SECCG wrap-up: Alabama's newest title recalls title of old
By Jess Nicholas
Dec. 6, 2009
The team is always the story. Or the game, the play, the final drive. Those that write about the game aren't part of the equation.
For that reason, you'll rarely see me write this column from a first-person perspective. Part of the reason is that this is expected to be an analytical column that deals more in the realm of the how and why rather than other factors.
So for those who are wanting analysis, here it is in a paragraph or two, and you'll find it all over the Web already: Alabama disrupted Florida's rushing attack, got a yeoman's performance from Greg McElroy and physically dominated Florida's offensive and defensive lines.
That's the nuts and bolts. Now here is the ethereal.
I've seen a lot of Alabama football games the last three-plus decades. My first game found the Tide playing LSU in Legion Field back in the 1970s. But the last three games have been somewhat unique.
I saw Alabama dismantle Mississippi State in Starkville a month ago. The last time I'd been to Starkville was in 1998 to watch a Mike DuBose-coached team fall to Jackie Sherrill's Bulldogs.
The last time I went to Auburn, it was 1995 and the only thing Alabama got out of that game was a decade-long discussion over whether Curtis Brown was in bounds or not. Last week, I went back to the plains for the first time since then and watched Alabama pull out a last-minute win for the ages.
My last trip to a SEC Championship Game? It was 1993, on a frigid night in Birmingham, when Florida beat Alabama 28-13 and supplanted the Tide as the SEC's top team for most of the next 15 years. That was my last attendance at a SEC Championship Game -- until now.
Much has been made of Nick Saban's record in so-called "revenge games." I've got a pretty good record over the last three weeks myself.
But the game I'm reminded of most tonight is Alabama's 1993 Sugar Bowl win over Miami. In fact, if Leigh Tiffin doesn't doink an extra point off the upright in the first half, Alabama doesn't go for two later on and the score winds up 34-13.
That's fitting, because Alabama made Tim Tebow look like Gino Toretta in New Orleans.
In those 30-plus years I've been attending Alabama games, I've seen plenty of upsets (both for and against Alabama), blowouts and heroic efforts. I don't know if I've seen anything like this.
There was Greg McElroy, signed at Alabama only when Tebow chose Florida, solidly outplaying the much more heralded Tebow. There was Mark Ingram getting nearly 200 all-purpose yards and possibly wrapping up Alabama's first Heisman Trophy, a week after most prognosticators, including me, all but wrote him out of the race.
And then there were the underdog stories: Cory Reamer playing one of the best games of his life against more talented players. Hard-luck Roy Upchurch salting the game away late with tough run after tough run, the second consecutive week he's been part of the storyline. And an offensive line that includes a couple of players that not only weren't recruited by Florida, but probably Florida Atlantic, either.
It didn't matter. Florida players noted Alabama seemed to want it more. That's a cliche most of the time. This time, it was eerily apropos.
I'd like to say I believed Alabama had this in them, but I try to avoid lying in print. Florida was more talented. More seasoned. The Gators had Tebow.
Alabama, though, simply had enough. Enough of Tebow, enough of hearing about the Gators' talent, enough of the insipid Gator chomp cheer, enough of Urban Meyer's smirking, Tebow-cuddling sideline demeanor. And history has shown, over and over again, that when Alabama has had enough of something, the Tide tends to rectify the situation with great haste and forcefulness.
I'm not sure, in the end, whether I've ever seen a better game. I've certainly seen a game with higher stakes -- I witnessed that 1993 Sugar Bowl first-hand. A national championship was on the line that night.
As for the BCS National Championship Game, I won't be able to make that one. The last national championship game Alabama played was a win anyway, so there's no "revenge game" element in play for me. I'll be home in Alabama, watching along with the rest of you.
I'll be watching with great anticipation, not only to see what Alabama can do in Pasadena, but what other storylines are left to emerge. Maybe Alabama stages the mother of all revenge games against Texas, a team it has never beaten.
As a supposed critical observer, I'm not supposed to say these things, but I can't not say it: I'm proud of Alabama, and specifically of these players. To see how far some of them have come since Nick Saban took over is a sight to behold, indeed.
They have made believers out of those of us who doubted, not out of ignorance or faithlessness, but out of disbelief that this team could truly be this much of a team in the grandest sense of the word. Not only were we wrong, we were given a game for the ages as proof. In Saban's own words, we watched Alabama become a champion, in everything that it has done.