Progressive civic and business leadership that helped Atlanta grow into the country’s ninth largest metro has provided boosters a platform to promote the city as the capital of the Southeast. The College Football Playoff National Championship game between Georgia and Alabama has called attention to Atlanta’s more recent claim to another title: The capital of college football.
A story by ESPN senior writer Ivan Maisel offers compelling support for this bold boast:
Atlanta sits at the geographic heart of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), two of the conferences that make up the Power 5. This is a group of five conferences, along with a few independents, whose teams are generally the leading contenders for spots in the major bowl games and the College Football Playoff system.
The College Football Hall of Fame is just one mile from in the city’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, site of this year’s championship game.
Stadium planners created the stadium for the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League and the Atlanta United FC of Major League Soccer. But, because they realized the stadium was destined to host major college games such as featured games that kick off the season, the SEC Championship game and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, not to mention the national championship game, the architects included two additional oversized (100-locker) locker rooms designed to accommodate college teams.
SEC coaches don’t talk about getting to the championship game. They talk about getting to Atlanta.
The 29-county metro region annually produces so many quality football players that 54 of the 65 of the Power 5 schools listed a player from metro Atlanta on their 2017 rosters.
Atlanta is the only one of the nation's 10 biggest cities that also ranks among the nation's 10 biggest college football markets, as determined by Nielsen ratings.
Maisel also points out that college football is deeply rooted in the culture of this region of seven million people. Georgia and Auburn played for the first time on February 20, 1892 in Piedmont Park, kicking off what is now regarded as the Deep South’s oldest rivalry. Those two teams met for the 122nd time a few weeks ago in the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, just four miles from the site of their original game.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium is just two miles from Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field, the oldest on-campus stadium in the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-A. Georgia Tech also played its first game in 1892. Tech didn’t hire a coach until 1904 and that coach, John Heisman, is now synonymous with college football.
The stadium is also just two miles from Georgia State Stadium. This is the home of the Georgia State Panthers, who this season won seven games and a bowl for the first time in the few short years the school has had a football program. That same stadium also hosted the 1996 Olympics and, until recently, was the home of the Atlanta Braves, the city’s Major League Baseball team.
Atlanta's black colleges and universities are literally just steps away from the back door of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They have their own proud football history. As Maisel points out, Morehouse dominated black college football in the early 1920s and the Morris Brown Wolverines won the black national championship in 1940 and again in 1941.
There’s more, but you get the point.
College football is an integral part of the culture and vibrancy of this great international city. That’s evident in the TV and press coverage leading up to the Georgia-Alabama national championship game.
Something that might not come across in this coverage is that Mercedes-Benz Stadium is adjacent to The Gulch. Currently an unsightly 27-acre mix of surface parking lots and other parking facilities. Importantly, The Gulch meets many of the items on the checklist for Seattle-based Amazon's HQ2, a proposed 8 million-square-foot second headquarters that is projected to create 50,000 high-paying jobs over two decades. Atlanta is generally considered among the front runners of the more than 230 cities that are competing for this economic prize.
Here’s hoping that two of the tens of millions of eyes watching Georgia and Alabama battle for the biggest prize in college football belong to Amazon founder and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos.
For the record, the College Football Playoff title game is the first of several major sports events coming to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Later this year, the stadium will host the MLS All-Star game. Next up is the LIII Super Bowl on February 3, 2019 and, after that, the NCAA Men’s Final Four basketball tournament in April 2020.
The Gulch is within walking distance of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and a MARTA rail station with its easy connection to the world’s busiest passenger airport, Hartsfield-Jackson International. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if Amazon got in all that is happening in the capital of the Southeast and the capital of college football smack in the middle of one of the world’s most exciting of international cities!