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Atlanta will always be a college football town

By Doug Gorman

Driving home Tuesday night, I caught the end of the Braves' post-game call-in show with Stu Klitenick and former Braves' infielder Mark Lemeke.

One caller wanted to know if the Braves could do anything to raise attendance. He was obviously disappointed by the fact that only 25,701 people were in the stands Tuesday for the team's game against the Phillies at Turner Field, despite the fact that the Braves are on the verge of winning a 14th-straight division title.

He suggested that when St. Louis plays at home this time a year they sell out Busch Stadium. He would be right. Perhaps Lemeke said it best, "St. Louis is a great baseball town."

I learned that back in the 1970s when my father was turning me into the next generation of a sports fan. After all, it's not hard to fall for the game when you are watching Bob Gibson pitch or Lou Brock swipe bases. I became a sports fan sitting at Busch Stadium on hot summer nights watching those two Hall of Famers play. Even when the Cardinals weren't in contention, the stadium was usually filled.

St. Louis is also a great hockey and pro football town. Translation, the center of the St. Louis sports fans' universe centers around the pro game.

That can't be said in Atlanta. Sure, the Braves have been a force in the National League for more than a decade, the Falcons are on the rise, and new ownership is trying to breath new life back into both the Hawks and Thrashers, but Atlanta and the entire state of Georgia will always be a college football state.

Once the Braves get into September, it is going to be especially tough to draw a crowd to a Saturday game. Many Georgia residents would rather stay at home and watch an important college football game on television then attend a late-season Braves' game.

Fans grow up cheering for Georgia, Tech, Auburn, Alabama, and many other southern football teams, and they pass that love and passion on to their children and grandchildren. It becomes a family tradition, and more than just a game to many die-hard college football fans.

Thousands more Georgians are also season ticket holders for their favorite college football teams, and many make a weekend out of attending a contest, often leaving on Friday and not getting back until late Sunday from a road game.

Apathy could also have something to do with it. For all the Braves' success during this magical run, the squad has only won one World Series.

Fans like myself have become skeptical. We head into the playoffs wondering how the team is going to collapse this year. Will it be hitting, pitching or a combination of both that eventually ends the Braves' season?

Bobby Cox is a Hall of Fame manager. Leo Mazzone is the best pitching coach in the business, and John Smoltz is a future Hall of Famer, but I just can't get too excited about the playoffs. I have been disappointed too many times before.

Yes, I hope the Braves finally capture their second World Series title. But once they do, I'll go back to doing what most fans in this area do, turn my free time into watching college football.

After all, I live in Georgia, and in Georgia, college football is king.

(Doug Gorman is sports editor of the Daily. His column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at dgorman@news-daily.com )