ATLANTA – The next time in you're in Mercedes-Benz Stadium to watch a Falcons game, take a minute and walk over to section 122.
There, roped off by itself, you'll find a single black chair in front of a black marble wall. The words 'Never Forget' are chiseled into it above the empty chair.
It's a chair that sits unoccupied in a prominent area of the stadium that will never have a season ticket sold for it. The image of an empty stadium seat, something we all use every single time we go watch an event, is a powerful one.
The idea behind it, said Steve Cannon, was actually inspired by a United States military tradition that dates back to the Vietnam War, and it's simply referred to as the POW/MIA table.
At every single military banquet or ball, there's a small round table set for one with a white tablecloth and a black napkin. There's a Purple Heart pinned to the napkin along with several other items on the table: A Bible, a red rose, yellow candle with yellow ribbon, slices of lemon on a bread plate with some salt, and a wine glass turned upside down.
That separate table off to the side – with its empty chair and special symbols – is a powerful reminder for all who pass by it to always honor and remember the prisoners of war and those soldiers missing in action.
While it's a place setting for one, it's a table to remind us all.
"I get goosebumps just thinking about it," said Cannon, who is CEO of AMB Group and leads all business operations for the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, PGA TOUR Superstore and Mountain Sky Guest Ranch.
"That table never gets sat at, and it's there to remind all of us that there are those that don't come back."
Cannon, who is also graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, is Airborne Ranger qualified and served as first lieutenant in West Germany during the fall of the Iron Curtain, wanted to create that same sort of experience for fans visiting Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
"So, for us, this chair and this recognition for POWs that really dates back to the Vietnam era, is a powerful symbol that says that sacrifice is going on, it's happened but it happens every single day," Cannon said. "In fact, we just lost a couple of soldiers in Afghanistan just this past week."
Cannon said he hopes that symbol of the empty chair connects with people, especially here in Georgia. Cannon also noted that with Fort Benning, Fort Stewart and Fort Gordon, there's a larger concentration of military and families "probably more than any other state in the country."
And because of that, Cannon said, the Falcons – more than any other organization in the NFL – needs to get honoring and giving back to the military right.
"Our job is to shine a spotlight on service and sacrifice," Cannon said. "And, for me, that sums it up. Those two words, service and sacrifice, is brought to life in that lone chair."
On a personal note, seeing the empty chair hit home. Maybe it was because my late father served in the U.S. Army or, maybe, it was because some of my closest friends growing up have served in the military. Whatever the reasons, I do know that every time I take my seat at a ballgame now, it'll be hard to not think of those who didn't make it back.
The Falcons have dedicated an empty chair at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to honor and remember the prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.