Mike Goodson/Sports Correspondent
Formerly called the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, and before that simply called the Peach Bowl, the Chick-fil-A Bowl, is an annual college football bowl game played in Atlanta since December 1968. The game originally was created as a fund-raiser by the Lions Clubs of Georgia. The game was taken over by the Chamber of Commerce, and later the Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A became the title sponsor of the event with the 1998 game.
The attendance for the Auburn-Virginia Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Years Eve was 72,919, the game’s 15th consecutive sell-out. A large number of local football fans made the short drive to Atlanta to enjoy the festivities of a college bowl game. The Chick-fil-A Bowl parade, Fan Fest and the game itself was a day filled with entertainment for young and old alike. Chick-fil-A sandwiches were offered at every portal of the Georgia Dome. The Chick-fil-A Restaurants and their founder, S. Truett Cathy, are a community-oriented organization. The company stays active in the localities where its restaurants are located.
While many Tiger fans spent New Year’s Eve in Atlanta, many bowl goers made the trip on the morning of the game. Parking at the Georgia Dome is very limited and costs from $40 to $50 to park a car or SUV, with RVs much higher. Many football fans find it much more economical to park at one of the MARTA stations and ride the train to the Georgia Dome. The round trip pass was $5.50 with trains running every 20 minutes. The Hamilton E. Holmes MARTA station is located at exit 52 on I-20 and offers free parking.
Upon arriving at the stadium, the first stop was the Georgia World Congress Center and The Chick-fil-A Fan Fest. Admission to this event was $15, although people with a game ticket received a $5 discount. Fan Fest tickets could be found outside just by asking one of the ticket scalpers. Some of the local scalpers were asking as much as $50 for tickets to the inter-active event. Tickets were actually available for as little as $5.
Fan Fest gave young and old alike a chance to try their hand at passing and kicking footballs in a game setting and also a chance to sample many local products. The major attraction at Fan Fest was the “Tiger Walk” when Auburn head football coach Gene Chizik and his Tigers made their entrance at 5 p.m., with the Virginia Cavaliers following a short time later.
Fan Fest closed at 6:30 p.m. and then it was time for the short walk to the Georgia Dome and the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Tickets are no longer torn at the gate. With the advent of computers and barcode scanners, tickets are today scanned giving an immediate count of the actual attendance. Unlike a regular season college football game, alcohol is sold at bowl games in the form of beer and mixed drinks. The Chick-fil-A Bowl offers a “family” section where these drinks are not allowed.
Bowl games can be a rather expensive night out, with tickets selling for $80 face value and tickets for a sell-out bringing a premium. Chick-fil-A Bowl programs were $10 each, with other game souvenirs selling much higher. Food inside the dome was the big surprise or shock. A Chick-fil-A sandwich was $5, with other delicacies much more expensive. A 20-ounce bottled soda was also $5, as well as popcorn and peanuts.
A pre-game beanie baby drop of hundreds of Chick-fil-A cows parachuting from the stadium’s roof carried a coupon for a free sandwich. Former Auburn great Vincent “Bo” Jackson was on the Auburn sidelines and served as one of the honorary game captains.
When the teams came out to begin the game, fireworks were fired in the sold-out, domed stadium. The Auburn Tigers continued the fireworks building a 28-17 halftime lead in route to a 43-24 victory. The scoring outburst was a season-high in points for Auburn, which scored 42 in a season-opening win against Utah State. Auburn totaled 454 yards in total offense, while Virginia had 435. Auburn improved its record to 4-1 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
With the game well in hand, the walk to the MARTA station and the ride back to our cars was a short one. The time from leaving our seats to arriving at home was approximately two hours. The experience of going to a college bowl game far outweighs the expense. For football fans to come together for the pageantry of the parade and the excitement of the game, there is nothing quite like it.