ATLANTA – With more of the feel of a tailgate party for a mid-summer baseball game than a revival meeting, several hundred Thrashers fans showed up on Saturday for a hastily organized rally to try and keep the embattled franchise in the city.
In response to an unconfirmed and to this point unsubstantiated report in Toronto's Globe and Mail on Thursday that said a deal had been completed to sell the franchise to a group that will move it to Winnipeg, fans organized the rally at "The Gulch," a subterranean expanse of parking lots criss-crossed by railroad lines adjacent to Philips Arena.
As temperatures hovered near 90 degrees, fans set up tents, played music and street hockey and drank beer. Signs read things like, "We Still Believe in Blue Land" – a reference to a team marketing slogan that referred to Philips by that name. Another read "Save Thrash" at the top with "Keep Atlanta Thrashers U.S.A."
With a photo of the team's mascot being taken into custody by police, a marketing stunt by the team earlier this year to try and generate ticket sales.
Another sign said, "Dewey Defeats Truman" – a reference to the famous newspaper gaffe in the U.S. presidential election of 1948 in which Harry Truman made a late, miraculous comeback to win.
One season-ticket holder, Jennifer Mann of Dunwoody, Ga., organized an effort to get fans to sign petitions to four of the largest corporations headquartered in the region, some of whom are team sponsors – Chick-fil-A, Home Depot, The Coca-Cola Co. and UPS. The rally started at noon. Shortly before 3 p.m., Mann guessed that they had more than 100 signatures. She estimated 250 fans attended.
Another estimate put the number at about 300.
"There are so many huge corporations in Atlanta that have the money – while we understand that it's a rough investment; it's not easy… but even if two of them get together and say, 'Hey, we're going to put up this money, we're going to help the Thrashers here,'" said Mann, a transplanted native of Philadelphia – and sometime Flyers fan -- who works in sales support for CareerBuilder.com. "And if we can get an ownership that can put a team on the ice and get a winning record, we can keep hockey in Atlanta."
Mann noted that at one point during the rally, three fans from Winnipeg held a short counter rally from high above a CNN Center parking deck.
At one point during the rally, a local television crew began interviewing season ticket holder Eric Tarnow. The fans crowded around him with their signs and began chanting as Tarnow gave an impassioned speech.
Asked later if he has any optimism that the Thrashers will stay, Tarnow, a transplanted New York Rangers fan, said his "ray of hope" is that reported discussions between Atlanta Spirit, which owns the Thrashers, and True North, the Winnipeg-based group, will collapse. He is a self-described hockey junky and has been a season ticket holder for the last six seasons, having moved here seven years ago.
"Remember the show, 'Cheers'?" Tarnow said. "This is my 'Cheers' – where everybody knows my name."
Scott Conlin and his wife Emily of Smyrna, Ga., sat in the shade of their car with its hatchback raised to keep their newborn daughter out of the blazing sun. Conlin, a transplanted Michigan native who has attended games for three seasons on his company's corporate season-ticket plan, said he had a hard time finding the rally, at the back of a parking lot, and also thought the heat might have kept some away.
"I think it's great that Atlanta Thrashers fans got together and formed something like this," said Conlin, who works for a lumber company that supplies Home Depot. "I don't know how many days' notice (before the rally), but I don't think the location was maybe picked in the best spot. Today being 90-plus
(degrees) isn't helping things, either.
"I really hope the Atlanta Thrashers stay. You know, Atlanta's such a booming economy, a booming town."
With about 45 minutes left in the rally, one fan wrote in chalk on a cement wall at one end of the lot, "Save The Thrashers."
Only time will tell if it's too late.