Jay Barker Reflects on the 1992 SEC Championship
With just over three minutes left in the inaugural SEC Championship, Alabama quarterback Jay Barker and the rest of the second-ranked Crimson Tide (11-0, 8-0) were at risk of losing a coveted spot in the Sugar Bowl against the Gino Toretta-led Miami Hurricanes at the hands of a gritty No. 12 Florida Gators (8-3, 6-2) team.
Barker reflects on the game, now 28 years since the matchup occurred, on how the Crimson Tide felt entering the game.
“Playing in the first SEC title game was awesome, but it was also very nerve-wracking. We had gotten to that spot as the number two team in the country. We would usually have a chance to play for a national championship, but in 1992, we had that extra game added- the SEC Championship,” Barker said.
“It was in Birmingham against Florida, who was the only team who had beaten us in a number of games. They had beaten us 35-0 [in 1991], but we wanted redemption from that.”
Elsewhere at Legion Field, SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer was feeling a different type of dread.
The 1992 football season was the first year that the Southeastern Conference had divided into two divisions and the first that the winners of the two sides would be facing off in a conference championship game.
To say the public opinion of the decision was unpopular would be the understatement of the century. Fans of the SEC, and many others across the country, were skeptical of the new format. Many thought that this change would force SEC teams to beat each other up and cause fewer SEC National champions.
Regardless, the Gators hit first and hit hard. After a 77-yard drive to open the game, Florida quarterback Shane Matthews hit receiver Errict Rhett for a five-yard touchdown connection to put the Gators up 7-0. This was the only first-quarter touchdown that the mighty Alabama defense had allowed all year.
While Barker played offense, he insists that the defense’s efforts were needed against the powerful Florida offense.
“Defensively, it was about matching up against the offense. [Florida quarterback] Shane Matthews was putting up huge numbers and breaking SEC and national records,” Barker said.
Gene Stallings, the Crimson Tide’s third-year coach, had built his team on a solid defense and a complimentary offense, so an explosive Florida opening drive did not look great for the Crimson Tide faithful.
Fortunately for the Tide, Barker marched the offense down the field to match the score with a three-yard touchdown run by ‘Bama running back Derrick Lassic.
The second quarter was relatively quiet. Only one score, an Alabama 30-yard touchdown reception by Curtis Brown, put the Crimson Tide up 14-7 going into halftime.
Barker, to this day, remembers that this type of offensive scheming was exactly what the team needed to take down Florida.
“I thought we matched up with Florida very well. We knew we could run the ball against them, and we knew we could play-action pass,” Barker said.
Late in the third quarter, with Alabama up 21-7, the Gators mounted a comeback.
After 14 unanswered points, the Crimson Tide and the Gators were tied at 21-21 with around eight minutes left in the game, and Florida had the momentum.
SEC fans across the south realized what was about to happen. This idea of a conference championship- an “unnecessary, added game”- was about to ruin the conference’s hopes at their first national championship since the Crimson Tide won it all in 1979.
With 3:16 left in the game, the unthinkable happened.
Junior defensive back Antonio Langham intercepted a Shane Matthews’s pass and returned it 28 yards for a pick-six. Now, this play is known as “The Play That Changed College Football.”
Now, even after over two decades, Jay Barker has a fond memory of the moment.
“When he intercepted it, everyone ran out on to the field to watch, and Coach [Mal] Moore and I couldn’t really see the play, but we did see the referee’s hands go up. We saw the fans go crazy, and we knew based on the crowd that he had scored the touchdown. We all started to hug each other,” Barker said. “It was a great feeling.”
Alabama went on to win the game and the 1993 Sugar Bowl against Miami to secure the team’s 12th national title.
While the national sentiment on the newly added conference championship may have been negative, Barker, and the rest of the Crimson Tide, realize now that it was necessary to the team’s mindset to be able to win the championship.
“We wanted redemption. That was what drove us to win that game in ‘92. We need to make this happen, so we can play for the national title,” Barker said. “That game, being the first-ever and meaning that we had to win it to get ‘Bama back where we belonged [winning a national championship] is what made the 1992 SEC Championship so special.”
Alabama will face the Gators, yet again, in the 29th SEC Championship on Saturday. The Crimson Tide and the Gators will kick off at 7 p.m. in Atlanta. You can watch the game on CBS, or you can listen to the radio broadcast right here on TIDE 100.9.