It is fitting that in the final SEC Championship game to be played in the Georgia Dome that Alabama and Florida are giving the farewell performance.
Between them, they have been part of 12 of the 23 conference championship games (including this year) in the doomed dome scheduled to die before its time. Seven of those times, they have or will have faced each other. Alabama-Florida is a favorite December tradition in these parts, like the Nutcracker at the Fox.
Florida handled Bama the first time the two met here for the title – in 1994, well before Nick Saban came along and completed his transformation into an unstoppable coaching mutant.
Everything changed in 2009, when the Crimson Tide upended the Gators, Tim Tebow cried and his tears like India ink seemed to leave a permanent stain on Florida’s future championship ambitions.
Many expect Saturday’s meeting to follow the general course of last year’s game, a 29-15 Alabama victory. Defense was the theme of that one – only one of Florida’s touchdowns came at the expense of the Tide D, Florida put up only 180 yards of offense and ground out but seven first downs.
Consider that the bar for the upcoming game, one that Florida’s banged up, formless, 114th-in-the-country offense may have great difficulty reaching. If the Gators just keep this one within two touchdowns they will accomplish something worthwhile – comfortably covering the 24-point spread and rewarding those who believed at least in their ability to avoid embarrassment.
If nothing untoward happens to Alabama on Saturday, it can look forward to one last hurrah at the Dome, in the national semifinal game Dec. 31. After that one, well, you couldn’t blame Saban if he handcuffed himself to a railing and vowed to stay there in protest to keep the wrecking ball at bay. This is a borderline holy site for those who worship the Crimson Tide.
There have to be some parting pangs here, even for the most emotionless among the Alabama staff.
The Dome was where Derrick Henry just a year ago broke Herschel Walker’s single-season SEC rushing record.
It was where Alabama, by the blessing of a deflected Aaron Murray pass, dealt Georgia one of its most deflating defeats, in the 2012 conference championship.
Alabama went on from there to win two of the next three SEC title games by an average margin of victory of 21 points.
Oh, yes, Alabama also appeared in four Chick-fil-A Kick-off games at the season’s front end – and won all four of them. This place is both launching pad and landing site to many a memorable Alabama season.
No other team has enjoyed more championship moments inside the last big building in town without a corporate first name. And that certainly includes the NFL tenant. This is the Alabama Dome, too, if not in name then partially in spirit.
When the end does come for the Dome, they should reserve a few souvenir seats, a bit of the plastic sod and maybe frame a swatch of the roof fabric and send it all off for permanent display at the Mal Moore Athletic Facility in Tuscaloosa.
And, would it be too much to ask in return – especially if Saban continues to coach in defiance of age and lack of new frontiers to conquer – that Alabama maybe chip in for the cost of the new place next door to the dome? That’s only fair because it will probably own that building, too.