TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- President Donald Trump knew where to go Saturday for home-field advantage, finding comfort in the Deep South with college football fans cheering two of the nation's top teams -- and him.
His reception at the showdown between LSU and Alabama contrasted with the scene last month at Game 5 of the World Series in Washington, where he was booed, and the mixed response to his appearance at UFC 244 in New York a week ago.
Trump, sitting one tier above the field, waved as fans turned around to look up at the president. He smiled, gave a thumbs-up a few times and threw a couple of fist bumps into the air as the Alabama fans waved red and white pompoms in response. First lady Melania Trump got an equally enthusiastic welcome.
While the president might have received a largely warm reception inside the stadium, there were also signs of protest in Tuscaloosa before the game.
An inflatable figure depicting a baby Donald Trump wearing a diaper, which has been seen at protests around the world, was set up in a park but was deflated after being attacked with a knife. Jim Girvan, the organizer of a group that "adopts" out the Baby Trump balloons for protests, said a man charged the 20-foot balloon and cut an 8-foot-long gash in the back. Girvan said the unidentified man was arrested, and videos on social media showed police detaining a man nearby. Tuscaloosa police did not immediately respond to a request for more details.
Robert Kennedy, a volunteer "babysitter" who brought the balloon to Tuscaloosa, said the balloon immediately began to sag after it was cut. The day had been going mostly smoothly, Kennedy said, with some people yelling, "Trump 2020" as they passed while others posed for selfies with the balloon.
Elsewhere, one protester carried a sign that said, "Roll Tide Impeach 45," and a woman held a signing saying she had sold her game ticket and donated the money to the Alabama Democratic Party. But there were more pro-Trump signs. One woman wore an oversized red MAGA hat and carried a sign saying: "Make BAMA #1 Again.'' There were flags emblazoned with "Trump 2020" and banners that read: "Keep America Great Trump 2020."
There was also plenty of bipartisan grumbling about the long lines to get in to the game due to enhanced security.
Presidents have long used sporting events to woo support, but these events also are a venue for fans to express their own political leanings.
Both loud boos and cheers could be heard as Trump took his seat before the recent UFC bout at Madison Square Garden. That greeting was warmer than the one Trump received at the World Series at Nationals Park, when he was roundly booed and became the target of a "Lock him up!" chant.
He knew he was heading to friendlier turf Saturday.
"I love Alabama," Trump said Friday.
Still, even in Alabama, where he won 63% of the vote in 2016, the president generated some heat. Alabama's student government association warned students against being disruptive, but said their First Amendment rights would not be muzzled.
"Regardless of your political views, that's pretty cool, having the president at the game,'' said LSU quarterback Joe Burrow.
Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III said, "Just for him even wanting to come to this game, it just shows, like I said, the magnitude of the game."
Trump sat in a box owned by Jim Wilson, a real estate businessman from Alabama. The president was joined by Louisiana Republican Reps. Clay Higgins, Mike Johnson, Ralph Abraham and Garret Graves; Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Alabama Republican Reps. Robert Aderholt, Bradley Byrne and Gary Palmer.
Trump left in the fourth quarter of LSU's 46-41 win.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.