Friday night’s Division I football championship game at Finley Stadium failed to draw 20,000 fans for the first time in four years, but nobody was deeming it a failure.
A lively crowd of 17,823 attended Richmond’s 24-7 whipping of Montana, the largest audience of any title game since 2000 that did not involve Appalachian State. The Mountaineers had won the previous three national titles, including the past two before Finley-record crowds of 22,808 and 23,010.
“I’m very pleased, no question about it,” said Merrill Eckstein, president of the Greater Chattanooga Sports and Events Committee. “The excitement level of the crowd has been marvelous. Even during the national anthem, when the fireworks went off, they all went crazy for it.
“We always have concerns every year on various things, but I think we’ve been on top of it as much as any game we’ve hosted.”
Eckstein added that he had an employee complain of being bored because the night was running so smoothly.
Friday’s title game was the fourth with Frank Burke as stadium operator. Burke admitted the evening felt “less frantic” than the previous three matchups, and he also was pleased.
“Things may have gone a little smoother because there are not as many people here, but they also didn’t all want to come in at the same time like they’ve wanted to do in the past,” he said. “We were very lucky to get the field painted given the fact that it rained 12 of the last 20 days and everything else. I think it’s going as well as it can.”
Burke, the Chattanooga Lookouts owner since 1995, could decide in the next few weeks whether or not he will operate the stadium for the 2009 title game.
Some of Friday’s empty seats were the result of Appalachian State fans buying tickets before their Mountaineers were eliminated by Richmond in the second round. Tickets with a face value of $30 could be obtained earlier this week for $20 on Ebay.com and Stubhub.com, and four tickets on Ebay an hour before kickoff were going for $11.25 each.
There were no bids.
A huge walk-up crowd in 2005 overwhelmed Finley’s will-call booths, and the failure to open more gates on the stadium’s south side resulted in long lines two years ago. Last December, the bass blew out in the sound system.
Burke and Eckstein refer to last year’s title game as the most memorable, but they agreed that Friday wasn’t a bad follow-up.
“I still think it’s a wonderful night,” Burke said. “It’s a great event with two great schools.”
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...