This is what this game is supposed to be.
Florida versus Alabama, SEC championship on the line.
It’s as if history dictates this match up.
It began almost a quarter of a century ago when Roy Kramer had a dream for a league championship game that would pit the East versus the West. It was a great idea until it almost wasn’t.
All of the league’s national championship hopes pinned on Alabama, the only feasible team that could bring it back for the SEC. Scrappy underdog Florida came into the game and took control. It wasn’t until Shane Matthews was picked off by Antonio Langham in the waining minutes to seal the victory for Alabama that Roy Kramer took a breath of relief and realized he actually had a success. Because when you had to fight to win the toughest league in the country, you could win just about anything.
From there the mystique around this game—and these two teams especially—only grew. There was the 1993 game when Florida pulled a fake punt that led to a long touchdown to beat Alabama and began their four year streak of SEC championships.
There was the 94 when the 96 when would Florida took control of the leak. There was the 99 went with Alabama return the favor.
And for some, including current and former Alabama and Florida players, this was all they knew of the SEC for much of their childhood.
“Its been huge,” states former Florida Gator Heisman and National Championship quarterback Tim Tebow.
“It goes back to Antonio Langham, and I was a sad kid when that happened. But they’ve been awesome games, and I think it has a lot to do the legacy and the history of this game and that’s pretty special.
Current Florida running back Brandon Powell says Florida vs. Alabama is all he’s known for most of his life.
“When I was growing up, the only two SEC teams I heard about was Bama and Florida. I remember watching them on TV, I always used to watch Bama and Florida. So this is how it’s supposed to be and we’re back in it.”
And safety Marcus Maye couldn’t agree more.
“As far as us, we feel like that’s where we set the goals to be every year, that’s the tradition around here so to finally get back to Florida Alabama and Florida being in the SEC East, it’s how it should be and how it used to be.”
After those 90′s games came an eight year span when the two teams did not meet in Atlanta. When they finally came toe to toe on the line again though, it was like history had been building back up to that moment, and then erupted into a two year span—2008 & 2009—with some of the biggest games the SEC has ever seen, a de facto national championship if you will.
“I know going into it we felt like that was the biggest game of our season,” recalls Tebow.
“We knew how good Alabama was especially from the year before, facing them in ’08, and they’re a great football team and Nick Saban’s done an excellent job. And it’s amazing to look from then to now, what they’ve won with is still the same. You look back, when they beat us in ’09, they had a running back that might won the Heisman and he kinda won it on that field over there. And we might have the same scenario with Derrik Henry.”
The importance of these games, and with these two teams especially, means that those attached to them are forever linked with them. Take Tebow and McElroy for example. After leaving college the two went on for a stint in the NFL, even spending time as teammates on the New York Jets. On Tebow’s first day with the Jets, McElroy had a gift waiting for him.
When Tebow stepped into the film room with his fellow quarterbacks, McElroy had the 2009 SEC Championship game (in which Alabama beat Florida and a senior QB Tebow) dialed up on the screen.
The joke was supposed to quickly pass, but instead Tebow had them watch the whole game. He spent the entire time dissecting what went wrong for the Gators.
On a personal note, this is what this game is supposed to be for me as well. Not only is it the SEC championship that I have grown up with, but it’s a combination of everything that I hoped for four years now.
Having gone to school at the University of Alabama and then spending the past three years in Gainesville with the Florida Gators, this matchup is what I wanted to see for so long because I see the significance not only for me but for so many around both of these programs.
At Alabama, Auburn is the biggest rival, Tennessee is the most hated, but Florida means championships. Alabama considers Florida their championship rivalry. And having seen how both programs are run, I understand that they are both built to be in this position.
You really can’t have one without the other.
I’ll never forget my first year at Alabama going on to the Palmer and Pollock show with Jesse Palmer and David Pollack and asking a question about Florida while standing in front of Bryant Denny Stadium. They got a kick out of that, but it made sense at the time. If Alabama was going to be successful that year, an eye was going to be kept on Florida the entire season as well, preparing for what most saw as an inevitable date in Atlanta come December.
The first time I ran into David Pollack in Gainesville he laughed and said “hey you finally made it to your gators huh?”
But the fact remains, as history has shown us, these two are better when they have the other to go up against.
Which brings us to 2015—a five year span since the last game in Atlanta with the two, but finally back to how it’s supposed to be, as Marcus Maye said.
It’s Florida vs. Alabama. The SEC Championship on the line.
This is what this game is supposed to be.