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Alabama, Clemson fans make long trip to California for CFP championship game

The Clemson band performs before the NCAA college

The Clemson band performs before the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. Credit: AP/Jeff Chiu

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — As the gates at Levi’s Stadium opened at 5 p.m. ET, more than three hours before kickoff of the College Football Playoff national championship, a flood of Clemson orange and Alabama crimson filled the concourse, as if the game were being played in the Southeast. Reports of a soft secondary ticket market had led to speculation that the distance from the schools and the expense of airline travel would create deterrents for the two groups.

As kickoff approached Monday, the heavy rains of the previous two days were gone and the stands were full. One of the first through the gate was Clemson fan Kelly Lolis, 40, of Lexington, South Carolina.

“The cost was a little bit high,” she said, “but I have a strong feeling we are going to win, so it was worth it to me.”

She compared this game to the 2017 national championship in Tampa, Florida, where the ticket prices were higher but it was easier to get to the game because she was able to drive. “I don’t know if distance is the problem,” Lolis said. “It’s just the way [hotels and airlines] jack up the prices.”

This year’s title game, the fifth in the four-team playoff era, is the first to take place on the West Coast, approximately 35 miles from downtown San Francisco. Many expressed concerns about the location because it matched two southeastern schools. Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is nearly 2,000 miles away, and the trip from Clemson, South Carolina, is even longer.

San Jose resident Yolanda Mitchum, 38, said: “I know that [cost] has been an issue for a lot of people from the East Coast. Flying out here is tremendously high.”

Keith McCaskill’s daughter won tickets for the game in a drawing from her employer. McCaskill, 65, from Greer, South Carolina, is a Clemson fan who shared how he and his wife reduced their costs.

“Instead of a direct flight, we ended up getting a two-stop out and a three-stop back to get the price down,” McCaskill said. He said he was surprised to see so many Alabama and Clemson fans in the stadium.

One Alabama fan was not surprised by the Tide’s turnout. Douglas Jackson, 65, from Birmingham, said: “They are pretty good traveling fans. They usually show up most of the time.” He and his family are making the most out of the trip with a sightseeing vacation to the Bay Area.

Clemson fan David Howell, 44, is originally from North Carolina but resides in Southern California. Howell attended with three of his five sons after getting tickets after the prices started to drop. “We got them right on Wednesday,” Howell said. “We took advantage of that.”

San Jose resident Ronald Henares, 51, said having the game in California was a dream come true for him, and he predicted there would be empty seats. When asked what would have happened if a West Coast school were playing, Henares said, “There would be way more people!”

Chris Howe, 38, of Petaluma, California, enjoyed the opportunity to attend the game while not having to travel far (about 85 miles). “I’ve always been envious, living in California, of the South and the Midwest . . . because college football is more important [there],” Howe said. “People care about it more out there than they do out here.”

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