December 1, 2012 was one of the most important days in the modern history of the SEC.
On that day, America was treated to an instant classic between two blueblood programs; a battle of style, wits, will, execution in all three phases; a face-off between two of the game’s top coaches; a cornucopia of talent where over twenty of the participants would be future NFL draft picks; two top-five teams squaring off for the SEC Championship with a national title appearance versus Notre Dame at stake.
And, did the 20th anniversary of the SEC Championship ever live up to its hype.
The game started as an old-school slugfest between two pro-style coaches feeling one another out in a 0-0 first quarter, the first shutout first quarter in SECCG history. From there, things went completely off the rails.
The teams would combine for 906 yards, 60 points, 44 first downs, a blocked field goal that put the Tide into a late 21-10 hole, transcendent quarterback play from a Dawgs legend, transcendent power football from a legendary Alabama running game, a nail-biting late turnover, a hellacious individual effort on a final batted pass in a game where the team with the ball last looked to be the winner.
But, as Coach Mark Richt said, “we just ran out of time.”
The immediate fortunes of the two programs were shaped that day. And, fairly or not, the legacy of players and coaches would be cemented as well. For Alabama it would mean a chance to win a national title against the only program historically in its punching class. For Georgia, it would mean the diminution of Mark Richt’s excellent career and would forever (and wrongly) cement the “choking Dawgs” label that he had worn for a almost a decade. For Aaron Murray, the damage was worse: one of the SEC’s all-time great players, a quarterback who caught so much flak for other failings of the team, would practically vanish from the collective conscious of the conference.
A five-yard pass completion and Georgia takes home a conference and national title. Mark Richt is still Georgia’s head coach. Aaron Murray goes down in the pantheon of legendary SEC signal callers who came up big when it mattered most.
But, they just ran out of time.
Those accolades would instead pass to the nation’s premiere program. Because, with that last batted pass, on December 1st, 2012, in a game that the Tide won 32-28, the Alabama Crimson Tide won its 23rd SEC Championship.
23 days ‘til kickoff.