Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Reminder: It's short for "fanatic'

Fans outside the Georgia Dome use the big game as an excuse to indulge in their most outlandish boosterism.

Four hours before kickoff, Joe Sappington looked his face over carefully in a hand mirror.

Red paint on the left, blue on the right, silver stripe down his nose.


"Lookin' real good," said Sappington, who drove from Franklin, Tenn., for the Super Bowl and was seeking the perfect way to show support for the Titans. "She did an excellent job."

Sappington hugged Sally Schaaf, who also used stencils to spray "Titans" on each of his cheeks, and disappeared into a crowd of thousands of Tennessee and St. Louis fans milling around the Georgia Dome before Sunday's NFL title game.

On another day, even another game day, Sappington would have stood out in a crowd. But on Super Bowl Sunday, his face-turned-canvas was somewhat conservative.

That's because of people such as Barry Molteni of Lebanon, Tenn. He wore a 2-foot, metallic blue wig and matching lei into the CNN Center before the game. His back pockets carried two team-colored pompoms and a flask.

Molteni wore a replica jersey of his hero, Titans kicker Al Del Greco.

"But the hair didn't come till the playoffs," he said.

On the plaza between Philips Arena and the Georgia Dome, fans hoping for last-minute tickets and would-be scalpers found each other.

Some said the weekend ice storm, anything but typical for a city whose nickname is "Hotlanta," was forcing scalpers to sell seats (which often go for several thousand dollars before Super Bowls) for as low as $300.

"It could be the weather," said Rams fan and St. Louis resident James Shell, who was wearing a placard around his neck that read: "Need One Ticket for the Game."

"A lot of people didn't show up," he said.

Shell said he expected to find a ticket at or below face value before kickoff.

Temperatures hovering around freezing didn't bother Yvonne Layton, who stood outside the Dome in knee-high white boots, a mini-skirt and a revealing top, all decorated in Rams colors.

"My hands are the only thing that's cold," said Layton, who said she never misses Rams games.

Yet after a week of brutally cold temperatures and forecasts that up to 4 inches of snow might fall on Atlanta, the weather turned out to be a minor sidelight.

Freezing rain coated the city with a thin layer of ice, but it largely melted before kickoff as temperatures climbed above 32 degrees for the first time in two days. Fans who had been warned to expect the worst happily emerged for some old-fashioned tailgating.

Marti and John Kelly arrived more than seven hours before kickoff. The St. Louis couple joined about 20 Rams fans for chicken and barbecue in a parking lot near the stadium, hardly concerned by the 34 degree temperature and thick clouds obscuring nearby skyscrapers.

"It's a little colder than we would have liked," Marti Kelly said. "But we get this kind of cold in St. Louis all the time. What's the difference?"

A group of protesters tried to take advantage of the massive crowds to spread their disapproval of Georgia's state flag, which bears a representation of the Confederate battle flag.

The demonstrators threatened a boycott of Georgia, similar to the NAACP's tourism boycott of South Carolina, which flies the battle flag over its Statehouse.

Other than the protesters, people without obvious allegiance to the Rams or Titans were hard to find near the Dome.

But not impossible. Phil Farrell of Cumming, Ga., walked around Philips Arena wearing a New York Jets jersey.

He bought tickets to the Super Bowl last year hoping the Jets would make it. They didn't, but Farrell cited this year's improbable Titans-Rams matchup as hope for his team next season. His helmet read, "Jets 2001."

"They'll be here next year," he said.