For all the annual pomp and circumstance surrounding the SEC championship game, more times than not the preeminent college football conference’s showcase has turned into an unabashed rout.
In the 20 such games played prior to this season, 16 of them were decided by 10 points or more. More than half (11) saw the winning team romp by more than two touchdowns, with three of those devolving into 30-plus-point bloodbaths. Just two had been decided by six points or less, and those were back in the pre-BCS days of 1994 and 1997.
The former game — Florida’s one-point win over unbeaten Alabama — and the latter — one that saw a Peyton Manning-led-Tennessee squad overcome a 20-10 deficit on Auburn en route to its one-point win — have widely been considered the greatest in the history of the conference, as has the 2008 matchup of No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida. And then along came the 2012 edition of what’s turned into a BCS title-game play-in, one that can stand firmly alongside, if not above, the others in the conference annals.
In Alabama’s 32-28 win over Georgia, Saturday night’s instant classic had something none of the aforementioned could claim: a combination of what made all three of those games classics in their own right.
Lofty rankings for both teams as in 2008? Check, with the Tide clocking in at No. 2 and Georgia at No. 3. A double-digit third-quarter deficit overcome by the winning team as in 1997? Check, with the Tide digging its way out of an 11-point hole. A game-winning drive in the latter half of the fourth quarter? Check, with AJ McCarron reprising the role made famous by Danny Wuerffel.
And the stakes for this year’s game? Yes, ’97 Tennessee and ’94 Alabama both had titles within their grasp, but only ’08 Alabama-Florida and ’12 Alabama-Georgia had a shot at national championship on the line for both teams involved.
Mix in some late-game controversy… momentum swings that tested the hearts and stomachs of the faithful on both sides… one head coach attempting to shake the big-game gorilla off his back while the other looked to continue a seemingly inexorable march toward coaching immortality… add all of that together and add a splash of the raw emotion on display from both sides at game’s end, and you have a rock-solid case for 2012 stacking up against any other year.
Five yards and four points separating the two teams after 60 minutes of football, with a spot in the BCS title game at stake? Case closed.
While a football game’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and knowing full well the immediacy of sporting moments ofttimes transcend the fading memories of games gone by, the 2012 SEC title showdown can lay its head on the pillow this morning armed with the knowledge that it was indeed one of the greatest of all-time. And the greatest ever in my little corner of the college football world.