In August of 1984 one of my big career dreams came true when I was hired by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to cover college football. Mrs. Barnhart was happy for me and never complained when I left her behind in North Carolina to sell the house and move everything, including our two-year-old daughter, back home to Georgia.
It was Aug. 7. I checked into a hotel in Athens and stayed there for the next 30 days covering the Georgia Bulldogs.
But once the move was made, Mrs. College Football made it abundantly clear that we were not moving again.
“You want to cover college football,” she said. “There is no better place to do that than Atlanta, Ga. So whatever you’re going to do, big boy, you’re going to have to do it here.”
As in most things, she was absolutely right.
For today, some 33 years later, there is no debate. So I’m making the call: Atlanta, Ga. is the college football capital of the world.
There are a lot of great towns—like Dallas—where college football is huge. But in Atlanta it is king.
And I can prove it.
What other city has these elements:
**–The Chick-fil-A Kickoff game: Back in 2008 Gary Stokan, the CEO of the Chick-fil-A Bowl, wanted to create a blockbuster season-opening game that would capture the nation’s attention. In short, he wanted it to be the Daytona 500 of college football.
It started with Alabama-Clemson in 2008 and has only gotten better. This Saturday’s game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State is, by ranking, the biggest opening game in the modern era of the sport.
“We wanted a signature event and we have gotten it,” said Stokan. “We are thrilled.”
**–Mercedes-Benz Stadium: Alabama-Florida State will be the first college football game in the new $1.5 billion stadium with all of the bells and whistles. Build a brand new stadium and big events will come. As a result, Atlanta will host the College Football national championship game (2018), the Super Bowl (2019), and the NCAA Final Four (2020) in consecutive years.
“We are the only city in the country that can claim that,” said Stokan.
**–Corporate sponsorship: Delta, Home Depot, Chick-fil-A, Coca-Cola, and NAPA auto parts are among the biggest sponsors of college football. All are based in Atlanta.
**–The SEC Championship game: After playing the first two SEC title games at Legion Field in Birmingham in 1992-93, the event was moved to the Georgia Dome where it found a home for the next 23 years. The SEC has signed a 10-year agreement to play the game in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
**–Chick-fil-A Bowl/CFP national semifinals: The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Jan. 1, 2018. In the early days it struggled in the old Atlanta Fulton-County stadium with bad matchups and bad weather. Things changed dramatically when Chick-fil-A came on board and the game became and ACC-SEC matchup inside the Georgia Dome. Now it is a member of the prestigious New Year’s Six and every third year hosts the CFP semifinals.
**–CFP national championship game: This is only the fourth year of the College Football Playoff and Atlanta will host the national championship on Jan. 8, 2018. The CFP has indicated that it wants to move the championship game around, particularly in the early years of the deal. But Atlanta hopes to host again before the end of the current 12-year contract.
**–The College Football Hall of Fame: When it became apparent that the College Football of Fame was going to leave South Bend, Ind., Atlanta put on a full court press, pitching its reputation for hosting world class exhibits like the Georgia Aquarium, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, and the New World of Coca-Cola. Given the melting pot that is Atlanta, it also pitched that college football fans from every school in the country call it home. The high-tech, interactive College Football Hall of Fame opened on Marietta Street on Aug. 23, 2014.
“When you look at all the fan bases that live in Atlanta and how energized it is during football season, you have to say that we’re the college football capital of the world,” said Stokan. “I don’t think there is an argument.”
Not anymore. Take a bow, Atlanta.