Will Atlanta’s 12th Man prove worthy?

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.comJanuary 13, 2013 

ATLANTA — An intangible familiar to the Seattle Seahawks could prove pivotal today when they take on the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC division playoff game at the Georgia Dome.

The 12th Man.

Except this 12th Man wears a red and black jersey instead of one that is blue and lime green, and prefers pulled pork and grits over salmon and sushi.

Atlanta’s 12th Man might still recognize Seahawks radio broadcaster Steve Raible as a former tight end for Georgia Tech’s wishbone-offense teams coached by Pepper Rodgers.

How the Seahawks react to this different kind of 12th Man looms as an intriguing subplot in a game with many of them.

Seattle was 1-3 under a roof this year, the lone victory at what amounted to a neutral field in Toronto against the Bills. Atlanta was 7-1 at the Georgia Dome, the lone defeat a ho-hum, who-cares assignment against Tampa Bay in the regular-season finale.

The Falcons finished 13-3, earning top-seed status among the NFC’s six playoff teams, but they’re not above pleading for fans to support them.

“We need that 12th Man in the building, making as much noise as possible,” cornerback Asante Samuel said the other day. “We need it super crazy, super crazy. We need everybody in the ‘ATL,’ all Falcons fans, to rise up.”

“We need a loud playoff atmosphere,” concurred safety Thomas DeCoud. “The dome has been jumping throughout the regular season and I expect the intensity of this playoff game to be turned up. We’ll feed off the fans, and they’ll feed off us.”

Asked to compare Atlanta’s 12th Man with its Seahawks counterpart, DeCoud’s answer was as diplomatic as it was predictable.

“There are great fans up in Seattle,” he said. “I’m a Pac-10 guy and I know all about the Seattle fans. They’re smart fans who know when and how get loud.

“But I wouldn’t trade our fans any day. I wouldn’t trade our Atlanta Falcons nation any time.”

The Georgia Dome, which opened in 1992, seats 71,228 for football. It has been influential in bringing two Super Bowls and two Final Fours to Atlanta, as well as the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

But Atlanta wants to keep up with the Joneses. Specifically, it wants to keep up with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who saw the standard of sports-stadium opulence and raised the bar to a ridiculous height.

The Falcons envision a retractable-roof stadium replacing the Georgia Dome, and talks with the Georgia Legislature are well beyond the let’s-hire-a-consultant stage. Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay is pitching plans for a $1 billion project funded by $300 million in bonds backed by hotel-motel taxes and the rest picked up by private money. (As in suites, increased ticket prices, naming rights, and so forth.)

But all of that’s down the road. The only investment the Falcons want today from the public is enough noise to distract a Seattle offensive line challenged to protect rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.

In other words, it’s all about the 12th Man, and the Seahawks’ ability to endure the kind of hostility that unnerves opponents at CenturyLink Field.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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