By BUDDY MARTIN
ATLANTA — Perhaps the best Florida fans can hope for is a little déjà vu.
If these 2016 Gators can channel the 1992 Florida team in the 25th anniversary of the SEC Championship Game, then a Custer’s Last Stand could possibility be avoided on Saturday.
Not saying Florida will upset Alabama. Three Big Ten teams have a better chance at making the Final Four before that happens. But maybe Jim McElwain should be taking a page from The Head Ball Coach, who was a 10-poing underdog in 1992 and should have won that first game.
Just like in the ’92 game, Alabama is unbeaten and ranked No. 1. Despite the disrespect, McElwain’s 23-point underdogs are still going to get off the bus, dress out and line up for the kickoff.
“Twenty five years ago ….” Spurrier reflected, “and it’s amazing how many similarities there are in this game. We had actually lost two games early. We were just scrambling around trying to make a winning season. Two freshman offensive tackles. It was probably the least talented team of the twelve I was fortunate enough to coach here.”
Spurrier also noted that it was the fighting hearts of that ’92 Gators carried them to a win over Georgia, and endeared them to their coach. And nearly carried that carried that cold, gray day in Birmingham.
Florida had actually already lost two games earlier. On the same day the Gators beat Georgia, South Carolina beat Tennessee — who had beat Florida that year — earning Florida a berth in the SEC Championship Game. You might say, in track and field lexicon, they were a bit wind-aided in 1992. Well, that happened again this year!
This whole idea of a conference title game was met with considerable trepidation in the Sovereign Empire of Alabama.
“People in Alabama were wondering: ‘Why are we playing for the SEC championship when we’ve already won it?’” remembered TV host Paul Finebaum.
There was this notion that the SEC teams were already self-destructing at their own hand and this was the final straw. Tony Barnhart of GridironNow.com and the SEC Network remembers a prediction by Stallings: “Tony, the SEC will never win another national championship.”
Of course Alabama did. That very season. But not without a close encounter with the Gators in their first of nine meetings that would eventually play out to 4-4, going into the 2016 game.
That trepidation had skyrocketed for Commissioner Roy Kramer in 1992 when it began to look like upstart Florida was going to knock off the nation’s No. 1 team and deny the Crimson Tide from their rightful place as national champion.
Next to “Lindsay Scott,” the name that causes the most violently ill reaction for Gator fans would be Antonio Langham. Florida was tied going into the fourth quarter, driving for what looked to be the clinching drive. Langham darted out of the shadows, unbeknownst to Shane Matthews, and because his intended receiver drifted, the Alabama DB was able to time it perfectly for the winning Pick Six and Sovereign Empire was spared an overthrow of the throne.
“Alabama was undefeated, just like this year — they were the best team in the country,” said Spurrier, who along with Stallings will be part of the coin-flipping ceremony Saturday. “We put together a little plan. We had nothing to lose. Of course we had to play at home of their ‘home’ ball parks — it was in Birmingham the first two years.”
Painful though that day may have been, that pain seemed to inspire the Gators to a level not achieved by an SEC football team since Bear Bryant’s dynasty began its run of five straight titles in 1971 and turned it into eight in nine seasons. The kind of streak that Nick Saban’s squad has its eye on at the moment.
“Looking back,” said Spurrier, “losing that one may have helped us win the four in a row.
We learned how to play in that game…because if you can get to the SEC Championship Game it’s the biggest by far of all the others.”
So I asked Spurrier, who is being inducted into the SEC Legends as both a player and coach, how he was able to get his teams so jacked up for these games, thinking perhaps he might have a secret or two for McElwain.
“Well, you put a plan in,” he explained. “We used that little shovel pass — Shane sort of pitched it in their to Errict (Rhett) …We really looked forward to it. We had coach Gene Ellenson as our motivational speaker and he really got the guys attention.”
HBC wants everybody two know two things: 1)The players on his team were good enough to start winning right away; 2)No, Alabama was now “down” during those times.
So the Crimson Tide was always on his radar screen.
“If you want to win the SEC you have to beat Alabama. Everybody knows that,” he said.
We all wonder, with one of football’s most imaginative offensive minds just a few doors down, why McElwain doesn’t asked for advice. Did he offer any?
“Nah,” said Spurrier. “I just told the offensive coaches, ‘If you get ahead of them, don’t be afraid to run up the score.’”
For the record, Spurrier’s teams won five times out of the seven years. And he likes to point out that Florida will have been to The Ultimate Game one more time that Alabama: 12 to 11.
Hey, when it comes to Alabama, you take whatever edge you can claim.
Buddy Martin, author and host
The Buddy Martin Show
Florida Sports Talk Southern Pigskin Radio Network
Live streaming radio: floridasportstalk.fm
Author: Urban’s Way, Boys From Old Florida & Terry Bradshaw: Looking Deep
Anchor: The Terry Bradshaw Football Show, Southern Pigskin
Columnist Buddymartinmedia,com, GridironNow.com & SouthernPigskin.com
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