For younger fans it’s probably difficult to comprehend a time when Alabama played the underdog role, but on December 5, 2009, Alabama rolled into Atlanta to face the defending national champion Florida Gators as just that. That Florida team was deemed virtually unbeatable with nine players who would be drafted the following April, including six in the first two rounds, and Vegas liked them by a touchdown over Nick Saban’s surging Tide.
Most importantly, Florida had Heisman QB Tim Tebow, a player some deemed the greatest in college football history.
The two teams had met in the same game in 2008, with the Gators pulling away late to claim their spot in the BCS title game. Though both participants came in unbeaten, the 2009 game was expected to be an orange and blue coronation into college football immortality after Alabama had struggled with Auburn while Florida easily dispatched rival Florida State the week before. Indeed, the stats were in Florida’s favor as they boasted the #4 defense and #10 offense, based on total yards. Alabama’s defense was slightly better at #2, but the run-first ball control offense was only 21st in the land.
It didn’t take long, however, for everyone to realize that the Crimson Tide had come to ruin the party.
The Tide offense promptly moved the ball down the field to open the scoring with a field goal, the defense got a stop, and the Tide moved down for the first touchdown of the game. In what no one realized would be an omen for the Saban era, Leigh Tiffin missed the extra point and Alabama led by nine points. A second quarter 69-yard screen pass to eventual Heisman winner Mark Ingram staked the Tide to a 19-13 lead that they would take into the half.
After the break, it was all Alabama. The Tide defense got two quick stops on Florida’s first two possessions while the Tide offense punched in two touchdowns. Up 32-13, Javier Arenas sealed the deal with an interception of Tebow in the end zone. The Tide would go on to the conference title and Saban’s first national championship in Tuscaloosa. That 2009 squad remains Saban’s lone undefeated team and marks the beginning of the greatest dynasty the sport has ever known.
There were so may iconic moments in this game: the throwback TD pass to Georgia Tech transfer TE Colin Peek, the screen to Ingram, Greg McElroy hopping along the sideline to move the chains, and Arenas’ interception. McElroy had the game of his life with 67% completions and 239 passing yards on only 18 attempts, with one TD and no turnovers, and Ingram bounced back from a poor showing in the Iron Bowl to lock up the Heisman with 189 total yards and three TDs.
What most people remember, however, is Tebow crying on the sideline once it was evident that the championship run was over.
Rarely has a particular game signaled such a changing of the guard, but that contest turned out to be a true watershed moment in SEC history. In the following decade, Alabama would lose only nine conference games while accumulating six conference titles and five national titles, the latter matching the number of head coaches the wayward Florida program employed during that time.
Below, you can relive this game that no Tide fan will ever forget. Enjoy.