At 1 p.m. Sunday, the 2014 season will be underway at the Georgia Dome. When the time comes, the Saints will jog onto the field, a lack of pomp and circumstance for the visiting team, while the Falcons will be lead out onto the field by the Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders, welcomed by smoke, fire, and the thunderous roar of a sold-out crowd.
Pause; now rewind back to the beginning of the summer.
The 36 women that make up the Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders have been going through training and conditioning of their own, preparing them for the first game of the regular season. Come game time on Sunday, every person on the field in a uniform will have gone through rigorous preparation to be the best possible athlete.
Unlike the players, however, the cheerleaders don't get practice games. Their preseason is, for all intents and purposes, a normal game. The biggest difference is the size of the crowd.
"As a rookie, it's really exciting because it's our first really big game and we get to really show all of our fans what we've been working on all over the summer," said rookie Alexandria G.
Fourth-year veteran and co-captain Alice F. explained that the difference between Sunday's game and the preseason home games is the "feeling … of 70,000 people screaming and hollering." Something the rookies have to look forward to, but also something they will have to get used to right away.
Falcons fans celebrated Rise Up Friday across Atlanta attending events where they could meet cheerleaders and former players and also enter to win Falcons tickets and other gear.
Fast forward to this week. The intensity leading up to Sunday has been felt by veterans and rookies alike, especially in practice, and will no doubt bleed into the game, the first rivalry game of the season.
"Practice is always full of hard work and a lot of effort, but this week we really focused and everybody came very early to practice…so we make sure we know exactly what we're doing and we're perfect on game day," said rookie Cayla H.
No matter the sport, no matter the rivalry, fans can always count on intensity. The electricity emitted from the fans will drive adrenaline through each of the 36 ladies on the squad, pumping them up and ultimately allowing them to perform at a high level.
Skip ahead to just before game time. Right before the cheerleaders run out onto the field ahead of the team, they pump themselves up in the tunnel just like the players.
"When they're getting pumped up, we're doing the same thing and telling each other, 'Let's go!' " said veteran Macy A. "That's our little time to get pumped up and excited, too."
As for the performances, expect them to be "fun, sassy" and full of energy to "make our fans Rise Up," said Chato Hendrix, coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders.
"We are encouraging our fans to be in their seats to see our new pre-game performance," Hendrix said. "We have incorporated stunts and tumbling throughout the routine to keep them on the edge of their seats."