Georgia again the center of sports world

sports@macon.comApril 1, 2013 

As sports fans, we are blessed to live in the state of Georgia. Just think about it. Starting Saturday and running for the next eight days, the Peach State will play host to two of the top events in the country: the NCAA men’s Final Four’s 75th anniversary and the Masters.

Unfortunately for fans, those tickets are hard to come by.

The Final Four, featuring Syracuse, Wichita State, Michigan and Louisville, invades Atlanta and the Georgia Dome on Saturday for the semifinals with the finals scheduled Monday. This is the fourth time Atlanta has been the site of the Final Four.

The first time was back in 1977 at the now long gone Omni, which seated just 16,400 fans. That was my first Final Four, and even though I was in the upper deck, at least I could see the action. This year’s ticket sales are for more than 74,000, and if you are in the upper deck, I hope you have a good set of binoculars or a nearby monitor to witness the game because with the naked eye you won’t see much.

In that first one, legendary Marquette head coach Al McGuire closed out his illustrious career with an upset win over heavily favored North Carolina 67-59 to claim his only national crown. UNLV defeated UNC-Charlotte for third-place honors when there was still a consolation game. That element of the Final Four was discontinued after the 1981 season.

Atlanta’s second time hosting came in 2002 with the Georgia Dome as the site. The finals turned into a sea of red with Maryland beating Indiana 64-52, while Kansas and Oklahoma were the other finalists.

The last time Atlanta was home to college basketball’s premier event was 2007 when the Florida Gators won their second straight national crown, beating Ohio State 84-75. Georgetown and UCLA rounded out the field that year.

Augusta, as we all know, is the home of the world’s greatest golf tournament, the Masters. It has had a permanent home there since 1934 and is, in my opinion, our state’s most prestigious sports event. Even if you are not a golf fan, attending the Masters should be on your bucket list, if for no other reason just to buy one of those incredible pimento cheese sandwiches that still sell for just a buck-and-a-half.

The scenery at the Augusta National Golf Club is breathtaking when the azalea and dogwoods are in full bloom, which they should be this year. Throw in the golf, which is usually dramatic, and you have a great recipe for one of sports greatest spectacles.

This year’s Masters tournament has additional interest for Macon and Middle Georgia golf fans since Macon’s Russell Henley, winner of the PGA Sony Open in Hawaii back in January, will be in the field. He is the first Macon resident to play in the Masters since Jim Stuart earned a spot in the 1990 and 1991 tournaments after winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur title back to back. Stuart failed to make the cut both years.

Georgia, and Atlanta in particular, has hosted just about every major event that doesn’t have a permanent home. The biggest by far was the 1996 Olympics. Other signature events include the Super Bowl in 1994 and 2000, the U.S. Open in 1976, the PGA Championship in 2001 and 2011, the PGA’s Tour championship since 2006, The ACC men’s basketball tournament six times, the SEC men’s basketball championships 13 times, the NBA all-star game in 1978 and 2003, Major League Baseball’s all-star game in 1972 and 2000, the Chick-fil-A Bowl (Peach Bowl) since 1970, the SEC football championship game starting in 1994 and even the 2006 Sugar Bowl, which was displaced in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina.

With a new stadium on the horizon in Atlanta, you can expect more signature events will be coming to the state capital.

Bobby Pope is the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at bobbypope428@gmail.com.

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