Now that Cam Newton, the enigmatic local boy done "good" is relieved of any official albatross of wrongdoing during his college days, could Sunday mark the start of his rise in local popularity?
It's certainly possible, but for a city that in some areas is still licking its wounds over the divisive Michael Vick era, it's hard to think that even a local like Newton could eventually pull Atlanta football fans away from the Falcons. But Sunday will be Newton's first game in Georgia Dome as a NFL player (his second overall after last year's SEC Championship game), and it couldn't come at a better time for the rookie to begin quietly building his reputation. The Falcons are banged up, and despite their sound bites, a little demoralized at 2-3.
If the Falcons were to magically regress back to their perpetual woes pre-Dimitroff/Smith, could Newton be something of an NBA type superstar to Atlantans, who like a majority of NBA fans, value the superstar over the team?
Probably not. For all the criticism both hyperbolic and deserved towards Atlanta's fair weather fandom, there's one thing an outsider (read: Yankee) would miss in theorizing that Newton could convert the locals: He played at Auburn (after he played at Florida). While there's a strong number of Tigers in the metro area and across Georgia, Atlanta is a city defined by its college identity, and no Auburn player could be raised up by any significant majority in Atlanta. No matter how dynamic the presence, there are certain identities you never eschew in the SEC.