ATLANTA, Ga. — The curtain quite literally fell on the Chick-fil-A Bowl, putting Atlanta one step closer to hosting the national title game.
On a dais stood representatives from the bowl and the restaurant, along with Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed as a banner was dropped displaying the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl’s new logo, while dozens of miniature stuffed versions of the chain’s mascot cow wearing parachutes were dropped from above.
It was all a formality. Word of the name change came months ago and Monday’s announcement at the Chick-fil-A headquarters was more pomp than it was circumstance. But it did come with the nugget via bowl president Gary Stokan that the city of Atlanta will enter a formal push for the national championship game in the next round of bids in 2015.
"We’re going to go after, bid for and successfully win the national championship game," Stokan said. "We are going to bring it to Atlanta hopefully in January of 2018 when we’re in the new stadium."
The new College Football Playoff committee wanted the Chick-fil-A Bowl, part of its rotation of semifinal games, to align itself with the rest of the lineup. While the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange Rose and Sugar all have their own corporate sponsors, the idea was to provide Atlanta’s game with a more traditional name.
"We did make it a condition, as part of them coming into the playoff rotation, was to have some consistency and that all of our bowls have a base moniker," College Football Playoff COO Michael Kelly said.
They settled on Peach, not that there weren’t other options.
Stokan estimates he saw a list of more than 100 possibilities, some involving fruits, some with nods to all things Atlanta. But the Chick-fil-A Bowl settled on a return to the name the bowl began using when it was founded in 1968. The name was changed to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in 1997, before the Peach was dropped entirely in ’06 as the restaurant chain increased its sponsorship money.
"This not only represents the beginning of our new era in the College Football Playoff, but a reconnection to our history and tradition by bringing the peach back into our name," Stokan said.
The bowl will host its first semifinal game — either No. 1 vs. No. 4 or No. 2 vs. No. 3 — in 2016 and in the years surrounding that game, will feature teams assigned by the playoff selection committee. The bowl will host a semifinal every third year over the first six years of the playoff.
But it’s the round of games that begin in ’18 that Stokan and Co. have their sights on in hopes of putting the championship in the new home of the Atlanta Falcons, which will open that year.
With the SEC title game already in Atlanta, along with the Chick-fil-A sponsored kickoff games — this season’s edition features Boise State vs. Ole Miss and West Virginia against Alabama — and the College Football Hall of Fame, the city has become one of the sport’s meccas.
"Anytime you can continue the string that Atlanta’s currently on of bringing major events to the marketplace — the Final Four got such rave reviews — and everything they’ve done with college football then what the team has done here, it gives us confidence that they’re going to put together a formidable bid," Kelly said. "Combined with the Atlanta Falcons and the new stadium, it will make it very attractive."
Arlington, Texas, will host the first playoff finale in ’15, followed by Glendale, Ariz., and Tampa. Kelly said they had eight cities bid for the first three games and looks for there to be plenty of challengers for the next group of games.
"We had eight cities that competed for this last rotation," Kelly said. "We expect Atlanta and somebody else to come on board. It’ll be a fierce competition, but you have to like the assets that Atlanta is putting forward."