Great news. Whatever you had planned Saturday night, the SEC Championship will not hold you back. You’ll know who’s gonna win the game before the first quarter is over. That’s because every time Alabama and Florida have played in the conference title game, the first team to score loses. On top of that, there’s never been a scoreless first quarter in any SECCG, so the spoiler in this one is gonna come early.
Interestingly, Florida has scored first in every game this year except the loss to Ole Miss. Alabama has scored first in every game this year except the near-loss to Ole Miss. Both these teams better change the strategy. Those first points are deadly when it comes to Tide-Gators in the conference championship:
‘BAMA’S RETURN TO THE TOP
#2 Alabama 28
#12 Florida 21
First Score: UF tailback and eventual Buccaneer, Errict Rhett (left), took a draw handoff from quarterback Shane Matthews and dived into the endzone for the inaugural touchdown of the ’92 SECCG. The Gators went on to lose, and Matthews’s modeling career went downhill quickly. (This was really an excuse to post a picture with those bad-ass old Bucs uniforms).
Play of the Game: With the score knotted 21-21 after another touchdown by Rhett, the Gators had gained momentum and looked poised to crap on Alabama’s undefeated season and national aspirations. Standing on his own 21-yard line with just over three minutes left in the game, Matthews took a first-down snap, shimmied backward, and fired a pass to his right. UA cornerback Antonio Langham stepped in front of the receiver and took it to the house. Game over.
Aftermath: In Gene Stallings’s third year as head coach, Alabama went on to shove a sugarcane stalk up Miami’s ass to cap off a 13-0 season and the school’s first national championship since 1979. It had been a decade since Bear Bryant was laid to rest in Elmwood Cemetary in Birmingham, Ala., but this was the first time a lot of Tide fans accepted it (Bahr sightings have cropped up plenty of times since Stallings retired in 1996, but interestingly, reports of encounters with the dead coach have plunged this season. Florida beat N.C. State in the Gator Bowl.
SPURRIER HEATING UP
#16 Alabama 13
For the second year in a row, Stallings’s Tide met Spurrier’s Gators. Technically, Alabama hadn’t even won its division, but the undefeated Auburn Tigers were on probation (for cheating), so The Tide represented the West. Florida’s only loss was at the hands of Auburn and bested Tennessee in a wild one to claim the East.
First Score: UA’s fullback, Tarrant Lynch scored the first points of the game with a one-yard bull dive into the end zone.
Play of the Game: Ahead 14-13 with less than a minute to go in the third quarter, Florida was pinned back on its own 37, facing 4th-and-8. Spurrier knew the time was now or never. Punter Shayne Edge lined up to kick back to UA, but instead of dropping the ball onto his foot, he tucked it under his arm and sprinted twenty yards for the first down and more. On the very next play, quarterback Terry Dean found receiver Jack Jackson for a touchdown and the dagger that put ‘Bama away. The Ol’ Ball Coach had butter-cupped his opponent and giggled while doing it.
Aftermath: “To hell with the SEC Championship,” Florida offensive lineman Jim Watson said after the game. “We won this game so we wouldn’t have to go back to the Gator Bowl.” Spurrier’s team had laboriously accepted an invitation to the lackluster Jacksonville bowl the season before, but this year UF was heading to the Sugar Bowl. And they made the most of it, slamming a previously unbeaten West Virginia, 41-7. It was ‘Bama who had to swallow a trip to the Gator Bowl instead, where they beat up on Mack Brown’s North Carolina squad, 24-10.
A SINGLE POINT FROM ANOTHER CHAMPIONSHIP
#6 Florida 24
#3 Alabama 23
In ’94, the SECCG moved from Birmingham’s Legion Field to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Probably because Alabama and Florida seemed to be the only schools that would ever play in the title game, and Legion Field was basically The Tide’s home field. ‘Bama was actually ranked #2 in the “Bowl Coalition” (sounds a lot like the BCS…but without all the communism), but was #3 in the AP Poll.
Florida was 9-1-1, suffering one technical loss and another one that might as well have been a loss. The Gators were upset again by Auburn, this time down in The Swamp, while they were ranked #1 at the time. Against arch-rival Florida State, Florida entered the fourth quarter leading 31-3. In one of the most amazing comebacks in college football history, the Seminoles scored 28 unanswered points in the final quarter to tie its nemesis, 31-31. That’s not like kissing your sister. That’s like your sister tying you down and jamming her woman toys up your rear.
First Score: UA quarterback Jay Barker (left), who had led the team to the SEC and national championships during his sophomore campaign two years earlier, found receiver Curtis Brown for a 70-yard touchdown connection on ‘Bama’s first drive.
