College Football Championship: Heartbreak in OT for UGA fans

12:55 a.m. Tuesday: Rick and Marcia Jasperse sat in awe of the moment feet away from the end zone where Alabama had just dashed their Dawgs' hope of a win.

“It was sad, but it was a great game,” she said.

They drove the hour and a half from Jasper to come to the game.

“We’re very proud of these players,” said Rick Jasperse, 61. “These seniors who came back, they’re devastated.”



Eric Thompson, 30-year-old UGA alumnus, said he’s still happy he came to the game despite the outcome.

“It’s obviously kind of brutal to lose in that way,” he said.

But the Macon man is hopeful.

“We have really good things to come,” Thompson said.

Rod Holloway and his son, Aaron, watched from their seats as Alabama celebrated on the field below. Their team had just lost in overtime, but the father stayed optimistic.

“It was a heck of a game. I’m proud of Coach Smart and the Bulldogs,” Holloway said. “There’s nothing but good things in the future.”

Aaron, who had just attended his first national championship game, aspires to go to UGA one day. So Holloway, a lifelong fan who was born and raised in Georgia, was just glad his son was there for the experience.

Tom Lyons, Paul Martin and Martin Balcomb of Athens said the game was good, but they were very disappointed with procedures getting into the stadium.

The trio said they were sent to several different access points trying to get in. Every time they reached one gate, they were told to go to another.

“I think with the amount of money on this stadium, they could have gotten us in easier,” Paul Martin said. “It was the most disorganized thing I have ever seen.”



"The wrong team won," said Jim Gilsingen, who resides in Wisconsin but has a daughter attending Georgia. "But it was a good game."

Gilsingen said his team played well despite the loss. "With Georgia football the arrow is up," he said.

"Two great teams came together, and Alabama got a little lucky at the end," said John Bailey of Atlanta, referring to the 41-yard touchdown that gave Alabama an overtime victory.

"A little bit of Saban luck I guess. ... He's good at what he does," Bailey said of Alabama’s coach.

Ben Brasch, Becca Godwin, Stephen Deere, Leon Stafford

12:10 a.m. TUESDAY: Alabama defeats Georgia Bulldogs 26 to 23 in overtime. And the AJC's Ben Brasch is right there when it happens.

Update: Shortly after kickoff, long lines to get in appeared to have cleared.

Stephen Deere

9:00 p.m.: Adam Cohen had a plan all mapped out in hopes of avoiding the long lines at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Monday night.

Take MARTA to the Vine City station, across the street from Gate 1. Good idea, but Gate 1 was closed to accommodate President Donald Trump’s arrival at the National College Football Playoff Championship game betweenn Georgia and Alabama.

So he was directed into the human wall that formed on the opposite side of the stadium. Two hours later, with game time rapidly approaching, he was still waiting.

“I don’t know what the problem is,” said Cohen, 33, as 8 p.m. drew near. “Between the electronic ticketing system and the president it’s just devastating.”



Jane Fox waited 80 minutes in a line that wasn’t moving before deciding she’d try her luck in another.

“There’s been no organization at all,” said Fox, 31. “I just picked a line.”

Others were much luckier. If your point of entry was closer to the Georgia World Congress Center, the waits were considerably more manageable.

"I've been here 10 minutes," one fan admitted, sheepishly. Only a half-dozen people stood between her and entry into the stadium at about 7:30 p.m. She declined to give her name after hearing how long others had been waiting.

There were reports of fights between fans impatient with the long lines.

— Christian Boone

8:44 p.m.: The University of Georgia Bulldogs run onto the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the 2018 College Football National Championship. (Ryon Horne and Erica A. Hernandez / AJC STAFF)

7:50 p.m.: Ten minutes before kickoff and the lines are still long outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The announcement that the game was about to begin elicited a groan from the crowd.



7:28 p.m.: The problematic roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium is leaking in at least one spot.

“It’s dripping,” Mercedes-Benz Stadium general manager Scott Jenkins confirmed.

A slight stream of rain water is falling on the field near the 25-yard line. It is on the end of the field with “Georgia” emblazoned across the end zone.

This is at least the third event at which the roof is known to have leaked.

Two Georgia players and a UGA official were seen checking out the leak on the field.

The roof of the new $1.5 billion-plus stadium is supposed to be retractable, but it has been open for only two events — one Falcons game and one Atlanta United match — because of problems with it.

— Tim Tucker

6:15 p.m.: President Donald Trump has landed in Marietta and is headed downtown. He will attend tonight's national championship playoff game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Also Monday, Trump plans to sign a bill that would grant Georgia its first national historic park at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site near downtown Atlanta, according to a White House spokesman.

Hogan Gidley told reporters Monday that Trump would sign the “Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Act” into law later in the day while flying aboard Air Force One.

Before the president made it downtown, a group of protesters had gathered in the rainy weather around 6 p.m. Monday evening in front of the CNN Center. Refuse Fascism ATL organizers unfurled an anti-Trump banner and spoke into a megaphone about how Trump must go. Their words were met by passersby in red, yelling back phrases such as “Make America great again” or “build the wall”; others yelled obscenities about the president.

At the stadium, two hours before kickoff President Trump’s decision to attend the game created long delays and tension among fans trying to enter stadium.

The lines of fans seeking to enter stretched back hundreds of yards and barely moved.

Shortly before 6 p.m. security shut down Gate1 in advance of the president’s arrival. Frustrated fans pushed back security officers and Georgia State Police roughly 20 yards. Metal barricades were then brought in to keep the crowd at bay.

About 100 people were in between the barricade and the entrance and were given mixed messages on whether they can go in or stay.

