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Roy Blount Jr.
March 21, 1977
While Boomtown Atlanta grows in splendiferous ways, Sportstown Atlanta attempts to outgrow its shabby reputation
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March 21, 1977

Losersville, U.s.a.

While Boomtown Atlanta grows in splendiferous ways, Sportstown Atlanta attempts to outgrow its shabby reputation

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Another demographic consideration in Atlanta is that many of its citizens can afford to boat or hunt or play golf or tennis, rather than go into town and sit among a lot of sweaty hollering fans. Many other Atlantans can't afford to buy tickets. There aren't as many people between these extremes as there are in most cities. Atlanta is a town of executives and poor people. Blue-collar people are traditionally strong attenders of professional sports. Atlanta has a blue-collar gap.

Gaps, gaps, gaps. All these gaps create anxiety, but they also breed new forms of life. In what other town could Ted Turner have flourished so broadly so fast? "At least all the gloom and doom makes people pay attention to Atlanta," he says. "Either be the very best or the very worst, and people will always remember you."

The night Turner was holding forth in the Omni Club, a dumpy man in a nice suit kept interrupting. For a while Turner indulged this man, then he started listening to him.

The man was saying he owned 157 corporations that grossed $1,640,000,000 the previous year. Yes, $1.64 billion. He was Earl Thomas, out of Ohio, and he was 56 years old, and his holdings, he claimed, included European soccer teams, the Columbus Owls (a minor league hockey team in Ohio) and the ground Madison Square Garden once stood on. He and his son and their attaches were in town, he said, to buy the Flames. For cash. He'd been negotiating all day to buy them, he said, and it looked like the deal would go through, if he could lease the Omni building and the concessions along with the team.

Turner gave Thomas a sampler of the Apple Jack Tobacco he was chewing. "I have an option to lease the Omni," Turner said.

"My lawyers say you don't." said Thomas.

"Yes I do," said Turner.

"Well, I'll take you to court then," said Thomas. They were glaring at each other nose to nose, both having a fine time.

"And I'll squash your tail, too!" cried Turner. "Hey, you're not spitting. You're swallowing. You're tough, Earl!"

"I told Boom Boom Geoffrion a minute ago," Thomas said, " 'Tell those boys to play their hearts out, because there's a short, bald, white-headed fat man up there who's going to keep them in Atlanta.' "

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