Atlanta hopes to erase Super Bowl ghosts of the past
ATLANTA — As Super Bowl host cities go, Atlanta is not a regular stop on the circuit.
But its first two Super Bowls each boasted a few historical markers that are tough for other spots to match, and most wouldn’t want to.
Super Bowl XXVIII was Atlanta’s first, played on January 30, 1994.
The Dallas Cowboys beat the Buffalo Bills 30-13 in the only Super Bowl in history to feature both the defending AFC and NFC champions. It was Buffalo’s fourth straight appearance in the game, making it the only club in history to make a Super Bowl in four consecutive seasons.
The game featured eight future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees: Dallas’ Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Charles Haley, along with Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and Bruce Smith from the Bills.
Much of the focus all week long was the gargantuan egos of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jimmy Johnson, the pair having grown so at odds that Johnson would leave the team shortly after the game.
Super Bowl XXVIII was also the first to be racked by political turmoil, with a number of high-profile politicians and civil rights leaders leading protests over the Georgia state flag, which included symbols of the Confederate States of America that many found offensive.
The league’s response, much like it was to Donald Trump in 2017, essentially was: We’re not a political advocacy group, and it’s not our role to get involved in political issues that have nothing to do with the Super Bowl.
One other bit of trivia: It was the last network broadcast assignment for O.J. Simpson, who was a sideline reporter for NBC. Less than five moths later, an estimated 95 million people watched Simpson driving his white Ford Bronco up the 405 in Los Angeles.
The game returned to Atlanta exactly six years later, with Super Bowl XXXIV featuring the Tennessee Titans and the then-St. Louis Rams, aka “The Greatest Show on Turf.”
With the Rams leading 23-16 late in the fourth quarter, the Titans got the ball at their own 12-yard line with 1:48 to play. Steve McNair drove them to the Rams 10-yard line before calling his final timeout with six seconds remaining.
McNair hit WR Kevin Dyson crossing underneath the defense at the five-yard line, but as the receiver turned for the end zone, Rams LB Mike Jones tied him up by both legs at the three, and as Dyson lunged for the score, he came up less than two feet from the goal line as time expired.
As exciting as the game was, it was not the biggest story of the week.
The game was played indoors at the Georgia Dome, but Atlanta was expected to feature mild weather in the week leading up to the game. On the Friday before the game, rain and freezing temperatures hit the city, causing sheets of ice to coat all the major thoroughfares, paralyzing Atlanta with conditions becoming so bad they caused a 47-car pileup on I-20 just west of the city.
The weather has been lousy here this week since Tuesday too, but nothing like 19 years ago.
And that wasn’t the biggest story of the week in 2000, either. At approximately 3:30 in the morning, just hours after the game on Super Bowl Sunday, Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar were brutally murdered in a fight in the parking lot of the Cobalt Lounge in Atlanta’s Buckhead district.
Eventually, three men were charged with the murder: Joseph Sweeting, Reginald Oakley and future Pro Football Hall of Famer Ray Lewis.
Lewis would later plead guilty to obstruction of justice and testify against his friends, Sweeting and Oakley. However, both men were acquitted, the case remains unsolved to this day and the NFL never punished Lewis for his involvement.
But that was then and this is now, and it’s unfortunate Atlanta bears those marks.
The locals here have been fantastic and incredibly gracious hosts this week, and with the Convention/Media Center, gorgeous new stadium, indoor arena and thousands of quality hotel rooms all within walking distance of each other, it is the perfect place for a Super Bowl.
Hopefully, LIII will escape and erase all the wounds of the first two.