College Football Playoff: Performers, celebrity fans to watch out for in Tampa for national championship game
With the field for this year’s College Football Playoff National Championship now set — Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington — it’s time to turn our attention to all the action that’s about to unfold here in Tampa.
The days leading up to the Jan. 9 game at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium are going to be filled with concerts, events and celebrity appearances. It’s not the Super Bowl, but between all the celebrity fans and A-list performers dropping by, it might feel a little like it.
We already know about Playoff Playlist Live!, the three-night concert festival unfolding for free in Curtis Hixon Park. The lineup includes Eric Paslay, the Shadowboxers and Clare Dunn on Jan. 6; Flo Rida, Cold War Kids and Rachel Platten on Jan. 7; and Usher, Gavin DeGraw, Jamie N Commons and Jay Pharoah on Jan. 8. Click here for details on those shows.
Beyond that, the star power is a little unknown — but we can take some educated guesses.
Taste of the Championship, a mini food fest at the Florida Aquarium on Jan. 8, promises “celebrity appearances,” though last year’s event in Arizona seems to have been headlined by chef and quasi-Food Network personality Beau MacMillan, so let that be your barometer. Tickets are $250. “Special guests” are also promised for the Championship Beach Bash, a new event in Clearwater Beach, though none have yet been announced.
At least one big singer will probably pop in for Championship Tailgate, a gameday party at the stadium that’s only open to ticketholders. Last year’s event was headlined by Eric Church; in 2015 it was Zac Brown Band.
While there probably won’t be an A-list halftime entertainer, someone big will sing the national anthem (in 2016 it was Ciara; in 2015, Lady Antebellum) and America the Beautiful (Canaan Smith in 2016, Aloe Blacc in 2015).
Finally, what about the celebrity fans in the stands? All four schools will bring huge fan bases, and possibly some big celebrity fans to boot. Some may even perform at alumni gatherings that’ll be announced in the weeks to come. Let’s scour each school’s roster of celebrity fans and alumni to see which stars we should watch out for come January.
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
The most powerful football program in America has its share of celebrity supporters, as chronicled by AL.com — Jason Isbell, Courteney Cox, Sela Ward, Melissa Joan Hart and more. But it turns out several big-name Tide backers have Sunshine State ties, including former Florida congressman Joe Scarborough, Creed singer Scott Stapp and former Tampa resident Bubba Sparxxx. And then there’s Magic Mike himself, Channing Tatum, who was born near Birmingham but grew up in Tampa. “Roll Tide,” he told GQ when asked about his Iron Bowl allegiances. Think he might squeeze in a trip home if ‘Bama makes the championship?
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
Another gigantic state school with plenty of famous alumni and fans. LeBron James, R.L. Stein, Jack Nicklaus, Rascal Flatts singer Gary LeVox. But the biggest of all might be John Legend. The Grammy-winning singer is known to play plenty of huge events like this — he performed outside Raymond James Stadium before Super Bowl XLIII — but as he told ESPN in 2011, he’s more inclined to catch his Buckeyes from the couch. “I don’t actually go to a lot of games because I think football on TV is better,” he said. “Even though I’m pretty busy, I watch 90 percent of Ohio State’s games.” If nothing else, keep an eye out for a Chrissy Tiegen tweetstorm on game day.
Country star Lee Brice was a walk-on lineman at Clemson, but otherwise, the team’s roster of celebrity fans is somewhat skinny. So how about some surprising alumni? For example, did you know Dolph Lundgren studied chemical engineering there? How about national political figures Nikki Haley or John Edwards? Or Entertainment Tonight host Nancy O’Dell? Or comic Rob Huebel?
The best-known U-Dub fan might be comic Joel McHale, who walked on for two seasons as a tight end in the early ’90s. Chris Pratt is better known as a Seattle Seahawks fan, but his wife Anna Faris is a Washington graduate. So are Kyle MacLachlan, Patrick Duffy and former U.S. women’s soccer star Hope Solo. Renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly went there, and he has a namesake museum in St. Petersburg, so maybe he’ll come down. Also worth noting: Jim Caviezel briefly attended Washington in the early ‘90s, and his brother played basketball there. Anytime you’ve got Jesus on your sideline, you’re doing something right.
-- Jay Cridlin