ATLANTA — The New England Patriots have the Super Bowl history and experience going for them Sunday, but they can’t compete with the Atlanta Falcons when it comes to an entourage of celebrity fans.
The Falcons have been known for having fickle fans who abandon the team when it struggles, but this season, the sidelines have been overflowing with rappers, actors and athletes from other sports .
Rapper T.I. says he’s no bandwagon jumper. The lifelong Falcons fan says he remembers when Deion Sanders high-stepped into end zones, Michael Vick dashed by defenders and the “Dirty Birds” danced to the Super Bowl in 1999.
Those were some of the most memorable moments in Falcons history, but there were many more forgettable years. No matter the outcome, T.I. remained faithful.
“We’re always down for the home team,” T.I. said. “We’ve had our highs and lows. But this team is different. We are rooting for them.”
Ludacris performed at halftime in the Falcons’ NFC divisional round win against the Seattle Seahawks then returned the following week to deliver another show in the team’s final home game at the Georgia Dome in a victory against the Green Bay Packers. The rapper recently narrated a short video clipped called “A City Waits” in honor of the Falcons .
Some might think celebrities are jumping on Falcons’ bandwagon. But star receiver Julio Jones says that’s not case.
“The Atlanta celebrities, all the artists in Atlanta, they’ve definitely been behind us throughout the years, even when we weren’t to this point,” Jones said. “I have a relationship with a lot of those guys. They’ve always supported us. It hasn’t changed. But they’re out here now. They’re talking about it in their music, in interviews, everything.”
One of the most notable Falcons supporters is actor Samuel L. Jackson, who created a commercial in 2014 for the team. He recently appeared on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” about his Super Bowl-bound squad and discussed how he tried to forewarn his team about an Aaron Rodgers trick play in warmups before the NFC Championship game.
“I tweeted it out to make sure, you know, somebody from the Falcons discovered the play,” Jackson said. The actor is originally from Tennessee, but became a Falcons fan years ago. Jackson worked concessions at games when he attended Morehouse College.
“Samuel L is probably my only competition as a Falcons fan,” said The-Dream, a Grammy-winning singer-producer whose basement is filled with Falcons paraphernalia from flags, jerseys and a helmet from Sanders.
The-Dream gave props to quarterback Matt Ryan and Jones for leading the Falcons to the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance, but credits owner Arthur Blank for changing the Falcons culture when the billionaire purchased the team in 2002. The Falcons lost to the Denver Broncos 34-19 in Super Bowl 33.
“I think our success before was kind of luck,” he said. “There was no plan, a plan for change. But Arthur was that change. He brought a culture of winning. It’s almost like seeing two different franchises, basically.”
T.I. firmly believes the underdog Falcons can claim the Vince Lombardi Trophy with a win over the Patriots.
“We open every season thinking it’s our year,” he said. “Matt Ryan is having an MVP-caliber season, Julio is at the top of his game and the defense has been playing well. We’ve been clicking on all cylinders. This is our year.”
T.I. and several other music artists, from Big Boi, Jeezy and Ludacris, are attending the game in Houston. However, The-Dream said he is purposely watching the game from his Atlanta home for superstitious reasons.
But if the Falcons pull off the upset, The-Dream may celebrate in unique fashion.
“I’m going streaking,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m going straight downtown. I’m going to send a tweet out telling them what we’re about to do. Hopefully, Trump won’t ban partying by the time the Falcons win the Super Bowl.”
Associated Press sports writer Paul Newberry in Houston contributed to this report.