Alabama football has history of success in The Swamp, but SEC championship games define rivalry | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

The SEC football schedule has never been designed to be comprehensive. The number of conference games in a year has varied from six to eight. Some teams meet every year. Others meet on a rotational basis that allows for long stretches of time between meetings.

That is the best explanation for a fact that would surprise most college football fans, even older ones. Since Alabama and Florida first faced each other in 1916, long before the SEC was formed, the Gators have beaten Alabama only twice on their own home field.

That’s remarkable for Florida teams that, since around 1990, have had long stretches of success under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer. On the flip side, Alabama’s all-time record at The Swamp (8-2) might be even better if it had visited more frequently in the Nick Saban Era. 

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The series has been outstanding, but it has been largely defined by meetings in the SEC Championship Game over the past 30 years. Whether Roy Kramer, the architect of the SEC Championship Game, was blessed with the foresight of a Nostradamus or the luck of a blind pig who finds itself under an oak tree and a treasure trove of acorns, is no longer relevant. What is relevant is that the concept was wildly successful, thanks in large part to two teams, Alabama and Florida, from the beginning. 

Sep 7, 2019; Gainesville, FL, USA; A general view of the sign "This is... The Swamp" in Steve Spurrier - Florida Field during the second half between the Florida Gators and Tennessee Martin Skyhawks at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

That’s not to say the previous Gainesville meetings haven’t had ramifications. Alabama took a 35-0 beatdown in 1991, then didn’t lose any games anywhere again until 1993, adding the 1992 national championship to the trophy case. In 2006, the Crimson Tide managed to not score an offensive touchdown, with big bonus points going to anyone who remembers that the only time Alabama made it into the end zone was on a 50-yard fumble return by Prince Hall. Freshman Tim Tebow scored a touchdown that day, just as a reminder of Mike Shula’s long and fruitless Tebow pursuit. Whether it was that offensive performance, some other game later In the year or the cumulative numbing effect of the Jumbo Package offense, Shula was gone at year’s end and in 2007, Alabama had a new coach: Nick Saban.

The storyline this year is different. For the first time since December 2019, Alabama will walk into a crowded, hostile, hot stadium, although the forecast calls for mild temperatures and not the 100-degree hellscape that a day game in The Swamp can become. Florida fans will be in a frenzy and Alabama will have a full complement of players facing that for the first time. UF packed the house for its opener against Florida Atlantic, and that game had nowhere near the emotional hold of this one. 

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“We got a little taste of that playing (against Miami) in Atlanta, even though it wasn’t the crowd noise there that we’ll have this week,” Saban said Monday. “We’ve  just got play with poise, and that’s one thing that (quarterback Bryce Young) has done in both games. He’s been able to keep his poise. He’s been able to stay focused on doing the things that we need to do.

"But I think it’s the entire offense that has to be able to keep their poise in these situations, whether it’s silent snap count or whatever we have to be able to do to operate. I think we have to do it as a unit. I think it starts with the quarterback, but it’s the entire offense.” 

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