ATLANTA – A week-long sea of red and black in Atlanta gave way to peeks of crimson the last couple of days as the Georgia Bulldogs got set to take on Alabama in Monday night's National Championship game at Mercedes Benz Stadium.
The Bulldogs have a decided home-field advantage playing in their home state as they try to win their first football title since 1980.
The College Football Playoff title game at the glitzy $1.5 billion stadium features two teams that already have played there. And fans say Atlanta's new facility is living up to the hype despite a series of construction setbacks that delayed its opening.
Cold weather and rain paired with a late kickoff made for a slow start to tailgating Monday, but as it got closer to noon, tents started going up and grills were lit.
The dreary day couldn't dampen the fun for most fans, some who said they've waited a lifetime for such a day.
“I’ve been waiting for this my whole life,” Georgia fan Will Fender said. “I wasn’t around when they won the national championship last time, but hopefully I’ll be around when they win it this time.”
Most fans around the stadium said the price tag for tickets, which reached about $2,000 for the cheapest ones available last week, wasn’t so high that they'd be willing to miss a game like this.
“Do you remember when you were like 8 years old, and she went for Christmas and walked into your parents living room, and you saw the Christmas tree and your bicycle was there?” Georgia fan John Rauls said. “That’s what it’s like. It’s a magical experience to me.”
Bulldogs fan Loraine Sumner made the drive up from South Georgia for the game.
“We’re pretty jacked up about being here,” she said. “I bought the tickets a month and a half ago, so I’ve had them for a while. Just bought them and hoped.”
Some fans are calling Mercedes-Benz Stadium "beautiful" and a "great central location" in downtown Atlanta. The stadium is located near Centennial Olympic Park, where Grammy-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar will perform a free show during halftime.
So far, the stadium is winning attendees over despite its signature feature, the retractable roof, being opened only a couple times during events since the opening in August. The roof, which opens and closes like a camera lens, is one of the many attractions of the stadium including the massive 360-degree, 63,000-square-foot halo video board and cheap food pricing.
"I think probably the biggest thing you take away for me was the halo board," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. "Seeing that for the first time, seeing the size and scope of it, how clear the picture is, the graphics they can put on it, it's pretty special."
So special, Atlanta will host next year's Super Bowl. The stadium drew record-breaking crowds for a number of major sporting events, including the Atlanta Falcons NFL games and United MLS matches. Some of music's top performers from Garth Brooks to Trisha Yearwood had a packed concert at the state-of-the-art venue.
The stadium will also host SEC championship football games for the next 11 years along with 2019's Super Bowl and the NCAA men's Final Four in 2020.
The Atlanta Falcons were beat out at home by college football and Brooks when it came to who drew the largest attendance at the stadium.
The SEC championship football game between Auburn and Georgia in November was No. 1 (76,534). The Chick-fil-A Kickoff games had the second and third highest turnout with 76,330 (Alabama-Florida State on Sept. 2) and 75,107 (Tennessee-Georgia Tech on Sept. 4).
Garth Brooks' concert was attended by 74,353 people and the Falcons drew 74,141 in a game against the Carolina Panthers on Dec. 31.