It must be stated beforehand that this piece is coming from a place of nostalgia and love.
As often as we can, the contributors for SB Nation try to hide our allegiances and some occasions it works a little better than others.
Needless to say, it’s been a decade of riches for Tide fans and I feel we just do our best to live in the moment and not worry about the inevitable day that Nick Saban decides to leave Tuscaloosa.
It’s going to happen, folks.
The impending ninth meeting of Alabama and Florida on Saturday had me thinking about the inaugural championship game in 1992.
This was before the Georgia Dome was completed and Roy Kramer’s brainchild of two divisional foes squaring off for a single conference title was set to play out in Birmingham’s ancient Legion Field.
The game featured Steve Spurrier’s pre-SEC-dynasty Gators against the 11-0 Crimson Tide.
Everyone knew Spurrier’s fun ‘n’ gun style of play was prolific enough to do damage. They were also aware that Gene Stallings’ defensive unit that year was tops in the country.
This was obviously going to be a “something’s gotta give” scenario.
Just a week prior, sophomore cornerback Antonio Langham picked off Auburn quarterback Stan White in the same venue for a 61-yard touchdown to break a 0-0 tie. The week prior to that, Langham blocked a punt early in the game against Mississippi State to break a 0-0 tie.
What were the chances that this gifted defensive back could somehow find the endzone for a third game in a row? Breaking another tie, no less.
As it happened, the game played out just as Kramer dreamed it would. The 8-3 Gators scored first on a Shane Matthews-to-Errict Rhett touchdown pass.
Soon the Tide came storming back with 21 unanswered points. With a 21-7 deficit to overcome, Matthews led two quick drives at the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth to tie the game at 21 with just over eight minutes to play.
The 50-50 fanbase on that chilly December day in Birmingham was in hysterics.
On one hand, if the Tide win this game they’re going to New Orleans to play defending champs Miami in the Sugar Bowl for the national title. If they lose, they’ll take a very good 11-1 record to every SEC fan’s favorite consolation prize: The Citrus Bowl.
Surely, Alabama wouldn’t come this far, defeat 11 opponents, to lose against an 8-3 team. With the way the game was playing out, it looked possible.
Then, Antonio Langham.
Alabama punter Bryne Diehl’s 36-yard punt sailed into the fair-catching hands of Monty Duncan at the 21-yard line and this is where Matthews and the offense were to set up shop with just 3:25 to play.
As it happened, the interception occurred on 1st and 10. Duncan was tasked with running a simple curl pattern eight yards upfield. Matthews was tasked with reading the field and making sure his receiver was near the first down marker to march his team forward.
They didn’t account for Langham’s preparation and keen eye for where he and everyone else on the field was. As Matthews drops back, his eyes are on Duncan from the beginning. Duncan is getting this ball.
Matthews had to know as soon as he let the ball go what was about to happen. Langham beats the route, steps in front of Duncan, intercepts the ball and wiggles through an insane amount of traffic to get the ball in the endzone.
It’s really a marvelous play if you watch it in real time.
As a matter of fact, here you go.
The entirety of the play happens in the space of eight seconds. That’s it.
The interception, itself, took up half that time.
There was less than 30 yards to cover and Langham covered it pretty damn quick.
Watch the replay and you’ll see that Langham knows what’s going to happen the entire time. His athleticism allows him to play man coverage, but it’s his discipline and preparation that allows the pick.
He reads Matthews’ eyes the entire way, knows where the ball is going to go and plays it perfectly.
(Full disclosure: I used this method in elementary school in two-hand touch. Suffice it to say, I have a couple pick sixes under my belt).
The final score of the 1992 SEC Championship game: Alabama 28, Florida 21.
The fallout from this game truly did set it off for both teams.
Immediately following the ‘92 matchup, Alabama met Miami in New Orleans and they crushed them 34-13 to win their first national championship since 1979.
Florida would go on to play in the next four SEC Championship games, winning all of them. Three of those games would be played against Alabama.
Langham’s final season at Alabama would be in 1993 where he broke the school’s all-time interception mark. His 19 picks is still a record at the Capstone. He would win the Thorpe Award for best defensive back in the country and be drafted 9th in the 1994 NFL Draft (with the help of a Cleveland Browns’ defensive coordinator named Nick Saban, no less).
Unfortunately, his dealings with an agent during the ‘93 season tarnished his and Alabama’s reputation for years after. Alabama would forfeit all of their wins from the 1993 season and it would be a harbinger of things to come for the team over the next decade.
Still, you can ask any Alabama fan about Langham and they’ll respond immediately, “‘92 SEC CHAMPIONSHIP!” Any rival fan will shout, “AGENT!”, but when you’re family you’re forgiven your transgressions and Mr. Langham has certainly been forgiven.
As a matter of fact, he, along with Spurrier and Stallings will be honored during this 25th meeting of the SEC Championship today for that memorable evening under the cold, rusted lights of Legion Field.
For any SEC fan, ‘Bama or not, they will know exactly the moment the conference championship became a relevant term in college football and they will tell you that it was Antonio Langham’s 28-yard pick six that broke a 21-21 tie.