For 25 years, the home of the Falcons
has given fans in Atlanta some sports thrills.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Jan. 13, 2017
When the Georgia Dome opened in 1992 in downtown Atlanta it was billed as the largest domed stadium in the world.
The Fiberglas fabric roof panel was considered a modern marvel, stretching more than 395,000 square feet and weighing just 68 pounds.
Under its cozy, temperature-controlled field, fans witnessed some memorable moments in sports history, including three NCAA Men's Final Fours, two decades of SEC championships, two Super Bowls, two NBA seasons and an Olympics.
As the home of the Atlanta Falcons makes way for Mercedes-Benz Stadium next door in 2017, here are some of the most memorable moments witnessed in the retiring stadium.
A divider transformed 70,000-seat Georgia Dome stadium into two separate arenas — one the site of the second Olympic Dream Team winning gold in men's basketball, the other where "The Magnificent Seven" captured America's first victory in women's team gymnastics.
Kerri Strug landed a vault on one foot to clinch the gold medal for “The Magnificent Seven,” the first for the United States women’s gymnastics team, and then was famously helped off by coach Bela Karolyi.
Michael Jordan fills the Dome
The NBA's Atlanta Hawks spent 1997 through 1999 in the Georgia Dome while Philips Arena was under construction.
The largest crowd in NBA history — 62,046 fans — filed into the Georgia Dome on March 27, 1998, to watch Michael Jordan play his final game as a Chicago Bull in Atlanta against the Hawks.
Jordan scored a pedestrian 34 points to lead his team to an 89-74 victory.
Here is how the event was reported in the March 28, 1998, Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper:
"When they finally shut the doors on the Georgia Dome, turned off the lights, the people who made it happen understood they were part of history.
'It actually went better than the first one,' general manager Khalil Johnson told Hawks president Stan Kasten.
They sold 8,046 bad seats at $5 in two days to set the all-time attendance record for the NBA, raising more than $40,000 for North Georgia victims of this month's deadly tornadoes. And they could feel good about it. The evening went off without a hitch.
Based on the Dome's inability to deal well with the onslaught of 45,790 who came to see the Bulls play the Hawks in November, Johnson was admittedly fearful for the safety of the larger throng expected for what might have been Michael Jordan's last visit Friday.
But minutes before the gates opened Friday, Johnson said he was a happy man. 'For the Hawks and for the city of Atlanta.'
So, only 48 hours after the Hawks announced there would be no more than 57,000 in the Dome for Michael Jordan's visitation, the 10-year-old NBA attendance record --- 61,983 --- was broken and likely unassailable unless it is done again in the Georgia Dome.
The reason is simple. Only two other NBA teams play in domed football or baseball stadiums this season. Toronto will not sell more than 36,000 seats and is leaving the SkyDome after this season. San Antonio's basketball configuration in the Alamodome prohibits a crowd of that magnitude.
Truly, this was one for the books."
The Falcons moved into the Georgia Dome for the 1992 season.
They have played 204 games at the Dome.
They won 116 regular season games, and three-of-five playoff games (before Saturday's NFC Divisional Game against the Seattle Seahawks) at the Dome.
Fans in the Dome saw Hall of Fame performances by Deion Sanders and Tony Gonzalez.
It has seen the development of quarterback Matt Ryan, who in 69 games at the Georgia Dome has thrown 2,318 passes for 18,163 yards and 117 touchdowns.
The Dome has seen its share of Falcons successes and frustrations. One of its biggest was the 2012 NFC Championship Game. The Falcons hosted San Francisco for a spot in the Super Bowl. It was one of the franchise's biggest accomplishments and toughest defeats.
This is how the AJC's Steve Hummer described it on Jan. 21, 2013:
"In a business where disappointment is to scale --- the bigger the game, the more you expose your heart --- the Falcons discovered a new level of torment Sunday. After 46 years of practice, followers of this franchise have learned to swallow the rout and digest the common defeat.
This 28-24 loss to San Francisco in the first-ever NFC Championship game in Atlanta was a whole other species of loss. This one took a fan base on a careening ride to the very lip of the greatest Falcons home victory ... and then off the edge, down a steep, dark bank.
They should be hitting bottom right about now.
And come two weeks it will be somebody else's Super Bowl. Yet again.
The fall was felt by all, from the owner's box to the Georgia Dome's upper deck to the countless homes where the drama played out in crystalline high-def TV.
'In the case of Home Depot, if we had a bad day in the stores, they opened up the next day for business,' Falcons owner Arthur Blank said afterward. '(In the NFL) we have to wait a while to get back into this position again and hopefully come up with a different result.'
