The 2017 SEC Championship game will feature a rematch of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, and with that, a throwback to how the title was decided long ago.
The SEC Championship Game is always among the biggest spectacles of the college football postseason. The SEC was the first conference to incorporate a championship game, and since its inception in 1992, it has rarely failed to be an entertaining affair.
But in 2017, the two participating teams — Georgia and Auburn — will give a refreshing old school SEC feel to a game which has become a modern playoff play-in contest.
Back in the dark ages — before the College Football Playoff, BCS or even Bowl Alliance; before conference champions were decided by a game between two division winners — the conference championship in the SEC often came down to the final conference game of the season.
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In 1982, when Georgia boasted the beast known as Herschel Walker in his third year of dominance, the Bulldogs were on another tremendous run towards a possible national championship. Before that happened, they needed to win the SEC – and standing in the way was their oldest nemesis, the Auburn Tigers.
On November 13, No. 1 ranked Georgia and two-loss Auburn faced off at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama. The Bulldogs could secure an SEC title with a win, while Auburn still needed to win this game and then the Iron Bowl against Alabama.
It was set up perfectly for a bid to the Sugar Bowl and a chance to for a second national championship in three years for the Bulldogs, and for Auburn, a shot at their first SEC title since 1957.
To say there was a lot on the line would have been an understatement. It was all on the line for both teams.
What followed was a typical pad-smashing, dirt clod-eating SEC tussle between two old and bitter rivals. Pat Dye and his Tigers took at 14-13 lead into the 4th quarter, only to see eventual Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker dash their hopes with a game-winning touchdown run in what ended in a 19-14 Georgia win.
The win paved the way for one of the greatest Larry Munson calls of all time, as Georgia fans in attendance at the game began throwing sugar packets on the field as the final seconds ticked away, prompting Munson to exclaim, “Look at the sugar falling out of the sky!”
The Bulldogs went on to face (and lose to) Penn State in the Sugar Bowl, and rebuilding Auburn rebounded to go on and win the SEC in 1983.
But that was old school SEC. Settle it on the field. In the regular season. Make every snap count. Make every hit count. Don’t give in until the clock reads 0:00 and the final gun sounds.
While things have certainly changed — Larry Munson passed away six years ago, Herschel Walker has been retired for 20 years, and SEC Championship Games now often feature rematches of regular season skirmishes — this year is a throwback.
Auburn has two hated rivals — Alabama and Georgia — and they managed to beat both teams while they were ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time, something which has never been done before.
Round two of this 57-56-8 tug-of-war which Georgia leads will be in a neutral site, the glistening new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The winner could again see sugar falling from the sky, and will have dreams of being selected as one of the four College Football Playoff semifinalists to likely play in the Sugar Bowl (or possibly the Rose Bowl Game).
Sugar or roses, no matter to these two rivals. It’s the chance to return to Atlanta again on January 8, 2018 the Dawgs and Tigers are concerned with.
Just like in 1982, it’s all…all on the line in a game which will add a historic new chapter to the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry and will have an older generation of SEC fans thinking back to the days of Dooley, Dye and tearaway jerseys.
Wish you were here for this one, Larry. We’ll light a cigar in the fourth quarter for you.