Bama and the Dawgs finally meet in the Dome
by Jeff Dantzler
For the first time in the now 21 year history
of the event, Alabama and Georgia square
off in the Southeastern Conference Championship
Game. At stake, the title of the toughest
league in the land and a berth in Miami to
play Notre Dame for the national championship.
This is Alabama’s eighth trip to the SEC
championship Game. The Crimson Tide won
the inaugural affair in Birmingham, topping
Florida in a 28-21 thriller that vaulted Alabama
to the Sugar Bowl, where the Crimson
tide topped Miami 34-13 to win the national
title. Alabama played in the first four SEC
Championship Games, losing the next three
to Florida, including the 1994 contest which
was the first played in the Georgia Dome after
a two-year stint in Birmingham. Bama would
again lose to Florida in 1996. In fact, this is the
first time that Alabama has played in the SEC
Championship Game and not faced Florida.
All seven of their previous appearances came
against the Gators. Bama won three, most recently
the 32-13 victory in a 2009 battle of unbeatens
that catapulted the Crimson Tide to a
national championship win over Texas in
It’s the second consecutive year that
Georgia has played in the SEC Championship
Game. The Bulldogs quite frankly should
have faced off with Alabama in the first one
back in 1992, but a talented Georgia squad
lost to inferior Tennessee and Florida teams by
a total of five points. The Gators and Volunteers
would prove to be two of the nation’s top
four programs during the 1990s – along with
Nebraska and Florida State – and Georgia
couldn’t break through. The Bulldogs finally
did in 2002, pounding Arkansas 30-3 to capture
the program’s first SEC crown since the
1982 powerhouse led by the likes of Herschel
Walker, Terry Hoage, Kevin Butler, Guy McIntyre,
Jimmy Payne and Freddie Gilbert. This
is the Bulldogs fifth trip to the title tilt. Georgia
returned in 2003, falling to eventual national
champion LSU. In 2005, the Bulldogs
beat LSU in Atlanta. Last season, en route to
the BCS Championship Game, where they
would lose Alabama, the Fightin’ Tigers roared
past Georgia in the second half to win 42-10.
So in the 11 previous trips for Alabama
and Georgia, 10 times the opponent has been
Florida and LSU.
Finally, Georgia and Alabama, titans of
the SEC, meet for the championship. And the
winner will have the opportunity to extend
the conference’s incredible string of six consecutive
At the helm for Alabama is Nick Saban,
unquestionably the premier college football
coach of the 2000s. He took over at LSU in
2000. The Tigers had posted a losing record
in eight of their previous 11 seasons. In 2001,
LSU won the SEC Championship. In 2003
they did it again and won the aforementioned
national title, downing Georgia and then
Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. It would be the
first of three times in an 11 year period that
Saban would kiss the crystal football. And oh
year, in two of those years, he couldn’t, because
Saban coached the Miami Dolphins in
2005 and 2006.
Alabama lured him from the NFL in
2007. The following year, the Crimson Tide
went 12-0, but lost to Florida in the SEC
Championship Game. The Gators went on to
win the national title. In ’09, it was Bama’s
turn. The Tide won it again last year, avenging
the 9-6 loss at Bryant-Denny Stadium with
a 21-0 domination of LSU in New Orleans.
Though only in his sixth year, and with
all due respect to Frank Thomas and Wallace
Wade, who both led Alabama to great success,
only the greatest college football coach, the
Tide’s ultimate, all-time unquestioned hero
shadow-caster Paul “Bear” Bryant can be held
in greater esteem by the Capstone faithful.
And not even the Bear led Alabama to three
national championships in four years.
That’s the history Saban is trying to make.
By the way, Alabama has a very small senior
class. There’s a good chance they will be
the preseason No. 1 in 2013.
Standing in the way of Alabama’s march
to history is Georgia.
At the Bulldogs helm is Mark Richt.
He guided Georgia to those aforementioned
conference crowns in 2002 and 2005.
