ATLANTA -- What I learned most about the College Football Playoff National Championship is how grand the spectacle of the thing is.
Walking around Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the hours before Alabama and Georgia played in front of 77,430 spectators and millions more around the country, the activity never stopped: TV crews preparing for broadcasts, security guards getting instructions, staff tweaking gold columns in the shape of the CFB Playoff logo in front of each teams’ tunnel leading on to the field and then tweaking some more. I never saw anyone relaxed, just waiting. Well, except some media.
And then there was the game.
Oh, the game; what a wonderful clash it was of football teams from the South. So dramatic and persistent was the action that it was almost a blur. But after covering my first college football national championship, I will take away a few specific memories from the momentous night:
Press boxes are normally secluded from spectators, but Monday’s event brought so many members of the media that an auxiliary press box was created out of a stack of bleachers on either side of the tunnel separating Sections 334 and 335. I sat second row from the front, third chair from the left, right next to a contingent of Alabama fans.
And you couldn’t ignore the closest one. She was a middle-aged woman with long, straight brown hair and a Hurts So Good button on her sweater. She stood dancing to music before the game started. On poor plays for Alabama, she turned around to her husband (?) one row behind her to complain. He never broke his line of sight on the field and just put up his hand. When Georgia fans booed as the stadium played “Sweet Home Alabama,” she shrieked, “Shut up!” When Calvin Ridley caught a 7-yard touchdown pass to tie the game 20-20 late in the fourth quarter, she turned to her husband once again. This time, they embraced and kissed.
Never change, Alabama lady. Never change.
A missed chance
Alabama should have won the game in regulation. The Crimson Tide had a 36-yard field goal lined up with 3 seconds left, but senior kicker Andy Pappanastos missed, giving Georgia life in overtime. That never worked out, of course.
I decided not to watch the kick but the Alabama contingent next to our auxiliary press box. I figured it’d be just as easy to know how the play ended by their reaction. And, yes, their look said it all. But they still celebrated later.
How the players could hear anything, especially on third down, I’ll never know.
Alabama is not a team of its state to the same extent as Georgia. Size and population determine some of that, and the Crimson Tide doesn’t have the vast recruiting landscape to harvest like the Bulldogs. But recent success has impacted that, too. Nick Saban’s dynastic tenure has turned Alabama into a national brand, so much so that among their starters represented 14 different states.
Georgia is a team of its state. Its starters came from Houston County and Marist and Cedartown and Stephens County and Norcross and Tucker and so on. Among the Bulldogs’ starters were players representing 14 different Georgia high schools. Among the Bulldogs’ key reserves were even more.
One of the complaints during Alabama’s resurgence was that too many of Georgia’s finest high school players were getting plucked by other programs, chief among them the Crimson Tide. That seems to be changing under Kirby Smart, and Monday night was a glimpse of the impact.
Tip of the visor
As the confetti fell after Smith’s touchdown catch, Bulldogs freshman quarterback Jake Fromm made his way off the field to the Georgia locker room. Before he could get there, running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel ran him down for a hug. Head coach Kirby Smart joined a second later.
Swarmed by media, the four players walked the rest of the way off the field together. As they approached the tunnel, Bulldogs fans hung on the railings above and gave the accomplished group a moving round of applause. Smart took off his red Georgia visor and tipped it toward the crowd.
Brian Paglia is sports editor at the Forsyth County News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 770-205-8976 or on Twitter at @ForsythSports.