Fans flock to Arlington for first playoff title game

Karna Jo and John Free of Olympia, Wash., flash the University of Oregon salute Monday outside AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Karna Jo and John Free of Olympia, Wash., flash the University of Oregon salute Monday outside AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Gordon Dickson

What the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship lacked in excitement, it made up for in color.

More than 80,000 fans came to AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Monday, many of them festooned in all manner of wigs, coveralls and other garments sporting the green and gold of Oregon and the red and silver of Ohio State.

In the end, the red and silver proved dominant as the Buckeyes hammered the Ducks, 42-20, giving Ohio State the first national championship under a playoff system.

Among the joyful attendees were Kali Snyder and Andrew McCann, friends who attend Ohio State and drove 16 hours from Columbus, Ohio, to cheer on their winning Buckeyes.

“Our car broke down in St. Louis, but other than that the drive was fine,” said Snyder, who is studying finance and entrepreneurship. “We were delayed five hours, but we made it!”

Ohio State fans seemed to outnumber Oregon faithful at several party zones outside AT&T Stadium. But when it came to colorful costumes, the Ducks took top billing.

Karna Jo and John Free of Olympia, Wash., arrived in finely-detailed regalia. She wore a waist-length green wig, and his beard — the length of which rivaled that of Santa Claus — was painted green and gold. Also, John Free sported a spooky pair of light-green prescription contact lenses in his eyes.

“It is just such a pleasure to be involved in the first championship game,” Karna Jo Free said. The Frees, who flew to North Texas on Monday and planned to stay a day or two after the game, said they attended every Oregon football game — home and away — this year.

The season’s last tailgate

Hours before the game began, fans swarmed to Arlington’s entertainment district by the thousands. Many were attracted to the free Championship Tailgate, where they could pose for snapshots with the championship trophy. Fans also listened to a performance by Ohio State’s marching band, as well as a performance by the Zac Brown Band.

Revelers with a daring side were invited to try a zip line, from a tower roughly 20 feet off the ground.

Others were content with their beer.

George O’Neil and his nephew, Josh O’Neil, loaded up on local brews during their four-day stay in Dallas-Fort Worth. In the back of their sport-utility vehicle due east of AT&T Stadium were six packs of Lakewood Lager, Shiner Bock and Lone Star.

“We’re going all-Texan during our stay,” said Josh O-Neil, a plumber when he’s not cheering for the Ducks. “We went to Off the Bone barbecue and Adair’s Saloon in Deep Ellum.”

The two Oregon fans from Portland had decided to come to national championship game even before the Ducks blasted Florida State in the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl.

“We talked about going to the Rose Bowl and I was like, ‘Why not go to the big game?’” George said. “Let’s go to Texas.”

They were joined by a fellow Ducks fan, Rena Smith from Sacramento, who had been to the Pac-12 championship game, the Rose Bowl and now the national championship. Both Smith and George O’Neal were members of the same longshoreman’s union and that’s where they learned they were both serious Duck fans.

Smith had used obsession with underground death metal bands to find a place to stay, crashing at the Fort Worth home of Dave Spencer of the band, Devourment.

“I called him and said, ‘Can I crash on your couch?’ And he told me he had a spare room,” Smith said. “He even me picked me up and let me use one of his vehicles for the weekend.

Smith was being teased about what she would do if Oregon won.

“You never know I might streak,” Smith said.

Those silly Ducks.


Ohio State fan Frank Jelercek was happy to be in Arlington and free of teams and fans from the Southeastern Conference. For years, he has heard the refrain of “y’all don’t play anybody” from his neighbors in Orange Beach, Ala.

His beloved Buckeyes, of course, beat top-ranked Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to earn the trip to Arlington, leaving the SEC out of the championship game.

“No SEC teams — it’s a thing of beauty,” Jelercek said with a laugh. “I think they’re launching an investigation into the whole thing.”

For Jelercek, an Ohio State graduate, it was a no-brainer to make the 10-hour drive from Alabama. It was the first time to make a prolonged visit to the DFW area. He spent Saturday in Dallas and Sunday checking out the area around AT&T Stadium.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Jelercek said. “We really didn’t expect to beat big, bad Alabama but we feel pretty confident tonight.”

Ohio State fan Steven Colletti, 24, hasn’t been home to Ohio in two years so the chance to be around Buckeyes fans was too much to pass up. Stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, La., Colletti, who grew up in Dayton, Ohio, chose to drive to Arlington without a ticket.

“I just wanted to soak up the atmosphere,” Colletti said. “It feels like home.”

Colletti who has been deployed to Afghanistan and Qatar wasn’t sure where he was going to watch the game. He was debating whether to spend money to get a standing room only ticket or going to a nearby sports bar.

“It really doesn’t matter,” Colletti said. “I’m just glad to be here.”

Keeping things safe

While the fans were having fun, playing host to such a high-profile event takes months of planning and careful coordination among a number of agencies at the federal, state and local levels, from the Texas Department of Transportation to the National Weather Service, said Irish Hancock, Arlington’s emergency management administrator.

“Something of this magnitude never involves just Arlington,” Hancock said.

Television screens line the walls of the Emergency Operations Center at the Arlinton Police Department, providing event coordinators with views from every police and traffic camera in Arlington.

“We have eyes in the sky to be able to see what’s going on. It’s very helpful if we get a report of something going outside the stadium,” Hancock said. “We can grab one of the cameras and train it in on that and our group can see whats going on to respond appropriately.”

In the coming days, Arlington and its partners are expected to take a close look at how the inaugural event was handled.

“You don’t want to repeat mistakes but you do want to repeat your successes,” Hancock said. “It’s not the first time Arlington has had a large, high-profile sporting event. But every event we are trying to learn from to become better,” Hancock said.

Staff writer Susan Schrock contributed to this report.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698

Twitter: @fwhanna

Get to the airport early

▪ While AT&T Stadium was thick with fans Monday night, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport expects to be the hot spot Tuesday morning.

▪ Because of the expected high volume of traffic, D/FW Airport officials are recommending that travelers arrive at the airport at least three hours before their scheduled departure time.

▪ The busiest time is expected to be between 5 and 9 a.m.

▪ Additional police officers and parking personnel will help with traffic flow and parking and the Transportation Security Administration has also assigned additional personnel and resources to checkpoints.

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