The 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship, coming a week after the University of Georgia’s historic Rose Bowl victory, followed a festive weekend full of concerts and other special events, not to mention a thrilling season. And there was plenty of star power.
Actor Samuel L. Jackson’s famous for his “Rise Up” ads promoting the Falcons, so he had plenty of red and black at the ready for Monday’s game.
“Right place at the right time and a legend pops up,” he posted on Instagram with a photo of him and UGA legend Herschel Walker, who he said “could still rush for a century!”
He posted several comments in support of Georgia, and a few tweaking President Donald Trump, who attended with former Gov. Sonny Perdue, now Secretary of Agriculture, and Nick Ayers, a Georgia native who is Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff.
A mix of cheers and some boos greeted Trump as he walked onto the field just before the Zac Brown Band with Atlanta gospel choir David Walker & High Praise performed the National Anthem. Carly Ortega, 12, signed for the benefit of hearing impaired viewers.
Photojournalists gathered near the president during his time on the field and, as with every other news assignment they’ve covered throughout their careers, some were on their knees. The posture is all about getting a clear image (and staying out of other shooters’ way) and confers no political message. But Jackson couldn’t resist a post referencing Trump’s ire at athletes who kneel during “The Star Spangled Banner.”
“Awful lot of people with cameras kneeling in front of he who shall Not Be Named during the Anthem,” he posted. “Wonder why he didn’t make them stand? He was right there!”
But let’s put politics aside for the moment.
Pro wrestler Ric Flair, looking robust after a recent hospitalization, posed for photos with rocker Darius Rucker before heading into the stadium to cheer on the Bulldogs. Rucker, one of the performers at a weekend concert series held at Centennial Olympic Park, is a University of South Carolina guy without a dog in the hunt, so to speak. He diplomatically downed a shot to honor of all of college football — and possibly to warm up.
“It’s cold out here!” he said Monday afternoon, taking the stage his hands stuffed in the pockets of his black jacket. (Read Melissa Ruggieri’s full review here ).
Pro golfer Bubba Watson, sporting some nifty red and black socks, was all in for Georgia, although he visited with former NFL player and University of Florida alum Tim Tebow ahead of time.
“Tim Tebow is so cute!” Watson tweeted with a photo of the two of them. (And Tebow wasn’t even wearing jorts or anything).
In the interest of impartial reporting we should note that NFL player turned analyst Greg McElroy — Alabama’s former quarterback — also was in the house.
“It’s amazing to me just how much Georgia at this point resembles what Alabama looked like 10 years ago,” he told us Sunday during an appearance at the World of Coca-Cola. Fans were able to register their predictions on the “Liter Board” (see what they did there?) by selecting a Coke product from either the Georgia or Alabama side. McElroy filled his cup from the Bama side and correctly predicted the Crimson Tide would prevail, but he had lots of respect for the Bulldogs nonetheless.
“What a great story, what an incredible season and what a fun one to follow,” he said.
For many fans, it felt like game day started before game day.
Sunday afternoon found Tony Rogowski of Marietta motoring his gorgeously restored 1950 Chevrolet pickup through downtown Atlanta. He wasn’t planning to be at the game, he just came to show off his ride. Mission accomplished, maybe a little too well.
“Folks, I’m going to have to insist y’all get out of the road,” hollered an Atlanta Police Department officer, struggling to retain his good humor as pedestrians (including a reporter) stood around gawking.
On Saturday, Hailey and Torey Wright left Cedartown early enough to make it downtown to the University of Georgia team’s Media Day event. It started at 9 a.m. and Cedartown’s about an hour and 15 minutes away; do the math. Afterward, the Wrights and their sons Aiden, 11, and Asher, 6, got in line at the Georgia World Congress Center. About a mile away (or so it seemed) was Herschel Walker.
Three hours later, they all had No. 34’s autograph.
“That was awesome,” Hailey Wright said. “It could be a once in a lifetime experience. They’ll always remember it.”
On Friday night, Evelyn and David Davis came downtown for both Georgia and the University of Alabama teams’ arrivals. Newnan newlyweds (as they still consider themselves) who crossed enemy lines to tie the knot eight years ago, theirs is a house divided.
“She’s trying to teach my grandchildren to say ‘Roll Tide,’” he grumbled.
“My son went to Georgia,” she sighed.
They had every hope of working out amicable game-day watching plans and unlike many who made it to Mercedes-Benz, their evening likely didn’t involved getting wet or standing in line. Some fans reported getting rained on — inside — once they got there.
Getting there wasn’t a lot of fun. Stadium security’s always a bit of an ordeal. Throw in a presidential visit and the U.S. Secret Service security measures that go along with it, and you had people standing in line for hours (often in the rain) waiting to get in. Some folks hadn’t made it through in time for kickoff.
Rob Lockery of Roswell did. He had been standing in line for about 90 minutes when he figured out a better option. Another half-hour and he and his buddy Warren Thomas were in.
“It’s exhilarating to cheer on your school that you supported through Redcoats, allowed you to meet your wife, and your best friend!” exuded Lockery, a UGA alum who was a member of the marching band.
His wife, the saintly Lindsay Lockery, history should note, stayed home with their children Monday night.
“Oh. My. Gosh,” Rider said. “We just got together and said, ‘We have got to be at this game.’ We scrounged around and got tickets.”
A half-hour prior to kickoff, plenty of tickets remained available via online brokers, but no one was giving them away. The cheapest upper-level seat on VividSeats.com was $1,316. Meanwhile entrepreneurs manning a parking lot across the street advertised a rate of $150. Although Mercedes-Benz Stadium likes to tout its fan-friendly concession prices, the event was in no way a bargain.
Though pricey, many considered it priceless. Yes, it was a steep ticket, and yes, there would be travel involved and yes, he did sort of have a pretty important obligation. But come on, Jared Sammons figured.
“I’ve waited my whole life for this. I’m only 26,” he said. The last time Georgia went all the way was the 1980 season and he was hopeful ahead of Monday's matchup.
“We’re home,” the UGA alum from Swainsboro said. “It really means a lot.”
So about that obligation?
“I’m missing my law class to be here,” said Sammons, now a Washington & Lee School of Law student.
What class? Oh. Uh. Sammons chuckled a little. “Professional responsibility.”