Alabama favorite wins over Florida

one of the series

Alabama football teams have won 971 games on the field and some of the wins are personal favorites. Officially, due to NCAA’s choppy rulings, 29-time Crimson Tide teams would have either vacated those wins (21) or lost (8, and also drawn one). So while Bama “officially” has 942 wins and a tie with Ohio State for the second time to 976 at Michigan, we’d rather believe our eyes and see those games.

All victories are not equal. And sometimes – very few, in fact – a favorite victory over a team can be exchanged for a subsequent victory.

In this series, we look at some of the victories that we consider the best/most favored against other teams. There is no specific order.

Today: Florida

There is a perception that Florida wasn’t really interested in having a football team until 1990, but there were a few years of success before that. Alabama is in the midst of an eight-game winning streak against the Gators and Bama has a record 28-14 in that series. There have obviously been periods of one-off rivalry, including since the founding of the SEC in 1933 until 1969, 37 years, only six matches.

Alabama’s 40-0 win over Florida at Gainesville in 1979 was notable only for a few personal reasons. First, I befriended first-year Florida coach Charlie Bell (former Alabama player) several years ago. I was also a friend of David Steart, who was doing the same thing I was doing. I started BAMA Magzine earlier that year. David asked me if there was a chance to interview Tide coach Paul Bryant before the game. I was able to set it up and one of the things he said to David was that Florida was a sleeping giant if they had a coach to figure it out, and he thought Bill was that guy.

Although Bell went 0-10-1 in that first season, he took credit for getting the Gators on the right track. But former Gators quarterback winner Steve Spurrier is Steve Spurrier, who will really know it.

My seat in the press box for that game was next to legendary publicist (and later broadcaster) Benno Cook, who left ABC Sports as a college football pitcher to go to CBS and the NFL. He was heading to an NFL game and stopped in Gainesville to watch his favorite sport, college football. Beano was an encyclopedia of knowledge, an extraordinary man of humor and an unforgettable afternoon. I spoke to Benno shortly before his death in 2012 and she reminded him of that time together and he seemed to remember.

It’s tough to separate two wins in Alabama under coach Mike Dubos over Florida and Spurrier in 1999. The first meeting of the season came in Gainesville on October 2 as the 21st-ranked Bama was a 40-39 winner in overtime over the No. 3 Gators. The rematch came in the SEC Championship Game December 4th in Atlanta, No. 7 Bama finished fifth in Florida, 34-7.

Two weeks before the Gainesville game, Alabama was upset by Louisiana Tech, and the road ahead involved four consecutive ranked teams. The tides crossed Arkansas before going to Florida, with the Gators having a 30-game winning streak at home. There were six major changes before the regulation ended at 33-33. It took what could be described as a fatal Spurrier training blunder for Alabama to have a chance to send him into overtime.

After a comedy-tide of fouls — an Alabama 26 stumble and a penalty kick that gave the Gators two shots in a two-point conversion to give Florida a 33-26 lead — Bama faced fourth and 11th with just over three minutes. Play and have to bet. Instead of just letting the ball roll, the Gators kickback man who came back from the penalty spot attempted to make a tough grab and stumble, getting back Marvin Brown for Alabama at Florida 21.

The 1999 offense of choice was Sean Alexander behind Chris Samuels that tied the match up when Alexander went 13 yards for a TD in fourth and second.

In overtime, Florida scored first, but missed the extra point. Alabama’s response was quick— Alexander ran 25 yards for TD in Tide’s first overtime play. Bama also missed the extra point, but got a second chance on the Gators’ offside, and Chris Kemp took the win 40-39.

There aren’t a lot of matches in college football, but I’ve always thought that the team that wins the first game is probably better and should win the second game. It doesn’t always work that way, of course, like last season. But I thought since Bama won in Gainesville it wasn’t hard to anticipate that No. 7 seed Alabama would beat Florida in the SEC Championship match.

However, no one expected the result in Atlanta, 34-7 for the SEC Championship.

