By Jaime Aron
The teams are set and fans are on the way. The College Football Playoff National Championship weekend is about to kick off.
“We and everyone in the Bay Area have been waiting three years for this – and it’s finally here,” said Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff.
The title game between Alabama and Clemson is Monday night. The teams arrive in the Bay Area on Friday afternoon. On Saturday, they’ll have Media Day in the morning and practice in the afternoon. On Sunday, coaches Nick Saban of Alabama and Dabo Swinney of Clemson will hold a news conference alongside the trophy they’ll be vying for the following night.
While the teams are of course the focus of this event, this is pretty much a business trip for them. For fans, the championship experience is all about fun – and there are plenty of opportunities, beginning at noon on Friday and continuing pretty much until that shiny gold trophy is presented Monday night.
The hub is Playoff Fan Central. Held inside the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, this festival-like event will offer games, clinics, pep rallies, band performances, exhibits such as trophies from all the bowl games and opportunities to interact with former greats.
“It’s like a grand amusement park,” Hancock said Thursday while in the room, alongside workers putting the finishing touches on everything. “You can kick a field goal, throw a pass and run through tires.”
Playoff Fan Central runs from noon to 6 p.m. on Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are on sale, with kids 12 and under free with a ticketed adult. Bay Area residents get in free on Friday.
One thing not at Playoff Fan Central: Media Day. This free event will be held inside the SAP Center on Saturday, with Alabama taking the field at 8:30 a.m. and Clemson at 10 a.m. Each squad will visit with reporters for an hour. Fans can watch from the stands and listen to interviews on a radio they’ll be given.
The more melodic soundtrack to the weekend comes from the AT&T Playoff Playlist Live! concert series, held at Discovery Meadow Park in downtown San Jose. Free performances will feature Alessia Cara and Brynn Elliott on Friday night; Logic, Leon Bridges and Jay Rock on Saturday night; and OneRepublic and Ellie Goulding in the finale Sunday night.
Another fun, free place to hang out Friday through Saturday is The Quad, also known as Plaza de Cesar Chavez. Located a short pass from Playoff Fan Central – and in the heart of the Championship Campus – this stretch offers everything from live DJs to interactive activities, merchandise stores to concession stands.
On Sunday night, the spotlight falls on the Tech Museum of Innovation for the Eckrich Taste of the Championship. This is a gourmet food and drink event featuring treats from more than 20 Bay Area chefs. Best of all, it supports Extra Yard for Teachers, the primary platform of the College Football Playoff Foundation.
Inspiring and empowering quality educators is an underlying mission of all CFP events. Another fun way for fans to show their support is by participating in the Extra Yard for Teachers 5Kon Sunday morning. The run/walk goes through downtown San Jose and San Jose State University, with a finish at Cesar Chavez Plaza, followed by a party featuring live entertainment and sponsor-led events.
One more important note about teachers: The Extra Yard for Teachers Summit will be held Saturday and Sunday on the lower level of the McEnery Convention Center. Any teacher or administrator with a current school I.D. will be admitted for free, along with their families, to enjoy workshops, speeches and celebrations in their honor such as raffles, games and chair massages.
On Monday, anyone with game tickets will want to while away the countdown to kickoff at the Allstate Championship Tailgate in the Levi’s Stadium Parking Lot in Santa Clara. Gates open at 10 a.m. and will include everything from zip lines to BBQ, marching bands to a performance by Keith Urban, the Grammy Award-winning country singer and former “American Idol” judge.
And finally, there’s the main event itself: the fifth installment of the CFP National Championship and the third featuring these powerhouse programs.
Alabama won their first title-game matchup, in 2016. Clemson won the rematch in 2017. Alabama beat Georgia last year, so the Crimson Tide are seeking to be the first repeat champs of the CFP era.
In addition to expecting a great game between two great teams, Hancock said he expects fans to enjoy Levi’s Stadium, “a world-class facility that college football fans by and large have not experienced.”
Hancock himself is looking forward to soaking it in.
“My favorite thing,” he said, “is to walk around the concourse of the stadium about an hour before kickoff to see how much fun people are having being a part of this.”