Sports, not politics, took center stage in a national championship game for the ages

U.S. President Donald Trump on field during the national anthem prior to the College Football Playoff national championship between Georgia and Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Jan. 8, 2018 in Atlanta.
U.S. President Donald Trump on field during the national anthem prior to the College Football Playoff national championship between Georgia and Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Jan. 8, 2018 in Atlanta. (Scott Cunningham / Getty Images)

ATLANTA — The stage was set.

If there was ever going to be a moment in which politics and sports were going to meet in a head-on collision, this was it.


Donald Trump had walked out on the field Monday night at the College Football Playoff national championship game flanked by military officers with a big smile on his face.

He was going to stand with the troops as the national anthem played.


And in a game, that was being played in the Black Mecca (Atlanta), in which the overwhelming majority of the players on both teams were black, we all waited to see if any player would take a knee.

Because, if they were going to do it, this was the perfect setting.

Earlier in the day, The New Yorker released its latest cover featuring a cartoon drawing of Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett and Dr. Martin Luther King locked in arms while kneeling next to Colin Kaepernick.

Alabama beats Georgia in overtime, 26-23, to win the CFP national championship on a 41-yard touchdown pass from Tua Tagovailoa to Devonta Smith.

And with Trump standing at midfield, it felt like the President was daring players to defy him.


But nothing happened.


Because Alabama and Georgia weren’t even on the field during the national anthem.

However, that didn’t stop Alabama’s Bo Scarbrough from expressing his right to free speech. As the Crimson Tide walked down the tunnel headed to the field, while Trump struggled and mumbled his way through the national anthem, the Alabama running back was caught on video shouting, “[Expletive] Trump!”

It was the same phrase that had been projected on the side of the stadium, as small groups of protesters gathered in different areas around the venue informing the President of what they think of him.

Coming off a year in which sports and politics were joined at the hip, the first big sporting event was set up to continue the trend.

Trump + a large number of black football players + two teams representing the heart of Trump’s base + Kendrick Lamar, who regularly raps about social injustices, racism and his disdain for Trump, performing at halftime = drama.

But after the anthem, Trump was an afterthought.

And Lamar decided to focus his energy on the 20,000 people who withstood freezing temperatures to see him perform.

Coming in, it seemed like this night was going to be remembered for what happened off the field, but instead it wound up being about the players on the field.

What started out as a snoozefest, wound up being one the best national championship games in recent history. The 77,430 fans that packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium were all wearing some hue of red, but by the end of the night, it was easy to tell whose team won and whose team lost.

Ninety minutes before kickoff at the College Football Playoff national championship game, the scene outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium verged on chaos.

Tua Tagovailoa became a household name, as the freshman quarterback’s second-half performance was the sparkplug that the Alabama offense needed. Before Tagovailoa entered the game after halftime, the Crimson Tide hadn’t scored a point and had only gained 94 yards of total offense. After giving up a 16-yard sack in overtime, the freshman recovered on the next play by throwing a 41-yard game-winning touchdown pass to seal the victory. Alabama fans’ emotions literally went from sorrow to surreal in a matter of seconds.

Nick Saban once again showed why he’s the best coach the game of college football has ever seen.

Like, who sits their starter for a true freshman in a national championship game, and it actually works?

Saban, that’s who.

At this point, Alabama fans may start petitioning for Saban to get a statue in Atlanta, as he now improves to 13-1 within the city’s limits. Saban’s win over former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart means that he remains undefeated against his former sideline cohorts.

And for Georgia, this one is going to hurt.

Monday night was supposed to be a celebration for a school that’s been waiting since 1980 to claim another national championship for their football program. But for Georgia fans, you can’t help but think that Monday night will serve as another hurtful reminder of the heartache many fans suffered just 11 months ago.

The Atlanta Falcons were leading 28-3 in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI before the New England Patriots stormed back to defeat them.

And on Monday, UGA was up 20-7 in the third quarter before the Tide started to roll.

Monday night was full of drama, but not the kind that was expected. In a weird way, it might have been what the country needed.

Sports “trumped” politics.

The way it always should.

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