INDIANAPOLIS – Coach Nick Saban left the Alabama squad plane on Friday night for a cold, harsh reality.
When it returns to the airport for the last time this season, the Crimson Tide will either celebrate another national championship or return home disappointed.
Saban’s top-ranked team received a warm welcome to frigid Indianapolis, arriving shortly after dusk Friday with streaks of orange and red and a shining crescent moon coloring the sky. Players rushed from planes to buses with teenage temperatures as drummers played tunes for Alabama before doing the same when Georgia arrived around 90 minutes later.
Even for a playoff regular like Alabama, it was a different routine.
âIt’s been pretty cold in Tuscaloosa for the past two days, but not that cold,â said Saban. “I told them to be prepared for the cold. Our guys aren’t used to it. Luckily we won’t be playing in it, so I told them to get used to it from the plane to the bus.”
Monday night marks the first time the college football playoff championship game has been played in a northern town, and although the dome at Lucas Oil Stadium is closed, it was not the welcome expected by organizers.
Thursday night wind chills turned negative numbers and were still hovering there Friday morning. Highs on Saturday and Sunday are expected to hover around 40 degrees before lows again hit single digits on Monday night.
The good news is that Indy’s maze of indoor walkways means players and fans won’t need to be outside much, if at all, just like the teams that took part in the men’s basketball tournament. of the NCAA last spring.
And in an area known for being home to basketball, races, and the Big Ten, the hustle and bustle around the city revolves around the Alabama-Georgia rematch. An electronic billboard even renamed the city Indianapoli-SEC.
“We’re really excited to have the opportunity to be in CFP, and it’s a great place, a great place,” Saban said, noting that some of his players are hoping to return to Indy in late February for screening. annual NFL. combine.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart hadn’t planned to speak to reporters after the Bulldogs arrived on Friday. School officials have raised concerns over the latest increase in COVID-19 cases. He did it briefly, anyway.
âWe had excellent health, no flu or COVID issues,â he said, announcing that everyone had made the trip. âThe guys have trained well.
So far, however, there is no indication that the virus will force revisions to Monday’s plan.
A crowd of around 68,000 is expected to attend the game at the same venue where the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts have been playing in front of a nearly full crowd since August. The organizers do not require fans to wear masks, although they strongly encourage their use.
It’s not a new phenomenon for Indy either. An estimated 135,000 fans attended the Indianapolis 500 last May, and Lucas Oil Stadium hosted a sold-out crowd for the December Big Ten title game between Michigan and Iowa.
No changes have been announced for indoor or outdoor events open to fans either.
âI think we’re going to provide a different level of fun and football than they can see in other cities,â said Susan Baughman, chair of the local organizing committee. “They will feel like they are taking over the city.”
And it goes beyond the players.
From supporters waving the Alabama flag at the top of the stairs to signs attached to poles on the streets of Indianapolis to fans flocking from Georgia and Alabama throughout the weekend, one thing is clear.