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Longtime friends take Falcons tailgating to the extreme

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman
Michael Bowbliss cooks lunch on the grill during a tailgate prior to an Atlanta Falcons game on Sept. 30. A group of Gwinnett residents that have been friends since high school are crazy Falcons fans and decided to pitch in together and buy an RV to deck out and tailgate with at games.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Michael Bowbliss cooks lunch on the grill during a tailgate prior to an Atlanta Falcons game on Sept. 30. A group of Gwinnett residents that have been friends since high school are crazy Falcons fans and decided to pitch in together and buy an RV to deck out and tailgate with at games.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Kenny Hancock adjusts the Atlanta Falcons flag at the tailgate.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman An Atlanta Falcons bobblehead beer tap is built in to the trailer the group uses during tailgates.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman A trailer attached to the back of the RV during tailgates features three TVs, surround sound, a refrigerator, beer tap, liquor tap and stereo system. The seating at the tailgate is bar-style with Falcons bar stools and astro-turf.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman The inside of the RV features custom Falcons seating, a kitchen and bedroom.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Falcons fans Jason Hart, left, and George LaMadrid enjoy a beer prior to the start of the Atlanta Falcons game on Sept. 30.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Members of the group arrive more than six hours prior to kickoff to begin a tailgate party at a parking lot close to the Georgia Dome. The setup includes an RV, trailer, multiple TVs, a grill, buffet tables and more.

When it comes to tailgating, recreational vehicles have been done before.

Hundred-thousand-dollar traveling shrines -- complete with full kitchens, heated toilet seats and grills big enough to feed an entire marching band -- are not rare among the wealthy supporters of the Georgia Bulldogs or the Pittsburgh Steelers or, presumably, European soccer fans.

This is not one of those RVs. This is a workingman's RV, a pregame party spot for the every-fan. This is a 1997 model bought for about 12 grand, the price tag split evenly among six friends.

This is a sign of pure Atlanta Falcon fandom, and of enduring friendship.

"We all live different lives most of the year," Michael Bowbliss, one of the ringleaders, said, "but for those eight to 10 days a year, this is the one thing that we all have in common."

The dream can technically be traced back to Meadowcreek High School, where Bowbliss and all but one member of the still-assembled posse attended high school in the early '90s (the other went to Norcross High). They somehow remained friends through all the years, through college, marriage, divorce, children.

For seven years, Bowbliss and pal Marcus Werren have been Falcons season ticket holders. The rest have jumped in along the way.

The pattern of top-notch tailgating began a few years back with a trailer outfitted with multiple flat-screen TVs, beer and liquor taps and a grill. After a test run rental to end the season last year, the crew decided to step up its game.

It was RV time.

"Everybody was kind of gung-ho," Werren said. "It wasn't really a hard sell at all."

A 15-year-old RV was found on Craigslist, purchased with combined funds, reupholstered with plenty of Falcons logos and fit with a wrap around the exterior that would make Samuel L. Jackson jealous. Cabinet knobs are football helmets, and seat cushions, pillows and lamp shades all bear the slightly slanted Falcon logo.

"It was all cosmetic stuff," Kenny Hancock, a mechanic who lives in Lawrenceville, said. "We really haven't had any major mechanical issues. The interiors of RVs don't come in the prettiest of colors."

Each home game this year, the crew has assembled downtown from their various homes, arriving about 6 a.m. (for the typical 1 p.m. kickoff, anyway) and parking the RV in a lot a short walk from the Georgia Dome. The whole tailgate is assembled by 7 or 7:30 a.m., and Bowbliss -- the designated cook -- typically begins preparing whatever it is he'll throw on the grill.

Meanwhile, the gang will settle in and watch a dude movie -- think recent flicks like "The Hangover," or anything else a wife wouldn't be excited to watch -- before the NFL pregame shows start.

"It's just to kill time and have a laugh over," Werren said.

Said Bowbliss: "People think it's absolutely ridiculous."

Regardless, people still come.

The number of additional folks on any given Sunday depends on a number of factors, but, on average, it avrages around 15 or 20. For today's game against Oakland, the key members of the group are all bringing their significant others and children, and expect closer to 50 tailgaters.

Not all will have tickets to the actual game, but that doesn't matter.

"The facet that I like about the whole thing is you can invite friends, and they don't have to have a ticket to go inside," Hancock said. "They can enjoy the game day experience ... and it doesn't limit the people who can't afford to go into the game."

The key parties involved, the stakeholders in the RV, though, will be inside the Georgia Dome. And they'll be together.

"We really are more like a big group of brothers, a fraternity without a college," Bowbliss said. "We're brothers and we all have one common thing, and that's that we all like the Atlanta Falcons."

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