Just after 10 a.m. this morning, at the corner of Baker and Williams streets, chants of “A-T-L,” the thunder of drums, and innumerable whoops of joy signified that thousands of Atlantans were partaking in an atypical morning commute—the type of procession not seen in this city since the Atlanta Braves rocketed themselves to World Series Champions in 1995.
Unbelievably, the Braves’s feat was the lone major professional title in the history of Atlanta sports. Until Saturday night, that is, when Atlanta United FC captured the MLS Cup in only their second season, besting the Portland Timbers 2-0 and lending validity to the chant: “We ready. We ready. We ready. For y’all.”
Despite spitting, pesky rain and temps that barely nipped the low 40s, Monday’s downtown parade proved the accuracy of another ATL UTD rallying cry—“We are the A. From way down south. And we are here. Rowdy and proud.”
Traveling about 12 city blocks over the course of an hour and 15 minutes, beginning at Peachtree Street and ending naturally in the shadow of The Benz, the parade was a showcase of what team owner Arthur Blank would call “great diversity” and inclusivity. The rousing spectacle saw people of every conceivable background, age, and ethnicity screaming “Hootie Hoo!” in unison as the MLS Cup was hoisted before them.
In many ways the parade—and its “pep rally” climax at the Home Deport Backyard—was quintessentially Atlanta. (The winning part notwithstanding).
It was a testament to the unifying power of soccer—and success.
Many spoke Monday of a 23-year “curse” being ended by a team that’s nothing short of a juggernaut. Blank noted that Atlanta United holds the top eight records for game attendance, all notched in the club’s first two seasons.
As the parade shimmied and thundered down Baker Street, near Centennial Olympic Park, red smoke flares popped and the enthusiasm bordered on frenzy.
The Footie Mob fanbase waved “CONQUERED” soccer scarves, and a borderline sacrilegious visage of dynamo forward Josef Martinez—the MLS’s record-breaking Most Valuable Player for 2018—bobbed in the drizzle.
Above it all, this: “Sha la la laaaaa.”
The procession turned right down Andrew Young International Boulevard, near CNN Center, and the crowd thickened, with chants of “A-T-L” growing louder, as businesspeople smiled from hotel terraces, looking either astonished or confused.
A younger guy outside the Georgia World Congress Center screamed for the attention of midfielder Julian Gressel and goalkeeper Brad Guzan—and then popped a bottle of champagne and chugged until his eyes crunched in pain.
During one chant involving jumping, the elevated street outside the GWCC literally bounced. Nobody cared.
As the parade rounded toward Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the bearded “Santa United” took pics with kids and riled crowds huddled on sidewalks. Shirts came off.
By 11:15 a.m., the parade had reached the pep rally, and thousands filed down into the soggy field to the thump of OutKast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious.”
An MLS television personality complimented the incoming fanbase as “the most diverse” and “a beautiful thing” while his counterpart described what she saw as “the epitome of Southern hospitality.”
Meanwhile: “Sha la la laaaaa.”
Dignitaries took the podium around noon, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said it’s time the world should know “that we united, and we conquered.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms acknowledged that several Atlanta United players weren’t alive the last time her city had seen such a parade—and that she’d never watched a professional soccer match before the advent of the local club.
“I’m so proud to say that, for people like me growing up on the Westside of Atlanta,” said the mayor, “soccer is everything [now].”
The loudest pep-rally applause may have come for Blank—aka, “Uncle Arthur,” as team officials like to call the magnate—who said of Atlanta: “We know it’s a great city, and we know it’s a great sports city, and now we know it’s a great championship city.”
After a high-ranking team official quoted André 3000, and just before the confetti and fireballs, team captain Micheal Parkhurst took the mic.
“It feels damn good to be a champion,” Parkhurst told the crowd. “This trophy is ours, and this trophy is yours.”
Damn, damn, damn, indeed.