ATLANTA — In the two hours before the national championship kicked off, wind whipped rain through the streets of downtown Atlanta. Several dozen protesters posted up in front of CNN’s world headquarters, chanting and holding sopping-wet posters. Not far away, several thousand fans shivered in the rain, waiting in lines long enough to virtually encircle Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The cause of both their circumstances, President Donald Trump, arrived on the scene shortly before 7 p.m. Eastern, and some fans — who had been forced to wait for well over an hour in the rain — weren’t happy:
They locked down @MBStadium for @realDonaldTrump an hour ago and myself and a thousand fans have been waiting in the rain to get in. Let’s just say there were plenty of boos when Trump arrived pic.twitter.com/6XIr8YO5gO
— Andy Scholes (@AndyScholesCNN) January 8, 2018
The Secret Service had locked down all routes around the stadium, and tightly controlled all entrances, as is standard procedure for any president. But that wasn’t much comfort for the fans who waited in lines that stretched for as much as a quarter-mile. Decked in every possible combination of red and black, houndstooth for the ‘Bama fans and bulldog caricatures for the Georgia ones, fans dealt with the delays as best they could: some with blank looks, some with cheers, and some with streams of profanity. None moved the line any faster.
A Mercedes Benz Stadium official confirmed to Yahoo Sports that Gate 1, one of the key entrance points into the stadium, was shut down for 45 minutes because of the president’s arrival at an adjacent entrance, forcing fans to go to much smaller gates. The ripple effect of the shutdown meant that waits at one gate just 20 minutes before kickoff were as long as 25 minutes, while another gate had almost no wait at all…but fans didn’t want to risk leaving one and possibly end up in an even longer line. (Average wait time for a similar-sized crowd to get into Falcons games, per stadium officials, is four to five minutes per gate.)
All along the line, T-shirt sellers, cooler-toting salesmen, and ticket scalpers darted in and out, hustling and peddling. Get-in price for tickets was in the range of $800 for standing room and as low as $1,100 an hour before the game — if, that is, the tickets were legit. T-shirt salesmen, meanwhile, slung T-shirts that ranged from defiant (“[Female dog] I’m from the Dirty South”) to profane (“Hell [expletive]-ing Yeah”) to clearly unlicensed (“ROLE TIDE ROLE”). And for 10 bucks, any of them could have been yours.
Half a mile away, in front of CNN’s headquarters, about 50 to 75 protesters chanted in the downpour. Whether you see them as the fearless resistance or annoying sore losers probably depends on how you voted in November 2016, and the protesters heard a bit of both as they chanted, “Donald Trump has got to go! Hey, hey! Ho, ho!” and “No! More! Trump! No! More! Trump!”
Off in the distance, you could hear the strains of “Semi-Charmed Life” and “Centuries,” and on the other side of a window at McCormick & Schmick’s, Charles Barkley sat with a private party and cast an occasional eye at the protests. A giant inflatable beer bottle and Dunkin Donuts coffee cup didn’t exactly add to the political atmosphere.
Most of the passing fans were less interested in civic debate than they were in getting somewhere dry, but a few decided to engage. The results were, shall we say, somewhat less dignified than Ciceronian debate.
“You must be poor!” shouted one fan in response to the chants.
“White privilege [posterior body part]!” a protester shot back.
“Put away your [expletive] signs!” another fan shouted, and the protesters began doing just that, mainly because the rain had washed them into running-ink rags.
“I wonder how many of these guys are going to give back their thousand-dollar tax breaks,” one guy called out, and, apparently not getting the reception he wanted, tried the same line another ten yards down the street.
On the edges of the protest zone, an individual of indeterminate gender, sporting a pinched face and a swept-up hairdo that looked remarkably like Trump’s, edged up with a leer to anyone observing the protests. “Are you ready for your selfie?” not-Trump purred. No one seemed inclined to take not-Trump up on his/her offer.
As the rain continued to fall on the ever-more-impatient fans, the enterprising not-Trump, the scalpers, and the T-shirt sellers moved on, undeterred, each on the make, each looking for another target in the downpour. As metaphors for present-day America go, it wasn’t a bad one.
Once Trump was inside, lines shortened considerably, and fans flowed into the stadium. By the time Trump walked onto the field prior to the national anthem, nearly the entire stadium had filled up. And the reception was … well, you can hear for yourself.
The anthem, delivered by local favorites the Zac Brown Band, played with no protests, and the president joined in:
Donald Trump looked like he was struggling with the words on the National Anthem for a min there pic.twitter.com/0q03Vt4w3e
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) January 9, 2018
All in all, another day in 2018 America.
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• Lane Kiffin tweets frustration with Alabama’s playcalling
• Governor Rick Scott declares UCF as national champs…in Florida