ATLANTA–How big a deal to the rabid fanbase down here was Monday night’s college football championship game between Alabama and Georgia?
How crazy was it with a national championship game, wet weather (outside) and the controlled frenzy of the arrival of the President of the United States.
Consider just some of the pre-game happenings.
A request was made of Siri-the all knowing information provider being used by millions of Americans–for a winner.
“”I’m hearing that Alabama is favored to defeat Georgia by four points,” said Siri, not wishing to offend half of her fanbase, but perhaps showing a slight preference.
While the rest of the country may have checked out the proceedings at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a casual glance, Alabama-Georgia was serious stuff.
When the weather forecast for the Atlanta area posted a Winter Weather advisory for the potential of some freezing rain during the morning commute, a decision was made to close many schools.
The freeze never came, but the rains did.
The game and President Trump’s attendance were also included as reasons for the school postponements, which gave some validity to the decision when the morning commute provided bone dry highways and rising temperatures above the freezing mark.
So, yes, Alabama-Georgia was a big deal. Having the President as observer only increased the chaos as the Secret Service took over not only the building, but also the area surrounding the stadium and the access streets.
Gates and booths with ticket access were shut off (at least temporarily). Crowds backed up as security slowed the entrance to the stadium. Tempers flared. There were projections of at least an hour’s wait to get into the stadium.
What helped, of course, was that Atlanta and Mercedes-Benz Stadium has handled big crowds with the staging of NFL football games (Atlanta Falcons) and the recently played SEC title game.
But this time the stakes were much higher. And while the rest of the country might regard this as an additional SEC game, this was also a meeting between two schools with arguably the most passionate fanbases in college football.
Excess became the operative word. You could park (for $150) next to the stadium, which has been open since September, but the edifice also seemed overwhelmed by the game. Reports of a leak in the domed stadium, which prompted a “”High Tide, Roll Tide” response in the twitter world.
How bad was it outside the stadium? Dave Jones, a former Football Writers of America President who was on his way to the game, described the atmosphere outside the stadium this way, as a “nightmare, with throngs of angry people outside in lines not moving, with exterior lights turned off.”
Jones, who did not have to cover the game, said HE didn’t feel safe, and came back to the media hotel and watched the game on television.
Inside, it was also surreal for a national championship game which normally is filled well before kickoff. On Monday night, 35 minutes before kickoff, the 72,000-seat (at $475 a ticket), sold-out stadium was half filled.
The President presumably made this trip because Alabama and Georgia were a pair of red states still offering strong support. That support may be shrinking if the reception his incoming motorcade received is any indication.
Trump arrived in time for the playing of the National Anthem.
Lots of news–and the game had not even started.
By the end of a first half in which Georgia had grabbed a somewhat surprising and dominating 13-0 lead, the President was on his way back to the White House, leaving a packed stadium of Alabama and Georgia fans focusing on a game which remained the biggest attraction despite the chaos created by the President’s visit.