Former Alabama quarterbacks reflect on SEC Championship Games against FloridaBy Elliott Propes | 11/30/2016 11:21pm
The first ever SEC Championship game was played at Legion Field in Birmingham in 1992. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Jay Barker anxiously stepped out in front of 83,091 fans on Dec. 5, 1992. Legion Field had a capacity crowd for the first ever SEC Championship game and the largest crowd to ever attend a SEC title matchup. The sophomore quarterback was playing against the team that gave the Crimson Tide its only loss the season before. It was more than a loss. It was a 35-0 shutout.
“I think all of us as players and I think even the coaches in our minds were thinking ‘Gosh why this year?’" Barker said. "Here we were with a chance to play for the national title and we had to go through Florida to get there and no other conference had this except us."
The game was decided in the fourth quarter. The Crimson Tide and the Gators were tied at 21-21, and then cornerback Antonio Langham returned an interception 27 yards for the go-ahead score with just 3:16 remaining in the game for a 28-21 Alabama win.
“It really prepared us for the national championship game because all of the buzz, the hype," Barker said. "It had as much coverage as the national championship game because it was the first ever. After winning that game, it gave us a lot of confidence going into that game."
Alabama would go on to beat No. 1 Miami 34-13 in the Sugar Bowl to 13-0 and claim its 12th national title.
“If we didn’t have the chance to play Florida, Florida could always say, ‘We beat them the year before. They didn’t play us. They really didn’t go through the best of the [SEC] East,’” Barker said.
The matchup against Florida in the SEC championship was only the first of three in a row. Barker would bring back Alabama next year, but he tore his left ACL and MCL in the Iron Bowl before. Consequentially, Alabama would fall to the Gators 24-23.
Barker would get another shot his senior year. He was named SEC player of the year, but the offense could not do enough as the Crimson Tide lost to Florida 28-13.
The matchup of the first three years became the norm. This year marks the 25th championship game, and Florida has a league leading 13 appearances with Alabama’s 12 just behind.
“Florida was a sleeping giant," Barker said. "Coach Bryant always talked about it. If you could find the perfect coach and the perfect scenario, there is so much talent in that state, you could win championships. He was right. We saw it with [Steve] Spurrier. We saw it with Urban Meyer."
This year marks the ninth time the two teams will meet in the title. To put this in perspective, Florida and Alabama have matched up more times than any other team has appearances. LSU ranks behind the two programs with five appearances.
“The expectations are there. Not that they are not there for other schools, but the players understand that if I go to Alabama, I expect to play in the SEC championship, if not play for a national championship. That was part of my reasoning for going to Alabama,” said former Alabama quarterback Andrew Zow. “Those two programs are like no other, and the tradition carries them a lot.”
Zow was the starting quarterback for the 1999 SEC championship team. He, like Barker, would have to face Florida. The Crimson Tide dominated the Gators this time 34-7. Zow believes, like Barker, that the SEC title still means something.
“It means a lot. For me personally I played against my hometown," Zow said. "I grew up 30 minutes north of Gainesville, Florida. Now looking back it means even more to me because I know how tough it is to win the SEC. We were able to do it. I still sometimes don’t think I understand the magnitude of that game or how hard it is to play in that game.”
The ninth matchup between Alabama and Florida has something on the line. Right now the series is tied 4-4 in the title game, which means the 2016 SEC Championship can give the winner some bragging rights. Of course that only matters until the two meet again, which, if history tells us anything, will be soon.