ATLANTA - The Atlanta Falcons had barely finished their season when workers swarmed onto the Georgia Dome turf.
They painted the Sugar Bowl emblem at midfield. They adorned the stands with blue and yellow signs. They washed out the Falcons logos in each end zone, filling in the colors of Georgia and West Virginia.
With a bit of imagination, this could actually pass for the Superdome of years past.
Actually, it's a most unusual Sugar Bowl, forced out of New Orleans for the first time in its 72-year history by the devastating floods of Hurricane Katrina.
Instead of meeting in the Big Easy, No. 8 Georgia and 11th-ranked West Virginia had to settle for a Monday night matchup at the Georgia Dome, which underwent a harried makeover after the Falcons' final game.
It all seemed a bit surreal.
"Atlanta is a great town, but I know quite a few people in city of New Orleans," said West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, a former Tulane assistant. "When I left there, I always thought it would be great to go back to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl."
The Bulldogs (10-2) had no complaints about playing a major bowl just 75 miles from their Athens campus, in the very same stadium where they claimed their second Southeastern Conference championship in four years.
Georgia tried to make it feel like a home game, even scheduling a "Dawg Walk" so the players could enter the stadium through a cauldron of red and black - just like they do between the hedges.
"We have had some great experiences in the Dome," coach Mark Richt said.
"Our fans have been fantastic in there. We will have a 'Dawg Walk' before the game, so we will try to mirror what we did in the SEC championship."
The Big East champion Mountaineers (10-1) realize what they're up against, despite bringing a sizable contingent of fans from West Virginia.
"It's pretty much a home game for them," West Virginia quarterback Pat White said. "We like the underdog role. They're an SEC school. ... We know we can go out and play with anybody on any given day."
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