The season promised more than the usual drama performed by young men inside filled Southeastern Conference stadiums. No, 2008 would be even better. The SEC coaches, more powerful and accomplished than ever, exchanged shots through books and speaking engagements. The league’s talent seemed even better. And the season did not disappoint.
We look back at 10 stories that helped make the league memorable in 2008.
10. Eric Berry, destroyer of men
Knowshon Moreno walked directly to the sideline and put his hands on his knees after Berry introduced his left shoulder to the Georgia running back. Alabama receiver Marquis Maze spun like a drunken ballerina and landed three yards behind the spot where he caught a pass from John Parker Wilson after Berry unloaded on him. Also, look at this:
Berry: 72 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, seven interceptions for 265 yards, 32 kickoff return yards.
Charles Woodson, 1997: 47 tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack, eight interceptions for seven yards, 12 catches, 301 punt return yards and one touchdown.
Of course, Michigan went undefeated in 1997 and Tennessee lost to teams like Wyoming.
9. Urban Meyer calls timeout. Twice.
Wait, Meyer just wanted to get Emmanuel Moody more carries, right? If you believe that, let me tell you about this oceanfront property in Arizona I’m selling. Meyer, one year after Georgia danced in the end zone, called timeout with 44 seconds remaining, and again with 30 seconds left, as Florida clung to a 49-10 lead. The drama between these two teams continues.
8. Umpire takes out Stephen Garcia
My favorite YouTube moment of the season. I know Wilbur Hackett Jr. didn’t intentionally flatten the South Carolina quarterback during the LSU game. But, man, that video always seems to prove otherwise.
7. Sylvester Croom resigns
A great example of the volatile nature in SEC coaching: The reigning SEC Coach of the Year resigned under pressure. Croom’s unwillingness to change offenses — Mississippi State ranked 100th or worse in total offense during Croom’s five years — was his downfall. Now there’s one fewer baritone in the SEC.
6. Reporter: What’s your reaction to those who say your decision was made based on race?
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs: “Well, my reaction is, I was picking the best fit for Auburn.”
Yikes. Not, “That’s ridiculous.” Not, “Those people have no idea what they’re talking about.” Jacobs, intentionally or not, dodged the question and didn’t quell any criticisms about Auburn hiring Gene Chizik over Turner Gill.
But it also continued an intriguing dialogue in our country. For instance, why didn’t Syracuse receive any criticism for not hiring Gill? Would an SEC program hire a black coach with a white wife?
Oh, and why didn’t Auburn offer the job to Mike Leach?
5. Rashad Johnson vs. LSU
A performance of a lifetime. He intercepted three passes, running one back for a touchdown to tie the game 14-14 and picking off another in the end zone in overtime. His performance propelled the Tide over their rivals and into the SEC championship game. Not bad for a former walk-on.
4. Tommy Tuberville resigns
So many questions. Did Tuberville resign, as Jacobs says? Or was he fired, like Tuberville’s mother says? Did the power people at Auburn force Tuberville out? We do know this: Tuberville’s ouster set off celebrations across the SEC. An Alabama fan reportedly even heaved a roll of toilet paper across Toomer’s Corner when the Tigers hired Gene Chizik.
3. Tim Tebow’s speech
The modern-day version of “win one for the Gipper.” “You’ll never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season. God bless,” he said while holding back tears after the 31-30 loss to Ole Miss, and then he left the room. Florida promptly beat every remaining regular-season opponent by at least four touchdowns, then toppled Alabama in the SEC title game to earn a spot in the national championship.
2. Florida 31, Alabama 20
A game befitting the hype as 1 vs. 2. There were few penalties, just one turnover, a fourth-quarter lead change, two remarkable performances — one by Tim Tebow and the other by Julio Jones — and one team earning the chance to play Oklahoma for a title.
1. Phillip Fulmer tearfully resigns
I imagine it became a little dusty in the homes of Tennessee fans, even the ones who called for his dismissal, when Fulmer began to break down at a news conference. The emotion humanized him and, just for a moment, transformed him from a struggling football coach to a person who loved his school and wanted to stay.
The image of Fulmer, a coaching legend at Tennessee, pressing his lips together and holding back tears as his players applauded is the scene I will remember most from 2008.
E-mail Darren Epps at firstname.lastname@example.org