Sugar Bowl deals with moving to Atlanta

ATHENS – The third of January is bound to be a sad day at Atlanta's downtown Omni Hotel.

That's when the staffers from the displaced Sugar Bowl will pack their bags after three months of toiling in an unfamiliar city and head home to New Orleans. The hotel and bowl staffs have become big buddies since the first week of October, when damage from Hurricane Katrina forced the Sugar Bowl to be moved from the Louisiana Superdome to the Georgia Dome.

"It's like ‘Cheers'," said Greg Blackwell, the bowl's spokesperson. "You walk in and they say, ‘Noooorrrm, hey.'"

The decision to move the Sugar Bowl out of New Orleans for the first time in its 72-year history was made in late September and the official announcement that Atlanta would host the game came on Oct. 7. Eighth-ranked Georgia (10-2) will play No. 11 West Virginia (10-1) at 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 2. The game will be televised by ABC.

"I would be kidding you if I told you I didn't think early on this is going to be a daunting challenge," said Paul Hoolahan, the game's executive director. "We had periods of doubt for sure."

The first and trickiest challenge was ticketing, Hoolahan said. Everyone who had purchased a ticket for the game had to be refunded and then given an opportunity to purchase tickets at the new site.

After that, transportation issues for the team's and media and spectators had to be addressed. Team hotels had to be acquired and caterers found to provide three meals a day to more than 200 hungry football players. Practice sites for the teams had to be finalized, as well as entertainment venues for the players. An entire parade through downtown Atlanta was planned for the night of Dec. 31. And all of it had to be done in new offices across the street from the Georgia Dome.

"It stretched us to the limit," Hoolahan said.

In New Orleans, almost all of the bowl's arrangements had been not only made but neatly contracted.

"I tell people it's like we had this big puzzle fully assembled," Hoolahan said. "Post-Katrina, that puzzle went on the floor, and we had to put it together in a new city.

"We had to retrace every step."

Representatives of the Sugar Bowl tried as hard as they could to stay out of the way of the Atlanta Sports Council, which is putting on the Peach Bowl on Dec. 30 in the Georgia Dome, Hoolahan said.

"We realize we're a guest in this town," he said. "We didn't want to offend anybody. We just wanted to take care of our business."

Georgia coach Mark Richt said he hasn't sensed any disappointment about the move from his players, most of whom will be playing in a city they know very well rather than a new, and usually exciting, place.

"Most of us are from the Atlanta area so we know about Atlanta, but I think we're going to experience it in a different manner than we normally would," said senior Kedric Golston, a native of Sandy Creek. "I think Atlanta has so much to offer, we don't even know about half the stuff.

"I think there's going to be a lot of enthusiasm. We're going to have a certain amount of pride about it. This game is on our soil."

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