5:45 p.m: Inside the CNN Center hours before kickoff, fans occupied every table in the food court and stood around drinking beers out of clear plastic cups. Children sat against walls wondering aloud why their parents had to be there so long before the game started.

Kelsey, Coleson and Patty Randall, decked out in stylish UGA gear, took photos together while laughing hysterically. Patty Randall are her husband — Dad had run back to get a forgotten pair of binoculars from the car — both attended UGA. She graduated in ‘81. “The ‘Herschel Years’” she said.

“My claim to fame is I rode a bus with him once.”

READHerschel alker is UGA's honorary captain for tonight's game

The Randalls, season ticket holders, were able to secure four seats. Kelsey flew in from Brooklyn for the game; she had her flight picked out on Kayak before the Rose Bowl. She doesn’t always fly home for big games, but has a good feeling about this one. Her brother, Coleson, was too superstitious to comment on the possible outcome.

The New Yorker hadn’t heard about the planned protest against Trump set to take place just outside the building, or NAACP’s suggestion to wave white flags, but said she was “so upset” when she heard he was coming to the game.

“I accidentally left my ‘Not my President’ sign at home,” she said while pointing to her two pins on her shirt. One said ‘resist,’ the other had an American flag next to a rainbow Pride flag. Her mother immediately began to console her, reminding her to focus on the game and not Trump’s attendance. Kelsey Randall couldn’t take part in the protest at CNN because her brother would need to be in the stadium by then, she said as he nodded with a grin, but she thought about showing her dislike by turning around if Trump is addressed. Or she could wave a white napkin in absence of the NAACP’s suggested white towel, her mother suggested.

“I hate him so much,” Kelsey Randall said. She brought her palm to her face in a show of exasperation, but you could see that she was still smiling.

— Becca J.G. Godwin

5:35 p.m: Good news for football fans: traffic on metro Atlanta roads has remained light through rush hour.

But that could be short lived.

President Trump’s motorcade is expected to arrive in the city in about a half hour. He’ll land at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta before heading to the stadium.

Keep up with game day traffic here.

5 p.m: It's three hours before game time and the gates of Mercedes-Benz stadium have opened for tonight's national football championship game.

4:15 p.m: Clay Jones, 30, stood in front of the Mercedes-Benz stadium Monday afternoon under a completely gray sky.

Jones, who graduated from University of Alabama in 2009, rode an alumni bus from Tuscaloosa and had just arrived. The ride in was smooth, despite the unfortunate weather.

His next steps: find his friends, get something to eat and get warm.

The Alabama fan said he felt confident his team would win the game.

“We’re going to be alright,” Jones said. “We’ll do well, as long as we do what we’re supposed to do.”

Jones hadn’t given President Trump’s planned arrival much thought, he said.

“If that’s what he wants to do, that’s fine. It’s a major event just like anything else.”Instead, his focus is on enjoying his brief time in Atlanta. Because after the game ends, it’s right back on the bus to Alabama.

— Becca J.G. Godwin

3:45 p.m.:  With President Trump planning to attend the game, U.S. Secret Service agents are manning security checkpoints.

Gates at Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened to media at 11 a.m. and will open to the public at 5 p.m.

Fans are encouraged to use Gates 2, 3, or 4 for quick entry.

READMore about stadium security today

2:55 p.m. update: Expected frozen precipitation missed much of metro Atlanta on Monday, but traffic congestion tied to the big game is still in the forecast.

Thousands of fans downtown will combine with possible rush-hour rolling road closures as President Trump makes his way into Atlanta.

“This is more than a football game,” said Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Natalie Dale.

“I would venture to say you don’t have a lot of people going down to Mercedes-Benz Stadium just to hang out if they’re not going to the Falcons game. This is totally different.”

READNational championship game to snarl metro Atlanta traffic Monday

Original story: It's game day!

After days of practices, press conferences and performances, the College Football Playoff National Championship begins at 8 p.m. tonight.

The Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide will meet for the title game is ready to go.

INTERACTIVEGeorgia vs. Alabama: Who wins the national title?

MARTA, which is expanding its service to accommodate the thousands of additional commuters expected Monday, is also ready. In addition to the game, Kendrick Lamar is scheduled to perform a free halftime concert at Centennial Olympic Park with multiple roads closed around the area.

The transit agency recommended commuters buy a round-trip ticket at the beginning of their trip to avoid long lines on the return.

Even the Georgia Senate, which along with the state House of Representatives began its 2018 legislative session Monday morning, is ready.

The legislature is delaying the start of its Tuesday session from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

winter weather advisory for the metro area expired an hour ago, and decreasing the potential for hazardous road conditions for fans making their way to the stadium .

Still crowds will be thick, traffic will be heavy and security will be tight, with President Donald Trump planning to attend the game. According to the AJC's Greg Bluestein, Trump's decision to catch the championship game adds a twist to the biggest college football contest in Georgia's history.

WATCHGroups plan to protest Trump at national championship game in Atlanta

Protesters are planning to demonstrate against Trump's visit. The Atlanta NAACP, which said it is not officially participating in a Monday protest, encouraged people attending the game to wave white towels to mock the "snowflake" label often bestowed on Trump's critics.

Another group, Refuse Fascism ATL, says they'll "take a knee against Trump" outside CNN's world headquarters near the stadium before kickoff.

— Staff writers Ben Brasch, Becca J.G. Godwin, Greg Bluestein, Lauren Formen, David Wickert, J.D. Capelouto, JuliaKate E. Culpepper, Stephen Deere and Jennifer Brett contributed to this report

Follow the AJC's coverage of the national championship here