Curtain Closes in Style on Georgia Dome’s Final SEC Championship Game
When University of Alabama’s Adam Griffith drilled the opening kickoff at 4:11 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3 at the Georgia Dome, it signaled the official start of the 25th edition of the SEC Football Championship Game, but it also represented an end of an era.
No. 1 Alabama’s resounding 54-16 defeat of No. 15 Florida was the final SEC Championship ever hosted at the Georgia Dome, which is set for decommissioning in 2017, making way for its next door neighbor, the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Although the SEC Championship will live on in Atlanta through at least 2026 at state-of-the-art MBS, it’s the first in a series of high profile finalities happening at the Dome in the coming weeks and months as the facility cycles through its concluding lap.
And while the SEC was celebrating a quarter century of crowning its pigskin champs, there was also plenty of pause leading up to, during and after the game for reflecting upon the 71,250-seat domed stadium that helped the contest become a destination synonymous with winning.
“To be able to be part of this event is something you remember for the rest of your life,” said Florida head coach Jim McElwain, who has coached four SEC Championship Games under the Dome’s bright lights. He led his Florida squad in back-to-back SEC Championship Games, and also served as Alabama’s offensive coordinator during the 2008 and 2009 SEC Championships.
The Dome wasn’t always home for the SEC title match. The championship game debuted in 1992 at Birmingham, Ala.’s Legion Field, and was staged there again in 1993. But on Feb. 25, 1994, SEC member schools voted to play the championship game at the Georgia Dome, and the rest (through a series of extension agreements between the conference and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority), is history.
To mark the occasion, ESPN’s SEC Network created a loving video tribute to the Georgia Dome, written and narrated by Ryan McGee. Check it out here: http://www.secsports.com/video/18195371/remembering-georgia-dome.
Without a member school since Georgia Tech withdrew in 1964, Atlanta would at first glance seem like an unlikely hotbed of SEC football fandom.
Yet with the SEC Championship Game entrenched at the Georgia Dome, paired with phenomenal growth in metro Atlanta fueled in part by graduates of SEC colleges and universities settling here – and the city’s proximity to many of these institutions – the capital of the Peach State has staked its claim as the nexus of the nation’s premier college football conference.
“The Georgia Dome permitted us to elevate that game to a real national event and spotlight it all across the country,” said Roy F. Kramer, SEC Commissioner from 1990-2002, who is credited as the architect of the SEC Championship Game.
Headquarters of the 14-member collegiate athletic conference is in Birmingham, but Atlanta has become its home away from home.
“Atlanta proved to be a tremendous host city. It being centrally located in the Southeast made it possible for our fans and teams to get there easily for the game,” said Kramer.
And many SEC fans live right here – in metro Atlanta. For instance, Bama in Atlanta, U of A’s metro-area alumni organization, boasts more than 8,000 members living here. And the Atlanta Gator Club, according to its Website, is “a 3,000+ member organization of alumni, parents and friends of the University of Florida.”
It’s of course, no surprise that the SEC’s University of Georgia alumni chapter in Atlanta boasts 90,000 members.
But the number of out-of-town visitors the game attracts annually has made it a powerhouse event. As visitors stay in Atlanta-area hotels, eat at local restaurants, sample the nightlife, use local transportation services, go shopping, attend ancillary events such as the two-day SEC FanFare at the Georgia World Congress Center, and visit nearby attractions they pump “new dollars” – money that wouldn’t be spent without the GWCCA hosting said event – into the local economy.
The SEC Championship Game has had an estimated economic impact of more than $1 billion to the State of Georgia since 1999.
“The Dome has proved to be a wonderful home for the SEC Football Championship Game since 1994,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. “It’s hard to believe that we’ll be in a different facility right next door next year. But the memories are real, the friendships and relationships we’ve developed with the staff through the years are true.”