One of a series
Alabama football teams have won 971 games on the field and some victories are personal favorites. Officially, owing to capricious NCAA rulings, Crimson Tide teams that won 29 times had those victories either vacated (21) or forfeited (8, and also 1 tie). So while “officially” Bama has 942 wins, tied with Ohio State for second al-time to Michigan’s 976, we prefer to believe our eyes and saw those games.
All victories are not created equal. And sometimes – quite a few, actually – a favorite win over a team can be supplanted by a later triumph.
In this series we look at some victories that we consider the greatest/most favorite against other teams. There is no particular order.
Although Alabama and Georgia have had only scattered appearances against one another in recent years, the series was once a Southeastern Conference staple. The Crimson Tide has won 42 games, lost 26, and 4 were tied.
As some other series, the Alabama-Georgia games have often been important and dramatic and it was difficult to narrow down the favorites…to a point. I don’t expect anyone to be surprised at number one.
My first memory (from a radio broadcast) of an Alabama-Georgia game was in 1962, Alabama playing its first game since winning the 1961 national championship and going with a new quarterback. That turned out okay as Joe Namath led Bama to a 35-0 win in Birmingham. Even though Georgia got the important last win in the series, last year’s national championship game, the SEC title game last season in which Bama trashed the Bulldogs defense, 41-24, was quite satisfying.
As for other favorites:
Although the 1984 season had ended with a win over Auburn, it was a 5-6 season for Coach Ray Perkins and expectations for 1985 were modest as the Tide opened on national television on Labor Day night in Athens. Bama seemed to be about to win a close, but not so exciting game, when Chris Mohr went back to punt with just over a minute to play and the Tide with a 13-9 lead. The punt, however, was blocked and recovered in the end zone for a Georgia touchdown. The Bulldogs got an undisciplined celebration penalty and had to kick off from the 25 and the Tide started at its 29 with only 50 seconds and no timeouts.
Quarterback Mike Shula missed his first pass, but then hit Greg Richardson and Al Bell on back-to-back passes and the Tide was in field goal range for a possible tie. Another completion to Richardson put it at the Georgia 18 with 20 seconds to play. Al Bell broke free in the middle, Shula hit him, and Van Tiffin kicked it to what would be the final, 20-16.
A decade later, Bama hosted the Bulldogs in Bryant-Denny Stadium in what turned into a quarterback battle, Alabama’s Jay Barker and Georgia’s Eric Zeier. Zeier would become the SEC’s all-time leading passer during the game as he passed for 263 yards and 4 touchdowns. Barker, whose enduring reputation is that of a game manager, passed for 396 yards and two touchdown passes to Toderick Malone (both over future coach Will Muschamp). The Bulldogs led 21-7 in the second quarter when Barker went to work. He had completed only 37 passes as the Tide started the season 4-0. He would go 26-34 that night. A Michael Proctor field goal made it 21-10 at halftime. Barker to Malone got a quick second half touchdown, but late in the game Alabama trailed by 28-19. Needing a quick score, Bama got it in 42 seconds, Barker to Malone for 49 yards. On the Tide’s last possession Barker had a key scramble for a first down, hit Tony Johnson for another to the 22, and with just over a minute to play Proctor kicked the game-winning field goal, 29-28.
Although the 2008 game in Athens turned out to be not much of a challenge for the Crimson Tide, it is remembered for its ballyhooed “Blackout,” Georgia in back jerseys, Georgia fans all in black. The Bulldogs were ranked third in the nation, Alabama eighth. At the half, the Georgia mood was black. The Crimson Tide had touchdown runs by Mark Ingram, Glen Coffee, and Roy Upchurch and a John Parker Wilson TD pass to Julio Jones, along with a Leigh Tiffin Field goal for 31 points. Georgia had nada. The Bulldogs closed to within two touchdowns early in the fourth quarter, but a Coffee TD run and a Tiffin field goal had it at 41-17 before the Dogs got a couple of meaningless touchdowns in the fourth quarter in the Tide’s 41-30 win.
In hindsight, the 2012 SEC Championship Game in Atlanta was the de facto national championship game. Alabama defeated Georgia, 32-28, in perhaps the most dramatic conference title game since Antonio Langham’s interception return for a winning TD against Florida in the first championship game in 1992. Alabama trailed 28-25 early in the fourth quarter. In a game in which both teams had relied primarily on the run game, Bama quarterback AJ McCarron connected with Amari Cooper on a 45-yard touchdown pass to give the Tide a 32-28 lead with 3:15 to play. It was the fifth and final lead change in the game. Eddie Lacy had run for two touchdowns on 20 carries for 181 yards and TJ Yeldon one and 25-153 rushing.
Georgia’s last drive went to the Alabama 8 with 15 seconds remaining. The Bulldogs’s last play was a pass from Aaron Murray that was tipped by UA linebacker C.J. Mosley, and then caught by a receiver on his knees. UGA had no timeouts remaining as the clock went to 00:00. When Alabama defeated Notre Dame 42-14 in the national championship game a few weeks later, it was obvious that the SEC winner would also take the national crown.
You may remember my favorite.
In an odd 2017 season in which Alabama lost to Auburn and therefore didn’t make the SEC Championship Game, Bama was nevertheless selected as the fourth seed for the College Football Playoff. Also in was Georgia as the third seed after winning the conference championship. The Tide and Bulldogs both won their semifinal games and would make it an all-SEC national title game in Atlanta on January 8, 2018.
In what seemed at the time to be an extraordinary and bold decision, with Alabama trailing 13-0 at halftime UA Coach Nick Saban elected to make a change at quarterback. Jalen Hurts, who had been excellent through two seasons, was having an uncharacteristically poor game and was replaced by freshman Tua Tagovailoa, who had played only in mop-up duty (35-53 passing) in the first 13 games.
Although he started slowly in the second half, hisTD pass to Henry Ruggs III cut the lead to 13-7. An 80-yard Georgia TD pass made it 20-7 and Bama lost further momentum when Tagovailoa threw an interception. The Tide, however, regained possession on the next play when Raekwon Davis grabbed a tipped pass and ran 19 yards to the Georgia 40. That led to an Andy Pappanastos field goal to make it 20-10 and another field goal midway through the fourth quarter got the Tide within a TD. With just under four minutes to play, Tagovailoa completed a fourth-and-four, seven-yard pass to Calvin Ridley to tie the game at 20-20.
By now, Alabama was playing with a handful of freshmen in addition to Tagovailoa on offense, including wide receivers Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy and DeVonta Smith; tailback Najee Harris; and left tackle Alex Leatherwood.
Pappanastos had a chance to win the game with three seconds to play and facing a 36-yard field goal. He missed and sent the game to overtime.
Georgia scored first, a fourth down 51-yard field goal.
Alabama’s possession did not start well. Tagovailoa was sacked on first down, a 16-yard loss to the 41. The task seemed to be to get into field goal range, but there had to be some obvious concern about Pappanastos’s confidence.
As it turned out, no kick needed. Tagovailoa dropped back, looked off the safety, and found DeVonta Smith behind the secondary at the goalline. Catch, touchdown, national championship.
After the game as Saban chastised Tagovailoa for having taken the overtime sack, Tua said he just needed more room to operate. Saban said, colorfully, that he was not amused.