Alabama facing Florida for the Southeastern Conference football championship is nothing new, as the teams met in the inaugural SEC title game in 1992 and in five of the first eight.
The Crimson Tide facing a Gators team not coached by Steve Spurrier? Now that’s different.
Since defeating Florida 34-7 in the ’99 title game, Alabama has suffered three losing seasons and a 6-6 season and had coaches Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione, Mike Price and Mike Shula depart under various but less-than-pleasant circumstances. The Crimson Tide watched LSU become the SEC West’s dominant team and saw Auburn and Arkansas each make two title trips before Nick Saban resurrected the league’s winningest program in his second season.
Florida won its fifth SEC crown under Spurrier in 2000 and didn’t return to the title game until ’06, when Urban Meyer’s Gators used a win over Arkansas as a catapult to a BCS title-game rout of Ohio State.
“We won a close one and lost a close one and played very well several games in those matchups,” Spurrier said. “We didn’t play very well in the last one in ’99, but they were good matchups. Certainly the one this year looks like an exciting matchup also.
“Back then, I guess we were the top two teams in our conference, or in our divisions anyway, and it’s back that way this year.”
Meyer said he studied up on Alabama-Florida games of Decembers past after taking over in Gainesville in 2005, but here’s a look back for those who might need a refresher:
Alabama 28, Florida 21
This was not only the first championship game ever staged by a Division I-A league but was also the closest call of the Tide’s run to the national title. Florida had an impressive opening drive to take a 7-0 lead and seemed poised to pull the upset with over three minutes remaining in a 21-21 deadlock.
That’s when Alabama cornerback Antonio Langham made a play that remains the most important in the event’s history, intercepting Florida’s Shane Matthews and returning the ball 27 yards for the deciding touchdown.
“They had been running that little hitch route all day, so I just squatted behind their receiver so Matthews couldn’t see me,” Langham said. “I don’t think he ever saw me.”
Florida 28, Alabama 13
After the all drama and magnitude of the inaugural SEC title game, the second one was a Consolation Bowl, as each participant had lost to Terry Bowden’s undefeated but ineligible Auburn Tigers. Terry Dean had lost his job as Florida’s starting quarterback to Danny Wuerffel during the season but regained it and threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
The rain-soaked crowd of 76,345 at Birmingham’s Legion Field was nearly 7,000 short of capacity, and the two-year-old Georgia Dome in Atlanta became the event’s future home.
Florida 24, Alabama 23
Alabama entered 11-0 but trailed Nebraska and Penn State in the polls. The Crimson Tide took a 23-17 lead on linebacker Dwayne Rudd’s 23-yard interception return with 8:56 remaining, but the Gators snuffed Bama’s perfect run with a touchdown drive full of deception.
Wuerffel opened the 80-yard march with two short completions before hobbling off the field with a fake injury. Erik Kresser came in and, facing a Tide defense crowding the line, threw over the top to Ike Hilliard for 25 yards to the Alabama 42.
Florida employed the Emory & Henry formation (using only three linemen in tight) on fourth-and-1 from the 33, and freshman Fred Taylor picked up 2 yards behind left guard. Chris Doering took a lateral moments later from Wuerrfel and threw to Aubrey Hill for 20 yards to the 2, and then Wuerffel found Doering for a 2-yard score.
“We had to go to our grab bag of trick plays to make things happen,” Spurrier said. “We were very fortunate.”
There hasn’t been a better title game since, and it was ABC’s most-watched college football game in three years.
Florida 45, Alabama 30
Though it seems like a halftime score in today’s Big 12, this remains the highest tally of the first 16 title games. Wuerffel cemented his Heisman Trophy by throwing for 401 yards and six touchdowns against a Tide defense that entered the game ranked sixth nationally.
Reidel Anthony was Wuerffel’s favorite target with 11 catches for 171 yards and three touchdowns.
Alabama 34, Florida 7
Long before there were Wild Hogs, Wild Rebels and Wild Berrys, Alabama receiver Freddie Milons lined up at quarterback and raced 77 yards to ignite a 19-0 run in the fourth quarter. This was a rematch of a thrilling regular-season game Alabama won 40-39 in overtime at the Swamp, but the Gators went flat in the Dome after taking a 7-0 lead.
Alabama became the first SEC champ ever with a loss to Louisiana Tech, and it was part of the only three-game losing streak Spurrier had in 12 years with the Gators.
Florida and Alabama rank 1-2 in trips to the SEC title game since its inception in 1992:
TEAM TRIPS RECORD
Florida 9 6-2
Alabama 6 2-3
Tennessee 5 2-3
LSU 4 3-1
Georgia 3 2-1
Auburn 3 1-2
Arkansas 3 0-3
Miss. State 1 0-1
Note: Ole Miss, Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt have yet to go.
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 ...