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Official Review by John McCurdy, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Georgia Dome seems great, practically unbeatable. The NFL’s Atlanta Falcons flock to it in the fall, Georgia high school football semifinal games rock it shortly before Christmas, and the Chick-fil-A Bowl comes to town just before the New Year.
And besides all that, Ludacris and the Ying Yang Twins drop the name of the place in their songs! So it’s gotta be great, right?
Wrong. Put a two-year-old, non-FBS college team on the field and only 12,000 or so people in a 70,000-plus capacity stadium, and you’ve got a recipe for a boring Saturday afternoon. I’ve tried to be kind, considering Georgia State first fielded a team in 2010. I’ve tried to be understanding, taking into account that tickets are sold only for the lower bowl. And I’ve tried to be loyal, what with Atlanta being my hometown and all. But the fact of the matter is this: I yawned my way through the Panthers game that I attended and am hard-pressed to recommend the experience to other sports fans.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
At least GSU football has the benefit of working with the Dome's concessions. If the lone stand at basketball games is any indication of what the school's athletics program would provide by default for their events, it's a good thing there are a few extra options here. Beyond the regulars (your burgers, nachos, hot dogs, candy, popcorn, etc.), Papa John's stands around the concourse offer personal pizzas, which aren't bad as long as they're fresh. Yes, one would be entitled to a medium pie if paying $9 outside the confines of a sporting event, but it is what it is.
Other selections include the now-expected California-style burrito (think Moe's or Chipotle, though perhaps a step down in quality) and Dippin' Dots. I find it funny they still tag themselves as the "ice cream of the future," considering a price point of $4.50 for a tiny cup really does NOT work in the current economic times, but I digress....
To be clear: Georgia State is really not to blame for this abysmal score. It's just the reality for a newborn team playing in an arena about four times too large.
It really, really hurts that the Falcons branding is so strong throughout the place. Tens of thousands of empty red seats and gargantuan red banners hanging from the rafters do not perpetuate the idea that this is the home of the blue & white. Worse yet (and you'll hear more about this in the "Fans" section), the proceedings - i.e., jumbotron flashes, crowd interaction, and general focus on the game - gave me the strange sense that this was some sort of hybrid of high school football and the college game.
In short, "home-field advantage" is not a term that gets used much when it comes to GSU football.
The good news is that Atlanta is still Atlanta; in the square mile that encompasses the arena's grounds and State's downtown campus, there are eateries and attractions galore. For this GSU edition of the Dome review, I'll focus on a couple places that are student favorites.
Traditional American sports-fan grub can be had at the nearby location of Grindhouse Killer Burgers (209 Edgewood Ave.). Here I can plug the milkshakes hard and will extoll the virtues of such choice when it comes to toppings!
Meanwhile, a different but equally cool vibe and lots of great Mediterranean cuisine can be had at Anatolia Café (52 Peachtree St.). Be aware, though, that they do offer hookah; if you're not a fan of flavored tobaccos and the resultant smoke, you may want to pick another spot.
Finally, if you're making a weekend of it and will have the time to do more than just show up at the game, check out the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, or Capitol building, all quite close to each location mentioned above. Perhaps having some fun at one of these landmarks will help temper the poor the disappointment of the...
Credit where credit is due: Folks sitting in the first few rows seemed pretty into it, despite the home team's miserable effort. I know from experience that it's especially hard to root for a team in this phase of their maturation. Panthers on the gridiron is no longer novel, and they are suffering in the standings.
Of course, the attitudes of the individuals aren't everything in this category. When the total showing is so paltry and the student section is nigh indiscernible from the seats that were sold to the public, the crowd seemed like that you might see at a high school game.
Before I compared the entire spectacle to a mix of college football with the sport at a lower level, but now I think I can clarify with an even better simile: It was quite literally as if the fans of a different squad had been ushered into these seats, told to don a few loose items of spiritwear, and holler for a team they only kinda liked.
My normal aversion to driving in the heart of the ATL lessens somewhat in this instance, as traffic will never be as bad for a GSU game as it would be for the Falcons, Hawks, Braves or Yellow Jackets. That being said, parking is only marginally cheaper, but convenience will be on your side should you decide to go this route.
To approach, use the appropriate major highway; again, there shouldn't be too many other folks on the road. Plus, it will in all likelihood be a Saturday, helping you to avoid any rush hour jams. From the West or Southeast, you want Interstate 20; from the North, you want I-85 (perhaps via Georgia Route 400). Your final destination in any case is the I-75/85 downtown connector, from which the Ellis St. exit will be easiest.
If you wish to avoid driving altogether, there's MARTA, Atlanta's (un)faithful public transportation. I love to malign it for unreliability, questionable sanitation, and complete lack of stations in certain areas of town, but I can give the trains this: There are stops for both Georgia State campus and the Dome (plus the central junction in between), and at $4.50 round-trip, very small, or very large parties can make it cost-effective.
In my personal opinion, paying $25 to $70 entitles me to a pretty good seat for a worthwhile event. Unfortunately, I don't think either of those things can be guaranteed at a Panther football game in the Dome.
First, I'd reference what I've said thus far about just how much "fun" my recent trip was. Then, I'd try to put into words what it was like to watch a blowout in a venue this large; with so few folks so spread out and so not concentrated on the game, it might as well have not been going on.
Perhaps, if I was a bigger fan of the team rather than just a mildly-interested local, I would have lived and died by each snap and reveled in seeing my boys finally playing some pigskin. Perhaps if the game had been competitive and crowded, I would have been swept up in the action, regardless of the contrast created by the small-conference scrimmage and grandiose setting.
As-is, though, I wouldn't spend the money myself, and thus wouldn't ask you to.
The Dome being an indoor venue, one is protected from adverse weather by a roof, air-conditioning and/or heating when attending an event here. Then again, some people relish being exposed to the elements when watching football, so I can only award a half-point for this.
The other half-point will come from the pride that Georgia State University - and, really, the city in general - feels that there even exists GSU football. It was a long time coming, and at times seemed like it might never happen, but at least now we can say that the Panthers have a team.
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