2015 College Football Kick Off weekend, Georgia Dome!
Also known as the NOTDragon*Con weekend!
What a perfect storm of events! I had known for along time that UNCC was going to play in the Dome in Georgia. I found out later that Auburn was going to play in the Chick-Fil-A college football kick off in the Dome. I never put it all together that they were going to be on the same weekend until about a month ago. We had to go. Thanks to grandma’s willingness to watch the kids so we can go. We bought the UNCC 49ers vs. Georgia State Panthers ($10 general admission) and the Auburn Tigers vs. Louisville Cardinals ($80s upper tier) online.
Ever since having kids, my priorities have changed a lot. I have already written about my past with DragonCon and why I don’t attend anymore. I kind of grew out of it but I also am feeling a little burn out from general sci-fi fandom as well. So returning to Atlanta over Labor Day weekend to watch football was surreal for me.
We left early Friday morning to get to Atlanta early enough to check into the hotel and make it to the game by 3:30. I had been waiting for football season all year bo so many reasons. Not only was I hopeful for the Carolina Panthers this year but also Auburn Tigers for the same reasons, and for the Charlotte 49ers because they were starting out in the FBS this year. September could not get here early enough. THe ironic thing is I simply started out as an NFL guy. It wasn’t until I married my wife and then my college started their football program did I really buy into college. Now it is all about football come fall. Very few things take precedence.
Arrival at the hotel went flawlessly. We stayed just outside Atlanta in Dunwoody for $80 a night. This was shaping up to be a good dry run if I ever wanted to go back to DragonCon. It used to be that I wanted to stay in the host hotels, but now that was impossible. Staying at a hotel right near one of the train stops may be something we could do if we get the money together. I was going to keep this hotel on my radar for sure.
We got on the train around 2:30 PM I think, headed south until we connected up at the downturn hub where we picked up on the west bound train. Fairly easy ride and not too crowded even with Dragon*Con going on. I did not expect a huge crowd for the 49er game but I had hoped for a good turn out. Nothing feels like a small school like playing in a huge dome and only a few seats filled up. I really wanted to show these boys some support and pride in our team.
I knew nothing about our opponent – Georgia State University but they came across as a school not much different from ours. They had a slightly larger turnout than ours but I was reasonably pleased with ours. We had about 1000 people turn out while they had about 2500. There was good energy in the stadium despite the volume of empty seats – it was not like we were going to fill 73,000 seats.
Charlotte opened with a defensive touchdown after a fumble recovery on the first possession of the Panthers (I won’t get into how mentally confused I was not pulling for the Panthers). You could feel momentum swinging our way. The defense was playing lights out in the beginning, forcing GSU into several 3-and-outs. I felt comfortable saying that Charlotte was dominating the Panthers at least in the first half, with a score of 20 to 3 at the end of the 2nd quarter.
The problems came with our turnovers. By the end of the game, we had 5 to their 3. That got frustrating but give GSU credit for a good defense and half time adjustments. They rallied in the second half and scared us pretty good, until the botched on-side kick that ended the game. 23 to 20 was the final score and the Charlotte 49ers got their FBS win! The game ball went to the daughter of offensive line coach Phil Ratliff who passed this past summer, tragically.
After high-fiving some of the players from the edge – something you could only do with a small school like this – my wife and I walked around downtown Atlanta to get in some of the DragonCon sites. Sadly, we were harassed by more than a few homeless folks. We walked from the Georgia Dome through Centennial Park to the main D*C area near the Hyatt and the Marriott. My mind was flowing with memories from all the years I had attended but nothing made me wish I was there. The crowds were immense. Security was tight and everything just look like a giant hassle. I was not regretting my decision to phase that con out of my life – at least temporarily. We never met up with anyone as we had planned so we simply found the train again, and headed back to the hotel with plans of ordering out. And did so and had a good evening together on our own.
The next day was a huge contrast to the day before. 70k+ people were at this game. We got up fairly early and planned to be at the dome as soon around 10 or 11 am. We talked about catching the D*C parade but based on the crowds we saw at D*C, I did not see a lot of reason to go. I will catch the picture online. Being there has really lost its’ flair because of the crowds and the hassle. I had no idea what kind of things would be going on at the Dome but it was the Chick-Fila Kick Off game, so there probably would have been a few things going on. Well, it turns out it was a ton of things. I should not complain about crowds ever again.
A lot of the Kick Off Game events took place in the World Congress Center which is a massive convention space next to the Dome. But they either were two crowded or cost too much for us to enjoy. We ended up eating at the CNN center which was a zoo in it own right. We were right on the edge of the D*C crowd so it was interesting to see the mixture of football and sci-fi fans.
Getting to our seats was also somewhat daunting but it was not as bad as going to a Panthers game. There was no wanding, just bag check. We found our nose-bleed seats up on the Louisville section (apparently they didn’t sell all their tickets) and looked down into a sold-out stadium that looked like a sea of orange with a little smattering of red. Auburn fans turned out! We sat in a group of 20 or so Auburn fans.
The game went very similiar to the 49er game, in the end. The crowd was explosive. Auburn drew first blood with a turnover that was followed by a touchdown. The Auburn offense struggled a little but the defense was amazing the first half. Once again, turnovers were the killer. The much touted Jerome Johnson showed his inexperience with 3 total interceptions. And then the defense lost its steam when their star player, Carl Lawson went out injured. Sudden Muschamp’s defense was not stopping the fast Cardinal run game. By the half, the score was 17 to nothing, Auburn and part way through the 3rd quarter it was 24 to nothing. It looking good for Auburn, despite the interceptions by Johnson.
The Cards rallied back to get within a touchdown though. The sad part is that many Cards fans were leaving early in the 4th when it was 31 to 10. The Cards run game just about saved them because they were so fast that the corners could not catch up until they had 10 to 15 yards. The loss of Lawson really hurt that defense, probably because it was giving the Card QB more time. The game ended with a very familiar botched on-sides kick and the Tigers simply ran out the clock. Auburn wins, 31 to 24.
I still am amazed at how life has changed for me. At one time, I planned my life around D*C. Now I am going to football games. I have always liked football. My first game as with my dad when I was young – Rutgers vs. UVA at Giants Stadium. My dad probably would not remember that. I was a Dallas Cowboy fan for years but never went ot a game, and when Charlotte got the Panthers, I had to ask myself “Why am I a Dallas fan?” From then on, I was a Panthers fan. My first Panthers game was with an old girlfriend, probably a pre-season game of their second or third year. I lost count of the games since then but I have attended at least 1 or 2 each year. I also attended a few more college games. When Charlotte got their team, I bought seasons tickets and I am on my third year of that.
I am still a sci-fi fan but since I not only been to a ton of D*C but also ran sci-fi cons myself, I feel like I have seen enough of the dark underbelly of fandom and don’t have a strong desire to invest any more time into it. Maybe one day, when my kids are old enough to appreciate it, we will return to D*C. I think I have a plan that will work for us, but it is still going to cost upwards into the $1K to go. This cost me in the range of $300 to $400 because it was just me and my wife. And it was worth it. Both our teams winning helped to make the weekend even better!