‘Great to be back’: Thousands of fans pack uptown Charlotte as Georgia clips Clemson in major college football clash

No. 5 Georgia edged No. 3 Clemson, 10-3, in the season opener for both potential national championship contenders.
Published: Sep. 4, 2021 at 1:46 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 5, 2021 at 10:50 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The Charlotte skyline was lit up in red and orange Saturday night, representing the powerhouse college football teams playing in the Duke’s Mayo Classic at Bank of America Stadium.

The game lived up to its pregame hype.

No. 5 Georgia edged No. 3 Clemson, 10-3, in the season opener for both potential national championship contenders.

While the Top 5 matchup was battled on the field, thousands of fans crowded uptown Charlotte for the game and all of the festivities surrounding the game.

Saturday was a celebration of the return of college football in Charlotte.

It was also a completely different vibe from what college football looked like last year during the prime of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hours before the sold-out football game, thousands of college football fans filled Romare Bearden Park, wearing their team’s colors, listening to the hosts of ESPN’s College GameDay, who were in town for the day’s biggest showdown.

There were Georgia fans, Clemson fans, and many fans just sporting their favorite college program.

At the start of the 2020 season, fans were not permitted to gather, and spectators were not allowed inside the stadiums because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Saturday, college football returned to Charlotte.

No. 3 Clemson took on No. 5 Georgia inside Bank of America Stadium.

Fans poured into uptown Charlotte early Saturday, some as early as 5 a.m., to tailgate, and to be on hand for the iconic ESPN’s College GameDay.

“It’s great to be back with everyone,” said Clemson Superfan Johnny Malibu. “I’m very excited for both fanbases to come together. We all get to come into the stadium together and have a great time.”

Clemson and Georgia fans mingled at Romare Bearden Park to cheer on their teams early, and to listen to GameDay hosts Lee Corso, Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and David Pollack breakdown their game, and other big college football games.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Georgia coach Kirby Smart made guest appearances, as did defending NASCAR champion Chase Elliott, a Georgia fan, who drove a Georgia-Clemson painted car.

“It’s great to have college football back and it is great to have a big matchup,” Georgia fan Trey Robinson said.

The consensus among the fans was that the scene Saturday was a sense of normality.

That fans can congregate and fill the stadiums like it was before the pandemic.

“With COVID, it’s tough,” said Clemson Superfan Peter Rowan, AKA MVPeter. “It’s great to see everyone out here. We miss the fans. I miss being here. I’m so excited we have this opportunity to be back in the stadium and to get Bank of America Stadium rocking again.”

An expected 100,000-plus people were in uptown Charlotte Saturday on the third day of Duke’s Mayo Classic events.

And the weather cooperated, with clear skies and low humidity.

“Oh, it’s great; the weather’s perfect, can’t beat it,” Clemson fan John Brent said.

“Absolutely wonderful,” added Clemson fan Robin Rogers. “Finally time to get out and party.”

The Duke’s Mayo Classic turned out to be exactly what organizers were hoping to see at a time they say the crowds can be a lifeline to the city.

“It comes so timely for the hospitality industry that’s just gotten crushed from the pandemic,” said Danny Morrison, Executive Director of the Charlotte Sports Foundation. “And so, to see the hotels full, restaurants full, energy in Uptown Charlotte, it should be special for all.”

Saturday’s game was the opener for both Clemson and Georgia – and both have high expectations.

Clemson fans were confident they were going to win with their defense and quarterback play of D.J. Uiagalelei, replacing NFL’s No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence.

The Tigers won the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2020 and made it to the College Football Playoff’s semifinals.

“The reins are off and it is on now,” Clemson fan Paul Keisler said. “It’s going to be a full-capacity stadium and everyone here is jacked up. It’s going to be a great day, like the old days in Death Valley. It’s going to be Death Valley Charlotte.”

Georgia hits the field with quarterback JT Daniels, and a smash-mouth defense.

The Bulldogs beat Cincinnati last year in the Peach Bowl.

“This is exciting,” Robinson said. “This is probably the most hype we’ve had going into the season. We are going to be really good this year.”

Defensive gem lifts No. 5 Georgia past No. 3 Clemson, 10-3

Christopher Smith returned an interception 74 yards for a touchdown and No. 5 Georgia turned in a defensive effort for the ages, toppling third-ranked Clemson 10-3 on Saturday in the opener for both teams.

The Bulldogs held the Tigers to 2 yards rushing and sacked D.J. Uiagalelei seven times to position themselves for a run at the College Football Playoffs.

Uiagalelei finished 19 of 37 for 178 yards with one interception. He bobbled snaps, was out of sync with his receivers and spent most of the day under heavy duress against a relentless Bulldogs pass rush.

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