ATLANTA -- President Donald J. Trump's appearance and inclement weather led to long delays for fans trying to enter Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Monday night's College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T.
While most appeared seated by kickoff, fans attending the game between Alabama and Georgia told ESPN they waited in security lines for more than an hour, and in some cases much longer. Making matters worse, there was a steady rain falling as fans waited to get inside.
Bibb Holland, a Crimson Tide fan from Gadsden, Alabama, said she waited in line for 1 hour and 45 minutes to get through security outside the stadium, which was being administered by the U.S. Secret Service because of Trump's visit.
Not since Jimmy Carter attended Georgia's 17-10 victory over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day in 1981, has a sitting U.S. president attended a game that resulted in a college football national championship.
"I will never come back," said Holland, who told ESPN she entered the line at 6:15 p.m. ET and didn't get through security until shortly before the 8:15 p.m. kickoff. "This is horrible. I've been going to football games for 30 years and this is by far the worst place I have ever been."
"Yes, there were delays as a result of the Secret Service protocol. Gate 1 was closed for a time. We regret that fans were inconvenienced," College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock said in a statement. "The inclement weather didn't help. We are grateful that the overwhelming majority of people were inside the building at kickoff. The Mercedes-Benz staff did an excellent job managing the unique situation."
Mindy Eskew, a Georgia fan, said some fans had difficulty pulling up their mobile tickets on their cellphones because the Wi-Fi and cellular service wasn't working. "It's the worst experience of going to a game I've ever been to," she said.
There were several empty seats inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium after the game kicked off. A guard at a security door, who declined to be named, said security officials closed lines to fans for about 45 minutes for Trump's entrance.
The stadium confirmed the closing of Gate 1 on its Twitter account: "Due to Secret Service and extra security around the venue, Gates 2, 3 and 4 are the best options for entry into the stadium at this time. Thank you for your patience."
Trump arrived at Mercedes-Benz Stadium about two hours before kickoff. He posed for photographs with fans and appeared on the field for the national anthem. He watched the first quarter from a suite inside the stadium.
A security official told ESPN that most of the congestion happened at Gate 4, and that much of it was relieved by directing people around the stadium to Gate 1. By kickoff, most of the lines outside the stadium seemed to have dissipated. But many fans still were upset as they rushed to their seats.
"This is the worst I've ever seen," said Lance McInnish, who came to Atlanta with his wife. McInnish and his wife got into the stadium in time for the national anthem, ending a three-hour wait outside in the chilly, rainy weather. "I've been to Arlington, I was at the Sugar Bowl last week, I've been here a couple times. It just seemed like nobody knew what they were doing," McInnish said.
The College Football Playoff tweeted at 7:33 p.m. ET:
Thank you for your patience entering the stadium. Gate 1 has resumed full operation. pic.twitter.com/3mBuMCUCkZ— College Football Playoff (@CFBPlayoff) January 9, 2018
Another security staffer, who declined to give his name, said things were tense at the gates in the hour before the game. "Things got hairy down here," he said. "I thought one guy and his son were going to beat me up."
Steve Ledbetter, a Georgia fan, told ESPN he waited about two hours before getting into the stadium at 7:47 p.m. ET.
"It's a nightmare out there," Ledbetter said. "I'm a Georgia fan, a Falcons fan, and this is embarrassing. People are going to miss kickoff. It's ridiculous."
Lawanda Buggs, mother of Alabama defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs, walked into the stadium just after 8 p.m. ET. Buggs said players' parents were told to enter Gate 1 but it was closed for a while.
"It's a madhouse," she said. "I'm just getting in and I'm mad. I waited three hours. I'm a parent."
Elson Bowers, a Georgia season-ticket holder from Athens, said he waited two hours to get into the stadium. He described the crowd outside as a "mob scene."
"I'm never coming back," Bowers said.
Security delays weren't the only issue at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. During pregame warm-ups, there was rain falling onto the field around the 21-yard line near Alabama's end zone, as a result of the stadium's problematic roof. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported there was another leak around the 25-yard line near Georgia's end zone.
"It's dripping," Mercedes-Benz Stadium general manager Scott Jenkins confirmed to the AJC.