KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
College football's national championship game kicks off tonight in Atlanta. It's a matchup of two Southeastern Conference rivals, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs. Thing is, with so many fans living so close to Atlanta, it's basically a home game for both teams. Ross Terrell from member station WABE explains.
ROSS TERRELL, BYLINE: The two universities are separated by less than 300 miles. That means a lot of alumni and everyday fans end up calling Atlanta home.
ANDY VASQUEZ: This is my pet elephant. His name's Al (imitates elephant).
TERRELL: That's Andy Vasquez. He's a Bama fan imitating the school's mascot, Big Al. Vasquez was born in Tuscaloosa but lives here now. He was one of thousands of fans from both teams gathered for pregame festivities in downtown Atlanta just across from the stadium.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Inaudible).
TERRELL: Vasquez spoke with the type of confidence you'd expect from the fan of a team that's going for its fifth national title in the past decade.
VASQUEZ: You know, Georgia - they've got two great running backs, but defense always prevails. I don't think they're going to do much.
TERRELL: Chris Fuller graduated from Alabama and also moved to Georgia. He says he's used to championship game excitement.
CHRIS FULLER: What's funny is looking at all the Georgia fans. But you know, once every 38 years ain't too bad.
TERRELL: That's a little shot at UGA because the Bulldogs haven't won a national title since 1980. Last week, Georgia beat the Oklahoma Sooners in the Rose Bowl. It was a thrilling, high-scoring, double-overtime win. Amy Phillips was a student at Georgia the last time they won a national championship. She thinks tonight is their time to shine.
AMY PHILLIPS: I just - I know it's not going to be a shootout like it was in Pasadena, but Dogs on top for sure.
TERRELL: Amy met her husband when they were both students at UGA in Athens. She's proud her son will start classes there in the fall. Then there are families in the Atlanta area who represent a house divided, like the Coopers. Leon and Tim are brothers. Tim roots for the Dogs and Leon the Crimson Tide.
LEON COOPER: It's been pretty civil so far. I think we're still on a little disbelief that both teams made it here, but it's pretty exciting.
TERRELL: But Tim says that will undoubtedly change.
TIM COOPER: Obviously as we get closer to Monday, to game time - yeah, it'll get a little more trash talking.
TERRELL: The two universities are close geographically and both in the SEC, but their head coaches make them even closer. Georgia's Kirby Smart spent nine years in Tuscaloosa as an assistant to Alabama's Nick Saban. Robert Abron pulls for the Crimson Tide but says he respects Georgia's head coach.
ROBERT ABRON: Kirby Smart did come from Alabama, so it's a little love down there. We still want to roll tide, though, at the end of the day.
TERRELL: Now all that's left is for the two teams to decide who will walk away with the championship and even some bragging rights. For NPR News, I'm Ross Terrell in Atlanta.
(SOUNDBITE OF HOT CHIP SONG, "THE WARNING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.