I was 14 years old. Alabama was in the middle of its best run since "Bear" Bryant had retired.
I became a fan since attending the 1990 Sugar Bowl in person: a loss to Miami. Three years later, Alabama turned the tables by stunning the #1-ranked Hurricanes (and Heisman winner Geno Torretta) 34-13 in the 1993 Sugar Bowl. Alabama finished 13-0, and they became the 1992 National Champions. It was my first taste of a championship as a sports fan, and it was sweet.
The next season was one mired with controversy and injury. Quarterback Jay Barker was injured in the Iron Bowl and suffered his first loss. It was a disappointing season.
But the sting wore off in 1994 when Alabama won each of their regular season games. They held off a late drive by Peyton Manning, and edged Tennessee in a nail-biter. They topped undefeated Auburn in the Iron Bowl, handing Terry Bowden his first ever loss as Auburn's coach (it was his 2nd season). So it seemed inevitable that the Tide would roll through the 2-loss Gators in the SEC "Coronation" Game in Atlanta.
But more than my love for that team, I loved its quarterback. Jay Barker was 34-1-1 as a starter. And he didn't even get to finish the game in that one loss because of his injury in that '93 Iron Bowl. He seemed invincible. Even more than that, though, he was an impeccable role model. After throwing for 396 yards in a comeback victory over Georgia, someone shoved a microphone in Barker's face and asked him about the Heisman Trophy. Barker calmly quoted 1st Peter 5:6, and spoke about how he'd struggled with criticisms and trials, but that maybe this was "due time" for him. THAT was my hero! I wanted to be just like that guy. So that's why four days later, on a Wednesday night, I walked down the aisle & gave my life to Jesus.
But then, two months later, when a Jay Barker pass fell to the turf on a 4th down to end the '94 SEC Championship -- a 24-23 loss to the Gators -- I didn't know how to register that. Pure heartache. It is without question my most painful memory as a sports fan.
So I say all that to say this: I know EXACTLY how so many young Gator fans out there feel right now. For them I feel pity. It's tough to watch your hero fall.
BUT, for so many of those kids who came to faith because of Tebow's influence, maybe seeing that your "idol" actually ISN'T God is ultimately a good thing.
Now... for all the spoiled Gator fans my age and older? For them, I feel satisfaction. It's high time they felt what I felt 15 years ago. What I felt again last year, when the Gators ruined undefeated Alabama's championship hopes again. For that cocky group -- people who braggingly told me that their "Titletown" was the REAL T-Town, and proclaimed that McElroy wasn't half the QB Tebow was, and crowed to me how they would crush 'Bama after beating FSU (as if they'd actually done something by putting up 37 points on that Nole defense), and who generally walked around with an entitled swagger just because they root for a good football team -- at those people, I smile. Maybe they'll be less insufferable now. Enjoy your bittersweet Sugar Bowl.
As for Urban Meyer and teary-eyed Tim Tebow? I also smile. "That's so mean! How could you say that, Philip?" Well let me tell you a story that the media has failed to tell for four years now. Meyer has run up the score and called timeouts to rub in big victories. Tim Tebow has flailed his arms, motioned the Gator chomp, and has shown immunity to more unsportsmanlike penalty flags than can be counted. As much as Meyer and Tebow have done to further a cause higher than football, they had also tarnished that cause with their dishonorable antics. Oh yes. That pair has had it coming to them for a LONNNNG time.
Sure, maybe there's a lot of young Gator fans who love Jesus like Tebow. But there's also a lot of young fans who love the other teams that Tebow played, and who bitterly observed the hypocrisy of Tebow & Meyer supposedly living to a classier standard all while ignoring sportsmanship and rubbing losses in other teams' faces.
So it made me grin even wider when Alabama lined up in the victory formation (to kneel the ball) at the end, up 19 points and driving for more, near the goal-line. It was a statement: "Not only are we better than you, but we're also better than you." Unlike the crew on the other sideline, Alabama doesn't have to run up the score to feel good about themselves when the game is already decided.
And for this Alabama team? I can't say enough. I love this team. So many individuals, so many stories. Redemption, perseverance, overcoming adversity: all the elements of great stories are there. They've been a thrill to watch.
Well, enough pontificating. Here are the rankings:
1.) Alabama* : they made it just barely, but Alabama is still the only school to have won an SEC Championship in every decade of the conference's existence.
2.) Texas Christian : the most deserving of a title shot, IMO.
5.) Boise State : they beat the Pac-10 champ.
8.) Georgia Tech*
9.) Ohio State
10.) Virginia Tech
* I feel vindicated for consistently having ranked each of these teams higher than the conventional polls all season long.
Dropped Out: Pitt and Oregon State
3 weeks ago