Play of the Game: Midway through the final quarter, UF quarterback Danny Wuerffel threw a pass that was tipped by Tide defender Cedric Samuel. Linebacker Dwayne Rudd snagged the ball and raced for a touchdown to put Alabama ahead, 22-17. Instead of going for the two-pointer to put his team up by seven, Stallings called in the extra-point unit. UF scored a few minutes later, and the PAT put the Gators ahead, 24-23. A Barker interception on UA’s last drive sealed Florida’s second straight SEC championship victory over The Tide. After the game, Stallings said, “We thought about going for two. If you go for two and make, they would have had to score and make two to tie. If you go for two and don’t make it, two field goals win it for them.” Uh, the ‘two field goals’ part makes sense, but the other part does not. “There’s no doubt in my mind it was the right decision at the time,” Stallings said.
Aftermath: ‘Bama went on to beat Ohio State in the Citrus Bowl, 24-17. Florida sought to avenge its earlier “loss” to FSU in the Sugar Bowl. Bobby Bowden got the best of Spurrier again, but this time it was a W: 23-17.
#11 Alabama 30
Eventual Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel (left) and the Gators smashed almost everyone they played in ’96, their only blemish a heartbreaking loss to #2 FSU in Tallahassee. Alabama suffered only two losses before the matchup in Atlanta.
First Score: ‘Bama quarterback and all-time hot dog-eating champion, Freddie Kitchens found his tailback Dennis Riddle, the hero of UA’s victory over Auburn a couple of weeks prior, for the game’s first points. Wuerffel and the octane-rich Florida offense took over immediately, scoring 24 straight points.
Play of the Game: Late in the third quarter, just 57 seconds after Kitchens completed the SECCG’s longest play from scrimmage on a 94-yard scoring strike to receiver Michael Vaughn to make the UF lead 31-28, Wuerffel got pissed and launched his own rocket, an 85-yard TD pass to Jacquez Green. Kitchens hadn’t even gotten his third quarter Hot Pocket snack out of the sideline microwave when Green crossed the goal line. The UF scoring play signified that the Gators were not going to lose this game.
Aftermath: Florida got its revenge on FSU in the Sugar Bowl, bashing the ‘Noles, 52-20, on the way to the school’s first national championship. ‘Bama sent Coach Stallings out with a 17-14 win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl. Stallings retired after the ’96 season after seven years at the helm, which produced four SEC title game appearances, and SEC crown, and a national championship.
Two for Good Measure
#4 Florida 7
Somehow, Mike Dubose’s team made it to Atlanta. Earlier in the season, ‘Bama had knocked off Florida in The Swamp, 40-39, aided by a missed point-after-touchdown by UF and a second chance Tide point-after on a Gator penalty that nulled the first, missed, one. Everyone called that victory a fluke. Everyone. Nobody would sing that tune after The Tide got done with Florida in the conference championship, however. In a game that featured NINE DIFFERENT QUARTERBACKS on both sides of the ball, Alabama dominated. ‘Bama offense didn’t get rollin’ rollin’ until late, but the Tide D would not falter again for the rest of the day.
First Score: Florida looked intent on proving its earlier loss to Alabama was a fluke. The Gators marched directly down the field and was ahead, 7-0, just 100 seconds into the game after tailback Earnest Graham pitched a TD to Erron Kinney. It would be the last time Spurrier’s team sniffed the endzone.
Play of the Game: Early in the fourth quarter, with ‘Bama leading, 15-7, versatile game MVP Freddie Milons (above) lined up as QB on his own 23-yard line. Milons took the shotgun snap, sprinted left toward a wall of white jerseys, reversed his field, running backward for a second, found a seam on the right side of the field, and raced 77 yards for the score. The long touchdown put Alabama up by 15, and The Tide never looked back. Only 18 seconds later, defensive end Reggie Grimes returned an interception, one of four by the ‘Bama D in the game, for another score, and suddenly the game was a blowout.
Aftermath: Florida dropped one to Nick Saban’s recently former Michigan State team, 37-34, in the Citrus Bowl. Immediately after the Spartans final regular season game, Saban had resigned to take the position at LSU, so he did not coach the team against the Gators in Orlando.
Despite losing a close one (on a missed extra point), 35-34, to Michigan in the Orange Bowl, Alabama entered the next season ranked #3 in the land. Against UCLA, Milons returned the opening kickoff of the season for a touchdown, and it seemed as if The Tide was truly worthy of a national championship run like many expected for the ’00 year. Boy, was that off base. UCLA beat ‘Bama in that first game, and UA limped to a 3-8 season, which would be Dubose’s last. The rest, as they say, is history.
Saturday will be Alabama’s first trip back to Atlanta for the SEC title game since that rompin’ over the Gators nearly a decade ago. Florida has a Heisman winner, two SEC crowns, and a national championship trophy since then.