drink, you’ll get the cup and help yourself. I can already imagine someone trying to sneak in a Big Gulp cup to take advantage of this amazing system. Pretzels, hot dogs and popcorn will also cost $2, and the beer will be $5.
After lunch we headed an hour north to Gainesville, Ga., the hometown of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. But we weren’t going there for Watson. We’d read about a Gainesville convenience store that is refusing to sell Boston-brewed Sam Adams beer until after the Super Bowl, as a dig at the Patriots. We went and attempt to purchase some. Colin got the camera ready before we went in. We thought it might be fun to rush in with a camera and feign surprise at the Sam Adams strike. Tim led the charge and went straight for the fridges, with Colin trailing him. The store’s manager, Viral Chhadua, looked surprised and followed us over. A handwritten sign was taped to the fridge over the spot where the Sam Adams is usually stored: “We will NOT be selling any Sam Adams until after the Super Bowl #RiseUp.”
Tim introduced himself and asked if he could buy any Sam Adams, to which Viral said absolutely not. Tim would have to wait until Feb. 7. Viral explained that he’d read a column by Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe titled, “It’s hard to get pumped about a Super Bowl against… Atlanta.” Viral took personal offense, so he decided to refuse to sell the Boston product as a form of protest (Viral’s father owns the store). He took us into the back room to see where the Sam Adams is sitting, out of the fridge and stacked against the wall. “We are passionate fans,” he explained. “I just don’t think we get enough attention when our teams do well, so I did this to prove that we are enthusiastic.” It even set off a Twitter feud between Sam Adams and Sweetwater, a Georgia brewery. If the Patriots lose, Sweetwater challenged Sam Adams to name a beer after the Falcons, “Dirty Bird Lager.” We bought a six-pack of Sweetwater Blue and a copy of Gainesville’s newspaper because Viral and his sign were on the front cover. Our next stop will take us into Mississippi. Stay with us and you’ll experience life in a one-stoplight town.
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