EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the ninth story in a series on the 15 most memorable SEC football games beat writer David Paschall has covered since joining the newspaper in 1990. The games are being presented in chronological order.
The Southeastern Conference football championship game produced three memorable finishes within its first six years.
Alabama used a late Antonio Langham interception to topple Florida 28-21 at the inaugural event in 1992, with Florida edging Alabama by a point in 1994 and Tennessee rallying past Auburn by a point in 1997.
Then blowouts started marking the league's title extravaganza, with the winner cruising by 20 points or more five times in the seven meetings from 1999 to 2005. History was made in 2008, when the Georgia Dome housed not only the clash for SEC supremacy but the top two teams in the country — No. 1 Alabama (12-0) against No. 2 Florida (11-1).
The hype was matched and then surpassed by the actual contest, as reigning Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow quarterbacked the Gators to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns that turned a 20-17 deficit into a 31-20 triumph.
"That was one of the best games I've ever been a part of," Gators coach Urban Meyer said afterward. "That was a dogfight where you check your will. This will go down as one of the greatest wins in Florida history."
Alabama had produced a 7-6 record capped by an Independence Bowl topping of Colorado during Nick Saban's debut year in Tuscaloosa in 2007, but the 2008 Crimson Tide opened with a 34-10 shellacking of Clemson at the inaugural Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and never looked back. Alabama's undefeated regular season was largely the result of a powerful pro-style attack that flexed its muscles during the third quarter against the Gators, when the Tide had a 15-play, 91-yard touchdown drive in which senior running back Glen Coffee and freshman running back Mark Ingram combined on nine carries for 45 yards.
Tebow was up for the task of the final 15 minutes, leading touchdown drives of 62 and 65 yards sandwiched around an Alabama three-and-out series. The Gators were 7-of-13 on third-down conversions during the game and 4-of-4 in the fourth quarter, which included Tebow's 5-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper with 2:50 remaining that gave the Gators their 31-20 advantage.
"We put the ball in our quarterback's hands and told him to go win the game with those receivers," Meyer said. "I've never had one like him. There is something special inside of him. That fourth quarter was vintage Tim Tebow."
Said Tebow: "I just wanted to find some way for us to find a victory."
Tebow completed 14 of 22 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns, and he also rushed 17 times for 57 yards. His performance was all the more impressive given that top receiver Percy Harvin was out due to an ankle sprain, and it was an effort appreciated by the opposing coach.
"He takes his team on his shoulders a lot," Saban said. "His leadership really affects his teammates. When it was 20-17, we didn't finish like we needed to. Florida finished."
Florida wasn't finished with the 2008 season, defeating Oklahoma 24-14 in the Orange Bowl to win a second BCS title in three years. Alabama couldn't shake the loss inside the Georgia Dome, falling behind Utah 21-0 within the first 11 minutes in an eventual 31-17 Sugar Bowl loss to the Utes.
The Gators and Tide would stage another 1-2 meeting in the 2009 SEC championship, and Alabama would get its revenge with a 32-13 throttling that left Tebow in tears on the sideline.
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