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Locals gear up for short trip to see UGA play in national championship
01082018 STADIUM
A banner for the NCAA college football championship game decorates a lamppost next to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, in Atlanta, where the game will be played on Monday. Atlanta's mayor is promising a "safe, smooth and secure" college football championship game Monday, despite the traffic problems expected to be caused by President Donald Trump's motorcade, but none of the many agencies involved are taking any chances. - photo by David Goldman

Some people were pretty unhappy when Mark Richt was let go as the University of Georgia head coach back in November 2015.

But Payton Chapman, a recent graduate of Georgia, saw the transition firsthand and knew things would be all right.

She was an athletic trainer for the team during current head coach Kirby Smart’s first few months on campus. As soon as Smart got there, Chapman saw something — an intense energy — that gave her hope for the future of Georgia football.

“I said, ‘Give us two years and we’ll be one of the best teams in the country,’” said Chapman, who is now in her second year of physical therapy school at Brenau University.

And just like that, two years later, Georgia is playing Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship after beating Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl.

Not just anyone will get to see the game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, though. The proximity of the two teams in the championship to the stadium has caused ticket prices to skyrocket.

The cheapest ticket on StubHub for an upper corner seat for the national championship is $1,609.

But Chapman is one of the lucky ones from Gainesville who will be making the trip to Atlanta to see the all-Southeastern Conference matchup.

“One of my friend’s dad works at the school, so I was able to get a ticket,” Chapman said.

She said she’s excited and has been waiting on this opportunity, which hasn’t presented itself since 1982 for a Georgia team. Chapman has class on game day, though, so she’ll have to keep her excitement bottled up until about 2 p.m. when she’s able to leave town.

Candice Crook planned to drop her son off at school at 7:30 a.m. and head to Atlanta right away, though.

“Preparation, of course, always begins the day before,” said Crook, a loan officer at Homestar Financial. “Preparing on Sunday for plans on Monday.”

Season tickets have been in her family since 1929 when Sanford Stadium construction was completed.

Her love for Georgia runs deep after growing up in Winder. She was just a short drive from Athens, so that’s where she spent most of her time. If her family really ever did anything, she said “it was always in Athens.”

Crook’s father went to Georgia, her brother went to Georgia, 26 of her immediate cousins went to Georgia, so it was only fitting for her to do the same. She was on the flag line and actually met her husband, Michael, who played trumpet in the Redcoat Band, during that time before she graduated in 2001.

“Honestly, Georgia and the history of UGA is basically who I am,” Crook said. “There’s never a way to not connect me with Athens.”

But she was only 2 years old the last time Georgia played for a national championship. So, after a lifetime of uncertainty, and not missing a home game since she enrolled at the university, she’ll finally get to see the Bulldogs play for a national title.

Since her family has passed down its season tickets from generation to generation and donated for so long, Crook has been able to collect enough points to be eligible to purchase tickets for herself, her husband and a few friends to the national championship.

They’ll be in section 217, row 10.

“This is what I dreamed of,” Crook said. “It still seems surreal to me. I’m still wondering, ‘Am I dreaming, is this really happening?’”

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