When Bernie Bean’s wife showed him the Atlanta Falcons tattoo she got for their fifth wedding anniversary, his jaw dropped.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Bean, a Winslow native who now lives in Clinton. “I told her, ‘You realize you’re stuck with me now. You’re not going to find another Falcons fan up here.’”

A diehard fan for 36 years, Bean is a rarity deep in the heart of Patriots Nation. Good luck trying to find many others in Maine who live and die with the Falcons. The few that do will be cheering on Atlanta against New England in Super Bowl LI on Sunday evening.

“There’s only a handful of us,” said Clark Phinney, a Falcons fan who lives in Winthrop. “It’s probably akin to saying you’re part of the underground resistance.”

Bean was 12 when he adopted Atlanta as his favorite NFL team while watching the Falcons on TV during a playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys. He remembers the exact date: Jan. 4, 1981.

“My best friend, who was also my next-door neighbor, was a very cocky, loud-mouthed Cowboys fan,” he said. “It drove me nuts.”

NOT ‘MANY OTHERS TO HANG OUT WITH’

Bean liked the Falcons’ logo, uniforms and the fact that they were the only thing standing between him and a week of listening to his friend “run his mouth.” Despite Atlanta’s 30-27 loss that day, Bean had committed to the team – along with a lifetime of isolation.

Team caps and a helmet decorate the Clinton home of Atlanta Falcons fans Bernie and Lori Bean. Bernie Bean says on Sunday he’ll be wearing a Christmas gift from his grandson: a Matt Ryan jersey. The Falcons quarterback “has become my all-time favorite player,” Bean said. Staff photo by Carl D. Walsh

“It is somewhat strange being a Falcons fan here in Maine,” said Bean, 48. “I knew I wasn’t going to find many others to hang out with.”

So he created his own group. Bean converted his wife into a Falcons fan, and they raised two children. Their son, Chris, roots for Atlanta. Their daughter, Danielle, married into a Patriots family and “joined the dark side.” The whole family, including Bean’s three grandchildren, will watch the game together with friends at a sports bar in Winslow called The Pointe Afta.

Despite their allegiance to the Falcons, Bean and Phinney have never met. A Bucksport native, Phinney grew up in “solid Patriots territory” before moving to Georgia to work for Habitat for Humanity in the 1990s. During football seasons, he regularly drove past a Falcons billboard outside the old Fulton County Stadium that read: “We promise we will play our hardest every week for you.”

“Sports culture in the South – particularly in Atlanta – is so community-orientated,” Phinney said. “There’s just so much pride – you can’t help but get caught up in it.”

Phinney, 46, brought his Falcons pride back to Maine. He married a Patriots fan and fully expects Sunday to be “merciless.”

“It’s very interesting when you find another Falcons fan up here,” Phinney said. “‘Oh my god, you’re one, too?’ It’s like a secret code.”

Phinney considers himself more of a casual fan than Bean, who has NFL Sunday Ticket so he can watch all the Atlanta games with his family. Bean connects with other Falcons fans through “The Falcoholic” page on SB Nation with the username “FalconFanInMaine” – a handle for which he likely didn’t have much competition.

“It’s where I go to get all of my Falcons news and can interact with fellow Falcons fans around the country,” Bean said. “It’s a tightknit group and truly makes me feel like part of the Falcons community.”

GREAT FAITH IN ATLANTA’S MATT RYAN

Bean has been on board for all of the Falcons’ ups and downs over the last four decades. He has an old Super Bowl jacket from the 1998 season – Atlanta’s first and only other appearance in the championship game. While that 34-19 loss to the Denver Broncos stung, nothing crushed fans like the 2007 Michael Vick dogfighting saga – a story, Bean said, that broke his heart.

“When he fell from grace, he fell hard,” Phinney said. “I think a lot of Falcons fans took that very personally.”

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, left, shakes hands with New England’s Tom Brady during opening night ceremonies Monday in Houston. Associated Press/David J. Phillip

But Matt Ryan picked up the pieces of their shattered morale when Atlanta drafted him as quarterback in 2008. It was “the best of both worlds” for Phinney, who – as a Boston College fan – had closely followed Ryan’s career.

“He has become my all-time favorite player,” Bean said. “He’s the best, and I always knew he would get us to this point one day.”

Another Mainer pulling for the Falcons on Sunday is a guy who knows Ryan well. Quinton Porter was the starting quarterback at Boston College before suffering a high ankle sprain his senior year, allowing Ryan to take the field. Porter said they still stay in touch, occasionally texting each other inside jokes about former coaches.

“I’ll upset a lot of people by saying this, but I’m rooting for Matty,” said Porter, a Portland native. “I grew up a Patriots fan, but I’d just love to see Matty win one.

“I can appreciate the fact that he has a mountain of responsibility on him. He can handle it really well.”

When asked if he knew of any Falcons fans in Maine, Porter laughed.

“Yeah, I don’t know,” he said. “That’s a tough one.”

At The Pointe Afta, Bean will watch the Super Bowl while wearing his new Matt Ryan jersey – a Christmas gift from his 14-year-old grandson, Luquis, who will be rooting for the Patriots.

“He knew I had been wanting one, so he asked his mom if she would spend $100 less on him and get me a gift card instead,” Bean said. “He had me right in tears.”

And if the Falcons are actually able to defeat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick?

“Oh my god,” Bean said. “That would just be the ultimate feeling. I would be so happy. The Falcons would finally be on the map. It would give me bragging rights.”

He laughed, then added, “For once.”

Taylor Vortherms can be contacted at 791-6417 or

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