There were a couple of “shoulda been” trips
to Atlanta in 2004 and 2007, the latter of
which could’ve led to a national championship.
But Georgia came up short.
The Buldogs dipped after going 11-2 and
finishing No. 2 in the land in 2007. A talented
Georgia team underachieved at 10-3 in 2008,
including a 41-30 Sanford Stadium blasting at
the hands of Alabama and Saban.
Georgia went 8-5 in 2009 and finished a
woeful 6-7 in 2010.
Last year, Georgia lost its first two games
to Boise State and South Carolina, then reeled
off 10 straight wins and returned to the championship
game for the first time since 2005.
A good Georgia team was beaten by a great
LSU one. The Bulldogs then blew a 16-0 lead
to Michigan State in Tampa and finished 10-
That’s 16 losses in three years.
Over that same stretch, Alabama lost four
times and won two BCS Championships.
But the Georgia program unquestionably
had made big strides in 2011. The quest this
season was to return from good to great.
With outstanding returning talent, high
expectations and a favorable schedule – as
much so as one can be in this league – this was
the minimum for 2012, a return to Atlanta
with a mark better than last season’s 10-2.
After being embarrassed 35-7 at South
Carolina and then eking out a 29-24 win at
lowly Kentucky, the Bulldogs sat at 6-1 and a
touchdown underdog at Florida.
This season and the direction of the program
hung in the balance in Jacksonville.
Well behind Jarvis Jones, Todd Gurley,
Malcolm Mitchell and a relentless defense the
Bulldogs upset the Gators 17-9, marking the
program’s sorely needed second straight win
in Jacksonville. After that, the Bulldogs came
back from a 10-0 deficit to Ole Miss to win
37-10 between the hedges. Georgia then
bludgeoned Auburn 38-0 on the plains to
clinch the SEC East and a berth in Atlanta.
Next up were in-state foes Georgia Southern
and Tech and their triple option attacks. The
Bulldogs struggled through the first half
against the Eagles, but led 17-7 at intermission
and won 45-14. Baccarri Rambo’s strip
and return turned a likely 7-7 game into a 14-
0 Georgia lead in the Bulldogs 42-10 rocking
of Tech between the hedges. Not that they
were all easy, but since that ground-breaking
win over the Gators, which ended a stretch of
10 straight losses to ranked (at the end of seasons,
assuming that the 10-2 Gamecocks will
be ranked after their bowl), Georgia won by
27, 38, 31 and 32.
With the exception of their 29-24 loss to
Texas A&M and 21-17 victory at LSU – arguably
the two best games of the year in the
SEC – Alabama beat everyone else by similar
counts. Of the Crimson Tide’s other 10 victims,
the closest was Ole Miss, which fell in
Georgia’s performance against ranked
teams was the Elephant in the room. The win
at Florida eradicated it.
Now Georgia is in a position it hasn’t
been in since a 38-18 victory over Tech in
1982 capped a perfect 11-0 SEC championship
season that sent the top-ranked Bulldogs
to New Orleans to play Penn State. If the
Dogs win, Georgia will play Notre Dame for
the national championship. The history of
that would be as obvious as, well, an elephant
in a room.
Standing in the way is Alabama, who’s
mascot is, of course, an elephant.
With a four-team playoff – that will likely
quickly expand – set to begin in 2014, this
year and next are the last two chances to win
the whole thing without having to play an
extra game. For Georgia and Alabama, and
everyone else, this year and next are the last
chances to win without a playoff. Though the
beauty of college football, lost on far too many,
is that the regular season is just that – a playoff.
A win over Alabama would be Georgia’s
biggest since slaying Notre Dame on January
1, 1981 to capture the national championship.
It could also start Georgia back on a path to
sustained greatness. Everything is in place for
Georgia to do what Alabama and LSU have
done, and that is to be in the conversation year
But it starts with this penult pant showdown
with the SEC’s ultimate Elephant, and
the whip-wielding circus tamer, under college
football’s big top of champions, the Georgia