As she trudged out of the Dome Sunday evening, Lawrenceville's Andee Gay said she heard the same sentiment from all the fans around her:
'If this, if that. If just one play goes differently, the outcome might have been different,' she said.
For the Falcons had come out with a raptor's cold-blooded intent, hurrying to a 17-0 second-quarter lead. Just as a week ago in the playoff game against Seattle, a similar lead slithered from their grasp. Unlike that game, the Falcons could not make the play at the end that would swing the result their way.
This time, a fourth-down pass to Roddy White from the San Francisco 10 with 1:13 to play hit the ground, and all reasonable hope was buried at that spot."
The Georgia Dome has been the site of two memorable Super Bowls.
In 1994, the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills became the first teams to meet in a Super Bowl in back-to-back years.
Their meeting in Super Bowl XXVIII at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta went pretty much as the first: Dallas staking its claim as the team of the 1990s; Buffalo taking the reigns as affable loser. (It was the Bills' fourth loss in the championship game.)
This is what the AJC's Furman Bisher wrote of the game on Jan. 31, 1994:
"I don't know that it came as a shock and a surprise, but last night in the Georgia Dome, the Bills faced the executioner again, and for the fourth time the executioner had their number. This is no cat we're talking about, with nine lives to give. Four times and out in the Super Bowl, and the next step is out the 20th floor window."
The Georgia Dome’s second Super Bowl was memorable for several reasons.
An ice storm fell on Atlanta the week of the 2000 game and cast doubts about the city's ability to host the winter-time event.
Despite the worry, fans arrived at the game and witnessed one of the most iconic snapshots in the NFL championship: Titans’ receiver Kevin Dyson falling within a yard of delivering the first overtime game in Super Bowl history. The Rams held on for the 23-16 victory and their first Lombardi Trophy.
The Super Bowl returns to Atlanta in 2019 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
to college football
In the Georgia Dome’s first college football game on Sept. 4, 1992, Clark Atlanta defeated Morris Brown 28-20.
Since then, the Dome hosted 151 more college games, capped off by the 2016 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, a College Football Playoff semifinal game.
In between fans saw 23 SEC Championship games, 11 season-opening Chick-fil-A Kickoff games, 44 Georgia State games, 23 Atlanta Football Classics (1992-2014), seven Heritage Bowls (1993-99 seasons), two Celebration Bowls (2015-16) and assorted other games inside the Dome -- including the 2006 Sugar Bowl, after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation forced it out of New Orleans.
SEC Championship Game
The SEC Championship moved to the Atlanta's Georgia Dome in 1994 after two years in Birmingham, Ala.
In 23 games at the Georgia Dome, the most common matchup between the champions of the Eastern and Western divisions was between Florida and Alabama.
Three SEC title games matched teams ranked in the top three nationally by the Associated Press poll — 2008 (No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Florida), 2009 (No. 1 Florida vs. No. 2 Alabama) and 2012 (No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia).
The only teams never to play in an SEC championship at the Dome were Mississippi, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, and Kentucky. Missouri lost its debut in the title game in 2013 to Auburn.
Alabama tied Florida with the most SEC championships with seven, as the Crimson Tide rolled past the Gators, 54-16, in the final SEC Championship at the Georgia Dome.
Alabama's home away from home
No college football team has enjoyed as much success at the Georgia Dome as the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Alabama won 10 of its last 11 games at the Georgia Dome, including five SEC Championship games, four Chick-fil-A Kickoff games and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl that earned it a national championship berth in 2017. In total, Alabama won six conference titles in Atlanta.
Alabama coach Nick Saban had a remarkable record at the Georgia Dome, too. He was 13-1 in the building, including 10-1 as Alabama’s coach and 3-0 as LSU’s.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
Twenty-five of the 49 Peach Bowls were played at the Georgia Dome.
When the Georgia Dome opened in 1992, the Peach Bowl found a new home and began an annual postseason matchup between ACC and SEC teams. In 1997, the game got its first and only sponsor, Chick-fil-A.
In its first two decades at the Georgia Dome, the games' margin of victory averaged 8.6 points.
The ninth oldest bowl game, the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl rivals only the Rose Bowl in number of sellouts.
To join the College Football Playoff, the Peach had to give up its ACC-vs.-SEC formula.
The final college football game at the Georgia Dome, between Alabama and Washington, set the attendance record (75,996 fans) for both the game and the Dome.
Before that, the 2006 Peach Bowl matchup between Georgia and Virginia Tech held the record for the largest crowd at the Georgia Dome with 75,406 fans in attendance.
