In all of its glory, there is no image more symbolic than the Olympic flame.

It has become tradition. The flame is transferred to the host city in Athens, Greece, the birthplace of the games.

In 1996, it was headed to Atlanta.

That year, the first stop for the flame after Greece was Los Angeles. Thousands of people lined the streets across the country hoping to catch a glimpse of the flame's historic journey to Atlanta.

Covering the relay along the way were former 11Alive journalists Mike Zakel and Marc Pickard.

"Zake and I followed the torch on its first several days from its first appearance in Los Angeles coming right out of the Colosseum through California," Pickard said, "picked it up when it came to Georgia, and as it came closer to Atlanta and to opening day the attendant fervor grew along with it."

A remarkable moment many thought was inconceivable, but the will of a city would prove the world wrong.

It was 1987, just a few years after one of the city's darkest chapters known as 'The Atlanta Child Murders.'

Former Mayor Andrew Young said a renewed spirituality emerged.

"Yes, because Billy Payne got the idea after suffering a heart attack and getting involved the church," Young said.

Billy Payne, a former University of Georgia Football player, believed it was time to chart a new legacy for the city.

His idea: bring the Olympics to Atlanta.

"My wife calls it an accidental collision of time and circumstance. And by that, she meant I was already becoming bored as a lawyer," Payne said.

On the way home from moving church dedication, Payne said he told his wife he wanted to do something bigger, something to move people to believe in Atlanta again.

There was an endless list of big events Payne could attempt to bring to help the city, and Payne had all those things written down on his legal notepad as he brainstormed.

"Democratic convention. World’s Fair. You name it. Anything that would, hopefully, coalesce the community. And then, all of the sudden, [I thought of] the Olympics. Ugh. That of course appealed to my athletic side, and it seemed the right thing. I started sharing the idea," he said.

Payne first tried to sell his wife on the idea, but it was not easy.

"She said, 'You’re nuts. Here we go again,'" Payne said.

But Payne's wife convinced him to run his wild idea by their close friend, Peter Candler. Candler's family founded Coca Cola.

"I start, 'Peter, I’ve got this idea, and I really don’t know much about it.' So I start making stuff up right and left."

"He doesn’t say a word; he’s just listening. I said 'Well, what do you think?' Martha’s listening, and she’s ready for Peter to say, 'That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.' Listen to this. Peter said, 'Billy, that’s a great idea. How much money can I contribute to the effort?' I heard Martha hit the floor downstairs in the kitchen."

Seizing the moment, Payne said he suggested an outrageous number. He wouldn't say how much, but his good friend had no reaction.

"So I went to the office the next day," Payne said. "I heard knocking on the window. It scared me at first. Six o’clock in the morning, who’s knocking on my window? I looked up and there’s Peter pressing a check against my window."

The check was written out in the full amount Payne had asked for the night before.

Atlanta's Olympic Journey was officially underway, but would city leaders jump on board?

"I think it was such a farfetched notion that it didn’t really sink into Atlanta’s consciousness for some time," former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell said.

"Your head says, this is absurd, we’re just not in that league. Your heart says, wouldn’t it be great if it happened? But I think most people, if you established odds, who would say it was fighting the odds for Atlanta to think that it could possibly pull this off?" Payne said.

To help gain some credibility, Payne enlisted the help of another close friend. This friend just so happened to be a former U.N. Ambassador, but getting him to help would not be easy.

"Everyone in city hall had tried to block him from coming. Because they knew I liked the Olympics but they also knew that Montreal was $700 million in debt all the way back from 1976," Young said.

The two men borrowed a chapter from Los Angeles' Olympic playbook from 1984: finance the games through private money.

The Home Depot Co-Founder Bernie Marcus remembered his first reaction when he heard Atlanta was preparing an Olympic bid.

"I thought they were crazy. I thought Billy Payne was nuts. I didn't think there was a way in hell that they could ever do it," Marcus said.

Few people gave Atlanta a real chance, but Payne new he had a secret weapon: having Young on the team.

"Incalculable," Payne said Young's value on the team was. "Ultimately, I think it was a great advantage."

"He gave us instant credibility. I think the magical part [is that] Andy and I traveled all over the world for two and a half years."

"When I look down the list of 85 possible votes, there were 55 votes that I felt we could get through connections here," Young said.

Their main selling point was a subject Young knew all too well: Atlanta's role in the Civil Right's movement.

"I think the world is aware of the incredible transformation that happened during the Civil Rights movement led by Dr. [Martin Luther] King and Dr. Abernathy and Andy Young and John Lewis," Campbell said, the mayor at the time. "It resonated around the world. And there was also this connection between Gandhi and his philosophy of nonviolence in what happened in the Civil Rights movement. It was just an extraordinary moment. It was something that I think caught the imagination of the entire world and gave Atlanta the special significance in the request to be an Olympic city."

PHOTOS | 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta