You want to find ground zero for next’s college football championship game, all you need to do is look at the Alabama-Georgia state line where Phenix City and Columbus are divided by the Chattahoochee River.
Monday’s semifinal wins by Alabama over Clemson and Georgia over Oklahoma set up a showdown between the two Southeastern Conference schools that have large fan and alumni bases in the Chattahoochee Valley.
It is all anyone in these parts will be talking about this week as the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs prepare to meet Monday night in Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium.
“I am sure it started this morning at the Krystal, Denny’s, where ever people were having breakfast,” said former Georgia and NFL defensive back Daryll “DJ” Jones.
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Phenix City, a one-high school town of about 35,000 people, has long had a pipeline of quality players who went from Central High to the University of Alabama despite the fact that it is only a 30-minute drive from Auburn. One of those players is Eddie Lowe, a former Crimson Tide linebacker for Coach “Bear” Bryant who is now the mayor of his hometown. Lowe’s big brother, Woodrow, was an Alabama star who is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
“This is what I was wishing for,” Lowe said of the Alabama-Georgia title game. “I know that is selfish, but this will be great for this area.”
The saying is all politics is local. Well, in the Chattahoochee Valley, all college football is local, as well. And the Alabama-Georgia championship game illustrates that. Just ask Steve Stinson, owner of The S&S Company, a promotional and marketing firm in Columbus. Stinson is a Columbus resident and business owner, but proud 1979 Alabama graduate.
Tuesday morning as he prepared to make his way home from New Orleans where he watched Alabama destroy Clemson in the Sugar Bowl, Stinson could not contain his excitement about the title game against Georgia, his favorite team when he was growing up.
“People are really excited about this,” Stinson said.
He is also preparing for the calls from friends and business associates for tickets, which are selling on the secondary market right now for more than $2,000 each.
“I know people will be calling to see if I have tickets,” Stinson said. “I got mine, and face value on them is $650. There are some folks who think I am a ticket broker as soon as Alabama wins.”
Jones, who played in the 1980 Sugar Bowl when Georgia won its last national title, said it will be the hottest ticket around in this area because the game is in Atlanta, which is closer to Columbus and Phenix City than either university’s campus.
“There may not even be a secondary market on this game,” Jones said. “If you have a ticket to this game, the way I see it, it is a privilege.”
Jones and former Georgia teammate Dale Williams own SportsVisions, a local media and marketing company that annually honors the area’s top high school athletes. The last three years they have had Alabama Coach Nick Saban, Georgia Coach Kirby Smart and Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney speak at the December banquet.
“That tells you something about this area that we can get those three coaches to come in here and speak,” Jones said. “Think about that, just what it takes to get these guys to town to talk to our high school players.”
Everybody is expecting a lot of trash talking, the friendly kind between co-workers, friends and even family, this week.
“That is just going to make it more fun,” Stinson said.
He also said it will interesting to watch the reaction from the Auburn fans in the area. Auburn finished with three losses, but got locked out of the playoff after losing to Georgia in the SEC championship game. Still, Auburn had regular-season home wins over both of its rivals.
“Who are the Auburn people going to pull for?” Stinson asked. “If Alabama was playing Notre Dame, some of my Auburn friends would pull for Notre Dame. That doesn’t work here because they are also rivals with Georgia. That is going to be interesting to watch this week.”
The Alabama-Georgia series dates back to Nov. 2, 1895 when the teams met in Columbus, where Georgia won 30-6.
Despite being the same conference, they don’t play every year, which makes it easier on people like Columbus photographer John Pyle, who holds degrees from both universities. He earned an undergraduate degree in psychology from Georgia in 1996 and a masters in clinical social work from Alabama in 1998.
Pyle leaves know doubt where he will stand this week.
“I am a Georgia Bulldog through and through,” he said. “I pull for Alabama, except when they are playing Georgia. I guess if Alabama wins, I won’t be miserable.”