On the behalf of nobody but me, let me say, “Welcome to Atlanta.” I greet you visitors even though every single one of you surely has been here before. Georgia fans gathered under the stationary roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the SEC Championship game just last month. Alabama folks helped christen that building for college football on Labor Day weekend. Y’all – and I do mean “y’all” – know where you’re going.
You know we have 17,000 streets named Peachtree. You’ve doubtless heard of the Big Chicken. You know we have a bit of traffic. Speaking of which …
As an Atlantan – technically a Cobb Countian, but close enough – since 1984, I learned long ago that our most dire traffic doesn’t come when we most expect it. That’s because we’re so terrified of anticipated gridlock that we skip work or take extraordinary evasive action. The two best traffic weeks in our history came, believe it or not, during the Olympics, when we’d been scared into taking MARTA. This might be the time to get scared again.
The belief among us locals is that Monday will be, traffic-wise, just awful. Almost everyone coming to this game is coming via car, which is what happens when both campuses are within a 205-mile radius. (Good for ticket brokers. Bad for hoteliers.) Also: The President is supposed to attend, meaning a motorcade with blockades. Also: It’s supposed to rain, and we’re at our worst as drivers in the rain, and maybe we’ll get a spot of ice early Monday, in which case I just lied. We’re the world’s worst regarding frozen precipitation. Google “SnowJam 2014” if you doubt.
Pro tip: Take MARTA. That’s assuming it’s running. We’ve had a few rough months, infrastructure-wise. We had part of I-85 collapse in March. (It has been rebuilt, thank heaven.) Our airport shut down last month because of a fire. (Up and running again, at least for the moment.) We had a much-worse-than-expected snowfall last month, and we rarely see a flake before New Year’s. We’re in the midst of an unusually cold snap. And we are, when it comes to big events, not always the luckiest.
Ice storm on the Super Bowl; epic downtown traffic snarl for the NBA All-Star game; wayward bus drivers at the Olympics – that’s us, folks. Sometimes we actually do pretty well with the major stuff, but we bear the scars of the times we didn’t. Meaning our fingers are forever crossed.
I should apologize. I’m probably scaring you. But would you rather I lie? To be an Atlantan is to await the dropping of the other shoe. The local NFL team holds a 25-point lead with 17 minutes and seven seconds remaining in the Super Bowl: What could possibly go wrong?
As for the game itself: It should be good – unless it stinks. The only other time teams from the same conference met for the national title was in January 2012, when Alabama beat LSU 21-0, the game’s lone touchdown coming inside the final two minutes. (Those teams, it must be said, had a history of not scoring: They met earlier in Tuscaloosa; the final was 9-6 in overtime.)
The hope is that Georgia and Alabama, who are loaded with coaches who used to coach at the other place, will get creative and conjure up some sort of offense. But Kirby Smart has brought to Athens everything he learned at the Capstone, and there’s a chance these mirror-image teams could know everything the other’s going to do before the other actually does it, which would make for a tedious show if you’re a neutral.
Not that, where the SEC is concerned, there are any neutrals. You either sing hosannas to the league where It Just Means More or you gag yourself with a spoon. The Alabama-LSU title was the lowest-rated ranked title game over the final nine years of the BCS. Just on geography, there’s a chance Alabama-Georgia could be the lowest-rated of the four CFP finals. Which doesn’t mean it’s not worth playing.
For all the carping committed above, this long weekend has the potential to yield a Great Atlanta Event. With traffic, yes, and maybe a dash of frozen precip. But this is the flagship university of our state facing the gold standard of college football, and it’s in our fair city.
I don’t imagine everything will go right this long weekend. I’m an Atlantan, so I expect the absolute worst. But I do expect a heck of a football game. Provided anybody can get there to watch it.