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Scene outside national championship game in Atlanta borders on chaos

Scene outside national championship game in Atlanta borders on chaos
Fans wait outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium prior to the CFP National Championship between Georgia and Alabama on Jan. 8. (Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

Ninety minutes before kickoff at the College Football Playoff national championship, the scene outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium verged on chaos.

While some fans got inside hours ahead of time, tens of thousands were left standing in the cold rain because multiple entry gates had been closed down.

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The trouble started when police cleared the street and sidewalks around one end of the stadium, telling people they would have to wait until after President Trump arrived before they could access their gate or, in some cases, retrieve tickets from a will-call window.

Numerous additional gates were also closed as thick crowds pushed right up to the turnstiles. It was unclear if ticket-holders had any way to make entrance for more than an hour.

Some fans stood in tears at the barricades and one man jostled with a local police officer. Security officers were announcing the delay might extend until after kick-off.

This reporter, who had been walking the area around the stadium to check on planned protests against Trump, was subjected to vitriol as three security guards tried to provide an escort into the stadium. One man yelled an ethnic slur. Our group was forced back about 50 feet short of a gate because the situation was becoming too dangerous. (Using my media pass, I later talked my way into another entrance — not a ticket gate — on the opposite side of the stadium.)

About 20 minutes before kickoff, College Football Playoff officials tweeted that a main gate had re-opened. "Thank you for your patience entering the stadium," they stated.

Inside, as game time approached, water dripped from high above and landed off the green artificial turf around the 20-yard line on Alabama's side of the field.

The stadium is new, but there have been some problems with its retractable roof since construction on it began.

At Mercedes-Benz Stadium, many seats remained empty 45 minutes prior to kickoff with many fans struggling to get inside the stadium.
At Mercedes-Benz Stadium, many seats remained empty 45 minutes prior to kickoff with many fans struggling to get inside the stadium. (David Wharton / Los Angeles Times)

Smart not surprised to see Alabama go for Tua

The rest of the country might have been surprised when Alabama turned to its second-string quarterback in the second half of the College Football Playoff national championship, but Georgia coach Kirby Smart wasn't.

Going into the locker room with a 13-0 lead after two quarters, Smart and his assistants talked about the possibility that starter Jalen Hurts might be benched in favor of freshman Tua Tagovailoa.

"We told everybody at halftime there was no question they were going to him because they were struggling and they needed some momentum," Smart said.

Tagovailoa had played just enough over the course of the season, completing 35 of 53 passes for 470 yards in spot duty, that he wasn't entirely a mystery.

"He played enough snaps," Smart said. "We'd seen him on tape."

And one more thing, after Tagovailoa went 14 for 24 for 166 yards and three touchdowns, including the 41-yard winner in overtime: "He's a good player."

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Saban gets the Bear

It took a couple of tries for Alabama coach Nick Saban to tie Bear Bryant's record of six national championships. He had a chance last season but his team fell just short, losing in the final second against Clemson.

"Just being a part of Coach Saban's legacy and the history that he has at this program is really unbelievable," defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick said this week.

During a legendary career in Tuscaloosa, Bryant won his championships from the early 1960s through the late '70s. Saban notched his first title in 2003 as his Louisiana State team shared honors in a split with USC. Since then, he has won five times at Alabama.

Monday night, he wasn't eager to talk about his achievement.

"This is a great win," he said. "A great team win."

Hall of Fame class

Former Michigan and NFL star Charles Woodson headlined a 2018 class of 13 players and coaches chosen for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Receiver Calvin Johnson and defensive back Ed Reed also were on the list, as were former coaches Frank Beamer and Mack Brown.

"Each of these men has established himself among the absolute best to have ever played or coached the game," said Archie Manning, who serves as chairman for the National Football Foundation.

The other players were: running backs Paul Palmer and Trevor Cobb, quarterbacks Kerry Collins and Dave Dickenson, linebacker Dana Howard, offensive tackle Matt Stinchcomb and center Aaron Taylor.

Mel Tjeerdsma was the other coach.

Follow @LAtimesWharton on Twitter

UPDATES:

11:35 p.m.: This article was updated with game information.

This article was originally published at 4:35 p.m.

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