By Joe Earle
An hour before kickoff, it didn’t feel like football weather. A passing cloud had spit a few drops of rain onto the field, cooling things a bit, but the summer air hung hot and heavy.
Stan Gay had no time to worry about the heat. He was in his Atlanta Chiefs’ locker room trimming the ends of chin straps so they wouldn’t block the fans’ view of the teams’ logo on the players’ helmets. He had sweated through his light-weight shirt, but there was still plenty to do before the game. An owner’s work, it seems, is never quite done.
“I’m sort of the quasi-equipment manager-psychologist-trainer,” Gay said with a quick grin. “I try to do it all, just to make sure everybody is ready to play. As the owner, I want to do everything to cut costs.”
At 49, Gay is new to owning a football team. He started the Chiefs late last year after he left a job managing medical supplies sales. The league wanted a team based in Sandy Springs, he said, and he was happy to oblige. He loved football and likes the idea of owning a team. The Chiefs are headquartered at offices in Buckhead. The team plays its home games at Riverwood International Charter High School’s stadium.
Gay played college football himself. He was a walk-on at the University of Alabama and won a scholarship. “I’m proud of that,” he said.
Once he established his new team, he assembled a coaching staff and advertised for players. The team held tryouts and now lists 42 players on their roster.
The Chiefs are scheduled to play seven other teams, six of them located in metro Atlanta. The games are played on Saturday nights in July, August and September. Games are played in the summer so they won’t compete for fans with high school and college teams, Gay said.
Gay calls the teams “minor league” or “semi-pro” teams and says some of the players hope to make it the NFL someday. Several of his players have experience playing college football, he says. Gay also describes himself as an “advisory” sports agent and says he advises a few players.
Chiefs’ players aren’t paid. Instead, they pay $150 to $300 to join the team. In return, they get the chance to play football complete with fresh uniforms, referees, volunteer trainers, announcers and cheerleaders in short skirts and high-heel boots. The team does offer some incentive bonuses for extraordinary plays — $2 to break up a pass, for instance, $3 for causing a fumble, $5 for a touchdown or interception or sack.
“I’m just trying to give back,” Gay said. “I just want guys who still have that dream to realize that dream. I’ve been blessed in my life. I’m not a stranger to hard work. Nothing has been given to me. I’m proud of that.”
On July 24, when the Chiefs took on the South Atlanta Raiders, more than 200 people watched from the Riverwood stands. The voice of the game announcer rang through the stadium. A pair of broadcasters described the game for an Internet audience.
Gay rushed around the stadium, taking care of last-minute details. He checked with the folks running concession stands. He greeted fans in the stands. He made sure the right portable coolers were filled with ice so the players would have cold water on the sidelines. He delivered the team’s video camera to the woman who would videotape the game for the coaches.
“That’s part of the ‘minor-league’ stuff,” Gay said. “Just trying to arrange this whole process we have is very daunting. I’m a maximizer. One of the things I can do is manage a lot of things at one time. I think probably one reason I stay as young looking as I do is I am moving all the time.”
He says he tries to stay off the field during a game so he won’t upstage his coaches. But he did call the coaches on the sidelines for updates.
The game is something of a Gay family affair. Gay’s wife, Jia, and daughters Kelsey and Kendall, a Riverwood student, worked at the concession stands. Gay’s in-laws came down from Charlotte to watch the game.
What does his wife make of his decision to own a football team? “I think it’s fantastic,” she said. “I’m really proud of him. He loves football and he’s turning it into something great for the community and enjoying it.”
Early in the July 24 game, after changing into white slacks a red shirt and a Chiefs ball cap, Gay worked his way through the press box and crowd. He watched as his starting quarterback was injured and walked back toward the locker room with a trainer.
After a while, Gay took a seat in the stands with his father-in-law and watched the game. But he seemed restless. He called the coach on the sidelines to try to get an update on the injured player.
“I’m pleased with the turnout,” he said. “It’s pretty good today. It’ll get bigger after some more marketing and more advertising. And my team needs to play better. But it’s a lot of work, a lot of work. Sleepless nights.”
Then he excused himself and was off again. He had to go check on his injured quarterback.