The highlight of the Alabama game was a two-goal in an 18-second span in the fourth quarter – a 77-yard TD run by Freddy Millons that gave Alabama a 22-7 lead, followed by the Gators’ first game of melee after that, Reggie Grimes got into a skewed pass interception and went 38 yards to the end zone.

The Alabama defense was great, keeping the Gators only 5 first touchdowns and 114 yards of a Fun ‘n’ Gun total attack.

I have no problem considering the 2009 season to be the best in Alabama football history. It was a perfect season for head coach Nick Saban for the third year, spawned Mark Ingram’s first Heisman Tide winner, and won the National Championship at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (where much of Bama’s tradition began) against old-fashioned Nemisis Texas. This included a dominant 32-13 win over Florida and Tim Tebow who started Bama in eight straight games against the Gators.

In 2008, in Saban’s second season only with Tide, Alabama climbed to number one in the country, but suffered a disappointing 31-20 loss to Florida No. 2 in the SEC Championship.

In 2009, the rankings were reversed, Florida 1, Alabama 2, and so was the result. Saban Tide won its first SEC title since 1999 with a 32-13 victory over Urban Meyer Gators.

Alabama collected 490 yards of total attack against a Florida defense that was averaging 230 yards per game.

Bama Junior quarterback Greg McIlroy completed 12 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown and was named MVP:. Tailback Mark Ingram had 28 buggies for 113 yards (and became the rush leader for one season in Alabama with 1542) and three touchdowns.

Tide had only a 19-13 lead in the first half, but a McElroy TD pass to Colin Peek in the third quarter and a 3-yard drop by Ingram in the fourth left the Gators to tears.

From there, Alabama went on to a 37-21 victory over Texas for the National Championship.

Spurrier in Florida and Gene Stallings in Alabama began their SEC coaching careers together in 1990, and the Gators have won five of the six games between the two. But Alabama’s only win under Stallings ranks high on my favorites list, just above the 2009 SEC Championship.

In 1992, the conference expanded to include 12 teams, and thus, was able to split into divisions and have a conference championship match. Florida won the East, and Alabama West, and they played in the inaugural edition of the SEC Championship at Legion Field in Birmingham on December 5.

It’s my favorite Alabama win versus Florida because there was a lot at stake for a Crimson Tide that’s been down a notch or two since Bryant Era.

In Game Two of the 1991 season, Alabama was defeated at Gainesville, 35-0, and although Crimson Tide was undefeated the rest of the season, the 11-1 record was only good for a final eighth national standings — propelling ESPN’s Lee Corso to Regularly referring to Bama as the worst single-lose team in the country.

The 1992 season started in ebb and flow against six unranked opponents and only two ranked teams—13 Tennessee and 16 Mississippi State—played to finish the regular season.

Alabama went to the inaugural SEC Championship at Legion Field in Birmingham and ranked second in the country, while the Gators ranked 12th.

The largest audience ever for a SEC title game, with a capacity of 83,091, got its money’s worth from Tide’s dramatic 28-21 win.

After Florida led early 7-0, Alabama scored 21 consecutive points—a first 3-yard quarter run by Derek Lasek, Jay Parker’s 30-yard pass to Curtis Brown in the second quarter, and 15 yards ran by Lacey in the third. The Gators fought to tie the game 21-21 midway through the fourth quarter.

Momentum swung to Florida and the Gators had possession of the ball at 21 with just over three minutes to play when everything changed.

Alabama linebacker Antonio Langham was behind Gators’ intentional pass receiver, hidden from Florida QB. The pass was made, Langham stepped in front of the intended receiver, and grabbed it in the 27th minute. He went into the end zone with 3:16 to play and Alabama stayed in the 28-21 win. Langham was named best player.

Before the match, it was decided that if there was a tie at the end of the regulation, there would be an additional period, which is the first in the Football First Division.

In addition to winning their first historic championship title and SEC Championship, the win advanced Bama to the Sugar Bowl as the nation’s No. 2 team against Miami No. 1, and the tide seized the opportunity with a 34-13 win and Alabama’s first undefeated season and national championship since 1979.

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