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December 3, 2009

Column: A moment in time

The contrast in expressions told everything.

University of Alabama coach Nick Saban trying to look stoic, but his face couldn't conceal the disappointment.

Florida's Urban Meyer beaming after his Gators won the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the 2008 SEC Championship Game, billed as the biggest game in conference history.

"That's one of the best college football games I know I've ever been a part of," Meyer said after the 31-20 victory. "I know Alabama and Coach Saban and their staff, that was a dogfight. That was toughness. That was a check-your-will-and-come-back-and-play in the fourth quarter. That says a lot about our team, as well."

It turned out "that" was just the beginning as here we are again with the same stakes on the line, only bigger and better. This time both teams are undefeated at 12-0, with possibly the Heisman Trophy to be decided in addition to one of the final chapters of Tim Tebow's legacy.

Like him or not, one can't help but admit that the Florida quarterback is going to be remembered as one of the greatest college football players ever, and should he beat the Crimson Tide again and win his second Heisman, the best.

Hey, there's a reason why the press box at the Georgia Dome will be jam packed with the largest media contingency in SEC Championship Game history. Who wouldn't want to see this game?

But that's not what this discussion is about.

It's about moments.

Why? Because frequently when we're all in the midst of a game or season it's hard to stop, look around and really appreciate what's going on -- and even tougher to try and comprehend.

Only that's exactly what the players can't do, especially when the spotlight is shinning so brightly it can be blinding.
It may have been something Alabama had to learn last year.

"You can't get caught up in the moment really," junior linebacker Rolando McClain said. "You've just got to out and do your job. Treat it as it is a business. This is our job. We came here to play football. You come to Alabama for games like this against a great team. You have to seize the moment. We have something huge at hand.

"Last year we wanted to win the national championship. We got so close and this game determined whether we won or lost. That's still in the back of our minds and we're just going to go out with a different mindset, play our style of football for 60 minutes. I think we'll be all right."

"We might have gotten lost in the moment last year just because it was our first championship game as a team," senior guard Mike Johnson said. "I don't think there is any danger of that this year. We came into the season with expectations of winning a championship and we're going to try to follow through on that this weekend."

Thus, the difference between winning and losing, measured and remembered by a series of moments that are now coming full circle. Whereas Alabama may have found inspiration for the rematch, Florida reached down and found what many consider greatness (and history is always kinder to the victor). Led by Tebow, the Gators drove to take the lead in the fourth quarter and then put the game away when the Tide didn't have an answer.

"Those are the moments you remember, when it's the fourth quarter against Oklahoma or fourth quarter against a team like Alabama, and those are those great moments in college football," Meyer said. "Those are the ones that coaches cherish, where you get to grab the team on the sidelines and say: We have to pound it in here or do this or that and stop them."

So after the Gators won the crystal football they immediately began preparing to defend their title while Saban went back to work on knocking them off. About the only thing that's different is that both sides know that there almost certainly won't another next time like this one. Nearly every Florida starter will be gone in 2010, while Alabama will no longer have key players like Terrence Cody, Javier Arenas and at minimum six other defensive starters (maybe eight).

"You don't have a whole lot of reflection time around here and there's really no sense of relief, there's no complacency," Meyer said. "There's no place for that, to me, in competitive sports, because until you win the last … until you finish the last play of the last game, there's still another challenge out there."

So on a week that may be unparalleled in terms of college football news with Notre Dame firing Charlie Weis, Bobby Bowden out at Florida State and even Gators defensive end Carlos Dunlap getting suspended for driving under the influence early Tuesday, Saturday's game is what people will remember, with moments that will stand the test of time.

"We're very excited about it," Tebow said. "It's an honor to be in an SEC Championship."


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