ATLANTA — Afterward, his third opportunity in four seasons to win a national championship secure, Alabama senior center Barrett Jones collapsed in a chair in front of his locker, having limped there on crutches.
"I hurt my foot in the first quarter," he said following the Crimson Tide's 32-28 victory over Georgia in the SEC championship game Saturday evening.
"But you're running on pure adrenaline. There was no way I was coming out. This is my favorite win I've had here."
Jones has 48 wins in his college career, this particular one propelling the No. 2 Tide into a spot opposite top-ranked and unbeaten Notre Dame in the BCS title game 36 days from today on Jan. 7.
Down 21-10 nearly nine minutes into the third quarter, Alabama roared back to score the game-winner with 3:15 to play on a 45-yard pass from quarterback AJ McCarron to freshman wideout Amari Cooper.
But it's what happened with 13 seconds to play, Georgia having reached the Tide 8, that will leave Bulldogs fans brooding and bellyaching for months, if not years, to come.
Out of timeouts, the Dawgs probably were down to two plays, at best, to reach the end zone and play for their first national title since 1982. But to have two plays they had to down the ball, which would stop the clock. It would not start again until the ball was snapped.
Only Georgia didn't down it. Quarterback Aaron Murray watched his pass intended for the end zone get tipped and fall into the hands of Chris Conley around the 5. When Conley was tackled, the game was over.
"I thought they'd probably clock it," Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said. "But you can also try to play it quick, catch the defense out of position."
Smart then asked how much time was left. Told 12 to 10 seconds, he said, "Oh, wow."
This isn't to say that that clock decision cost the Bulldogs the game. Alabama cost them the game, just as LSU's overall superiority did in the Dawgs a year ago in this same venue.
"We might not have played our best tonight," said McCarron, who quarterbacked the Tide past LSU in last year's BCS title contest. "But we never gave up, never quit fighting. I think that's what we do best."
It could be argued that this was the best SEC title game ever, even superior to Florida's 24-23 victory over Alabama in 1994, the first league championship game played in the Georgia Dome.
There were five lead changes, more than 900 yards of offense (512 by the Tide), a successful fake punt, a blocked field for a touchdown and a thrilling finish that had Tide left offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandijo "on my knees praying."
Nor did the best team lose. Take away that 0-20 hole the Tide found themselves in following the first quarter of their lone loss (12-1 after the title game) to Texas A&M, and Bama was the runaway No. 1 most of the season.
That Georgia even had a chance to win in those final 10 seconds was more a credit to the Bulldogs' resolve than a slap at their clock management.
As losing coach Mark Richt said afterward, "We came up short against an outstanding football team. They played well. We played well. Clock ran out. What are you going to do?"
That's sports. Especially against this Alabama team.
"You look at this game tonight," Jones said, "and a lot didn't go our way. The fake punt [leading to Georgia's first score]. The blocked field goal [Georgia's third TD]. Then we think we have an interception at the end and they rule it hit the ground.
"But we never gave up. This team handles adversity better than any team I've ever been on."
And he's been on two previous Alabama national championship squads.
Still, it would have been interesting to see what might have happened if Georgia had been able to snap it twice instead of once in that final 10 seconds. Had that happened, Smart's "Oh, wow" might have become an oh, no.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...