The first two choices Wednesday by the College Football Playoff folks for the 2018 and 2019 national championship games were completely predictable.
The 2018 game went to Atlanta. The city will have a shiny new pinwheel-shaped retractable roofed facility by then called the Mercedes-Benz Stadium — an abomination for Saints fans, knowing it will be the roost of those dirty birds the Falcons. The Georgia Dome next door, a ripe old 23, is soon to meet the wrecking ball.
Santa Clara, California, was picked in 2019. For the geographically challenged, that’s the home of the San Francisco 49ers’ brand new Levi’s Stadium, site of Super Bowl 50. True to its California roots, it’s partially made up of recycled parts, uses recycled water and has a roof you could eat (it’s covered in plants). They are worried about getting the grass to grow there in February for the Super Bowl, however, so apparently there’s green and then there’s a hazy shade of winter.
New Orleans had one shot left. The last site the CFP picked Wednesday was for 2020. The Big Easy had a big problem with a team of rivals that included Minneapolis, which swiped Super Bowl 52 in 2018 from New Orleans thanks to the new stadium the Vikings are building up there on the frozen tundra, you betcha.
New stadiums, just to refresh everyone’s understanding on the subject, are catnip-flavored magnets to leagues and organizations like the NFL, the NCAA and the CFP. It’s a drawing card New Orleans, with its postmodern post-Katrina refurbished but still 40-year-old Mercedes-Benz Superdome, couldn’t play.
It looked bad for the Crescent City, I won’t lie. The CFP picked a Southern site, a West Coast site, and had a great chance to shut the Big Ten up and deliver their first national championship game of any kind to the Midwest.
But something happened. We’ll never know the vote or what exactly were the reasons. But for their last choice, the CFP passed on another gleaming, state-of-the-art palace in a spick-and-span town for a historic, familiar and slightly sticky old friend.
The city that care forgot has landed another major sporting event. And unlike Minneapolis in January, the only ice is going to be floating in the bottom of a glass.
By every indication, and you have to believe the CFP folks knew this, awarding the championship game to New Orleans came just in the nick of time.
Yes, New Orleans is an annual part of the College Football Playoff through the Sugar Bowl, which automatically hosts a national semifinal game every third New Year’s Day.
But unlike the old BCS system, when New Orleans was one of four cities rotating the national championship game, the CFP awards its biggest game on a bid basis just like the Super Bowl and the Final Four.
You have to fight for it. You have to pay for it. Through the nose. And New Orleans, which mistakenly thought tradition and a decades-long, productive partnership with college football would count for something, found out that tradition and an honorarium from the student fund that felt a little light was told to hit the bricks.
So New Orleans lost to Glendale, Arizona, (Phoenix) for the January 2016 title game and Tampa, Florida, for the January 2017 title game, two cities whose bowl history is a pamphlet compared to the leather-bound edition that belongs to New Orleans.
If the CFP didn’t award New Orleans a championship game this go round, then there might not have been another bid process, at least not for the foreseeable future. But not only did the city get a championship game, it got the exact year it wanted. New Orleans couldn’t get the 2018 game because that’s a semifinal year for the Sugar Bowl.
It’s a day for saving face, especially in the face of a huge string of recent high-profile disappointments. In addition to losing out on the 2016 and ’17 CFP title games and Super Bowl 52, New Orleans was passed over when the NCAA picked sites for its 2017-21 Final Fours.
But that’s all water under the Huey P. Long now. New Orleans will be getting what by then should be the nation’s second-biggest annual sporting event, eventually eclipsing the Final Four, and can focus on landing the other big games without the pressure of not having one in the bag.
Did New Orleans have to have the CFP title game? Not necessarily. It has the Sugar Bowl. It still has Mardi Gras and Jazzfest and a thriving convention trade.
But these are the special events, the games for which a continent stops and takes notice. Pride still matters, and New Orleans can stick out its chest in triumph after what is a much more competitive and battering bid process than the city used to face for these things.
It should be worth it. And should taste sweeter for the fight it took to make it happen.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.