Alabama vs Florida 1992 SEC championship

Saturday, December 5, 1992, was a stormy, rainy, dreary day in Birmingham. Historic Legion Field was packed to capacity. The inaugural SEC Championship Game was a classic matchup of philosophical opposites. Perennial power Alabama, led by head coach Gene Stallings, rode its stingy defense and a methodical rushing game to an 11-0 record. Defending SEC champion Florida represented the "new rich" of the sport. The Gators, led by their brash head coach Steve Spurrier, were in the early stages of changing minds about how successful a pass-oriented offensive team could be.

The 1992 SEC Championship Game was the first of its kind, the game that began college football's move into the playoff era. The game itself had historical implications that were obvious, in the short term, as the Crimson Tide was seeking to maintain its undefeated record and set up a Sugar Bowl showdown with the Miami Hurricanes for the national championship. Florida, meanwhile, came in with an 8-3 record while looking to spoil Alabama's national title aspirations. College football's first conference championship game became the template for the nation.

The game lived up to its billing. Florida was undaunted facing the nation's best defense as the Gators took the opening kickoff and scored on their first offensive possession to take an early 7-0 lead. Gators quarterback Shane Matthews led an 11-play, 77-yard drive capped by a 5-yard scoring pass to running back Errict Rhett. Judd Davis's extra point gave the Gators the lead with 10:03 left in the first quarter.

But Alabama answered on its first offensive possession with a 10-play, 72-yard drive capped by running back Derrick Lassic's 3-yard run. Michael Proctor's extra point tied the game, 7-7, with 5:07 left in the quarter.

The Tide broke in front, 14-7, with a short drive in the second quarter that was aided by David Palmer's 20-yard punt return and a 15-yard facemask penalty. Quarterback Jay Barker's 30-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Curtis Brown with 4:49 left in the first half capped a 5-play, 42-yard drive. Alabama held a 167-141 lead in total offense in the first half, while the Tide defense held the Gators to nine rushing yards in the first two quarters.

Following a missed Florida field goal, Alabama began its third possession of the third quarter at its own 34-yard line. The Crimson Tide needed just four plays and 93 seconds to cover the 66 yards, capped by Lassic's 15-yard run that put the Tide up, 21-7, with 5:14 left in the third quarter.

Florida answered immediately. Needing nine plays to march 68 yards to pull to within 21-14 on Matthews' 4-yard pass to wide receiver Willie Jackson. Davis added the extra point with 1:21 left in the third quarter. Two possessions later, the Gators tied the game midway through the fourth quarter when Rhett capped a nine-play, 51-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run on a toss sweep into the end zone. Davis' extra point tied it at 21-21 with 8:09 left.

Both defenses stiffened and forced three straight punts. The first SEC Championship Game seemed destined for overtime. With just under four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Florida took the ball at its own 21. On the first play from scrimmage, Matthews' pass was intercepted by Langham and the Tide cornerback weaved his way 27 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Michael Proctor's extra point gave the Tide a 28-21 lead with 3:16 remaining.

The potent Gators offense had one more chance after the interception return. On first down from the 22, Matthews completed a 17-yard pass to Jackson to the Florida 39. After an incomplete pass, Matthews' second down pass was tipped and intercepted by Alabama linebacker Michael Rogers at the Gator 48. From there, Alabama ran out the clock and secured its 20th SEC Championship, the first of the championship game era.

By winning the first SEC Championship Game, the undefeated Crimson Tide earned the right to play Miami for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. On January 1, 1993, the Tide dominated the Hurricanes, 34-13, to win the national championship


Photos by Kent Gidley Photo of Antonio Langham's INT by Ken Blevin for UA

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