ACC basketball championships
The ACC basketball champion was twice crowned at the Georgia Dome.
In 2001, Duke's NCAA championship run began with a 79-53 win over North Carolina in the conference title game -- it's third in three years.
The 2009 ACC championship game at the Georgia Dome again featured Duke, in a matchup with Florida State, which reached the conference title game for the first time since joining the league in 1992. Duke won its eight title in 11 years, 79-69.
SEC basketball championships
The Georgia Dome hosted the SEC tournament in nine of 14 seasons from 1995 through 2008. The event returned twice since then: in 2011 and 2014.
The conference championship was played more times in the Dome than in any other venue since the league revived the tournament in 1979.
The best SEC tournament --- at least the best championship game --- in the Dome probably was the first one in 1995. It culminated with Kentucky coming from nine points behind in the final 1:39 of overtime to defeat Arkansas 95-93 before a crowd of 30,057, still the largest ever for an SEC tournament game.
The games moved away in 2015.
A tornado hits the Dome
The Georgia Dome's most memorable SEC tourney was the one that couldn't be completed there.
On March 14, 2008, a Friday night, with Mississippi State and Alabama in overtime of the third quarterfinal game, a tornado struck downtown Atlanta, ripping a hole in the Dome's roof. Fans seated behind the teams' benches suddenly could look across the massive building "and see the stars in the sky, " Georgia Dome general manager Carl Adkins told the AJC in 2014.
The tournament resumed the next day at Georgia Tech's coliseum, starting with what was to have been the late game that stormy Friday night between Georgia and Kentucky. Georgia, which was 4-12 in league play during the regular season, won three games in two days on their instate rival's home court for a wildly improbable championship.
Atlanta has hosted 85 NCAA men's tournament games, fifth-most of any city. Fifty-five of those games were played at the Omni from 1977-92 and 30 at the Georgia Dome. The Omni was demolished in 1997.
Six NCAA Regionals, three men's Final Fours -- 2002, 2007 and 2013 -- and one women's Final Four were played at the Georgia Dome.
Three men's champions were crowned at the Georgia Dome: Maryland, Florida, and Louisville.
The Dome's final tournament in 2013 set records. From the AJC on April 10, 2013, after Louisville's win:
"Another change for Atlanta was the new configuration, with the court in the center of the Georgia Dome, which allowed fans a view from any seat in the house. The response? Saturday's semifinal games drew 75,350 fans, the fourth-largest crowd for a sporting event at the Dome, behind two SEC Championship games (2009, 2010) and the 2006 Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Monday night's crowd of 74,326 beat Detroit's Ford Field record of 72,922 in 2009 as the largest ever for a final game.
'It was deafening in there at times,' said Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president for men's basketball championships."
The 2020 Final Four will be played in the new Falcons stadium.
The Dome has been home to the finals since 2008, but the stadium's 25-year history with Georgia high school football dates to the building's opening in 1992.
Until then, Georgia high school football rarely was played on such a big stage.
On Sept. 5, 1992, the Corky Kell Classic matchup between Brookwood and McEachern was the first regular-season football game in the Dome. The Atlanta Falcons played their season opener there the next day.
"The Georgia Dome has without question elevated the status of high school football in Georgia," said Dave Hunter, head coach of that 1992 Brookwood team and co-founder of the Corky Kell Classic. "The players have really looked forward to playing in a great facility, and every school that has played there says that their program has been enhanced because of 'The Dome' experience."
In the 25 seasons, 169 Georgia high schools have participated in the Dome's 298 high school football games, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association.
The other football
Eleven soccer games were played at the Georgia Dome since 2009.
The first competitive soccer games at the Dome were held during the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup -- a doubleheader that saw Panama defeat Cuba, 6-1, and Mexico escape with a 1-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago.
The U.S. men’s national team made its first appearance in Atlanta since 1977 in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals at the Georgia Dome. The U.S. fell 2-1 to Jamaica in the first match of a doubleheader. The second game featured a raucous 2-1 Mexico win over Panama that devolved into chaos on the field and in the stands.
In all, the Dome hosted Mexico's "El Tri" four times, Mexico's Club America twice and the U.S. men and women's national teams once each, among a notable visitor list that also included European powerhouse clubs A.C. Milan and Manchester City, just as it was starting its ascent as one of England's nouveau-rich clubs.
The Georgia Dome is scheduled for demolition in 2017.
The Falcons, and many of the events listed here, will move into the Mercedes-Benz Stadium still being build next door.
The first event at the new stadium will be a soccer game by the city's new MLS franchise, Atlanta United, on July 30, 2017.
To learn more about the new stadium on AJC.com.