Everybody is playing at home — Braves, Falcons, Georgia, Georgia Tech — in what promises to be an unusually compelling weekend on the local sports scene.
Rich storylines can be found at every venue. The Braves will close a stadium. Georgia Tech will oppose a former Georgia coach and his new team. Georgia will face a key SEC East test. The Falcons will face the three-time defending NFC South champs.
From Friday night through Sunday afternoon, a weekend packed with meaningful football games and bookended by sentimental baseball games will draw more than 300,000 fans to four stadiums in Atlanta and Athens.
Here’s how the blockbuster weekend lines up:
7:35 p.m. Friday: Turner Field countdown
The Braves open their final, sure-to-be-nostalgic weekend at Turner Field with the first of three games against the Detroit Tigers. At the end of the fifth inning, Braves great Dale Murphy will continue the season-long countdown of remaining games at The Ted by tearing down the number 3 — his former uniform number — from the left-field wall. After the game, the Braves promise the “largest and longest” fireworks show “to ever grace the skies over Turner Field.”
In a season in which the Braves have been in last place in the National League East continuously since April 9, the visiting team brings postseason implications to Turner Field’s final weekend. The Tigers are chasing an American League wild-card berth, adding incongruous stakes to a series that will be played in an NL park without use of the designed hitter.
This weekend marks the Tigers’ fifth series in Atlanta, the first coming in 1997 — the inaugural season of interleague play and, yes, the first season of Turner Field.
Noon Saturday: Richt back in town
The day after Georgia’s football team ended its 2015 regular season by defeating Georgia Tech in Atlanta, UGA fired coach Mark Richt. Who would have guessed then that Richt would be back at Bobby Dodd Stadium so soon?
But that’s where he will be Saturday, coaching his new team, No. 14 Miami, against an opponent that never beat him in Atlanta in his previous job. Richt’s Georgia teams went 8-0 against the Yellow Jackets in Bobby Dodd Stadium and 13-2 against them overall.
“I know I’ll have a lot of family members there,” Richt said. “Most of my family is still in Athens, so they’ll be there. And I’m sure there will be a few people that cheer for Georgia that will be there, too. But Georgia does have a home game that day, so most everybody will be watching that thing.”
Of more pressing concern to the Yellow Jackets than Richt’s presence is the need to bounce back from last week’s loss to Clemson with a win in its first ACC Coastal Division game of the season.
3:30 p.m. Saturday: SEC East showdown
Just about the time its former coach’s team finishes its game in Atlanta, Georgia will commence a pivotal SEC East game against Tennessee in Athens.
The Bulldogs are coming off a blowout loss at Ole Miss, while the Vols are coming off a stirring come-from-behind win over Florida. It’s early, but a win by No. 11 Tennessee in Sanford Stadium would put the Vols — quarterbacked by Joshua Dobbs, a senior from Alpharetta — in strong position to claim their first SEC East title since 2007.
It’s an intriguing matchup from a psychological standpoint: Will Tennessee be able to put last week’s game behind it to focus on the next opponent? And, for opposite reasons, will Georgia?
“This football team has won 10 games in a row (dating to last season), so we have been able to push the re-set button,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said at a news conference in Knoxville this week. “We better, because I think this will be our toughest challenge to date — going on the road, playing a really good football team in a hostile environment.”
The game commands the SEC’s marquee TV slot on CBS. It also brings the SEC Network’s traveling pregame show, SEC Nation, to Athens. The show — with a cast that includes Tim Tebow, who leaves the New York Mets’ Instructional League team for this weekly gig — will air from 10 a.m. until noon from Myers Quad on the UGA campus.
7:10 p.m. Saturday: Countdown continues
One final Saturday night at Turner Field will feature the next-to-last game of the Braves’ season and the next-to-last game of their two decades at The Ted. Braves vice chairman John Schuerholz, on his 76th birthday, will tear down the number 2 from the left-field wall.
1 p.m. Sunday: NFC South showdown
The Falcons are 2-1, having won back-to-back road games by totaling 80 points and 970 yards of offense against the Raiders and Saints. The Panthers are 1-2, having lost to the Broncos and Vikings, both of whom are undefeated.
And now the division rivals meet at the Georgia Dome, bringing Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player, back to his hometown.
Carolina’s two losses equal its total (including playoffs) last season, when its first defeat was to the Falcons here in December and its second to Denver in the Super Bowl.
An Atlanta win on Sunday would give the Falcons an early two-game lead over Carolina in the NFC South, which the Panthers won by a seven-game margin last season and narrow margins the two seasons before that.
3:10 p.m. Sunday: Saying goodbye
The final game in Turner Field could draw one of the 20-year-old stadium’s largest crowds. The Braves had sold all seats by early this week and put standing-room-only tickets on sale. The crowd also will be the largest to watch a Braves home game for decades to come, because the team’s new stadium, SunTrust Park, will have about 9,000 fewer seats.
Before Sunday’s game against the Tigers, former Braves players will take the field to celebrate Turner Field’s history, followed by a ceremonial first pitch. (No word from the Braves on who will tear down the number 1 from the left-field wall in the fifth inning, although Ted Turner would be a popular choice in the ballpark bearing his name.) After the game, the Braves plan a “ceremonial final pitch, the transfer of home plate to SunTrust Park, a parade of Braves Country states and a presentation featuring Braves VIPs.”
And with that, let’s call it a weekend.