The Fifteen Most Important Days in S.E.C. History

The immortal Orson Swindle said it best:  the No. 1 offseason coping mechanism is "Glazomania, or obsessive list-making."  

Personally, I always thought that was "VH1omania," but who am I to quibble?  

I share VH1's affinity for compiling lists, but I stopped loving the '80s after the 1983 Georgia-Auburn game.  

Therefore, inspired by Orson and borrowing heavily from Paul Westerdawg's lists of the pivotal moments in Georgia and Florida history, I present . . . The Fifteen Most Important Days in Southeastern Conference History:  

April 9, 1880---On Old Stoll Field in Lexington, Kentucky A&M plays the first football game to take place in the Southeastern United States.  Later, Kentucky A&M became the University of Kentucky, organized a team, and began intercollegiate competition in November 1881, becoming the first future S.E.C. school to commence play on the gridiron.  

February 20, 1892---Georgia and Auburn begin the oldest football rivalry in the Deep South.  114 years later, I still hate Auburn.  

If "The Godfather" had been about college football, Marlon Brando would have played Bobby Bowden, James Caan would have played Tommy Bowden, and Fredo would have been the one who was shipped off to Auburn to keep him from messing up the family business.  Also, Robert Duvall would have been cast to play Mark Richt.  

January 1, 1926---The Alabama Crimson Tide, boasting a 9-0 record and a defensive unit that allowed seven points all season long, make their first appearance in the Rose Bowl, where the Southern squad is expected to be whipped by mighty Washington.  Enoch Bagshaw's Huskies had gone 34-3-4 through their previous 41 outings and the invitation only went to the "Tusca-losers" after Dartmouth, Yale, and Colgate declined the opportunity to face the Purple and Gold.  Alabama's 20-19 win in Pasadena on New Year's Day didn't just cap a perfect 1925 campaign, it confirmed for a doubting world that Southern football was worthy of their respect.  

December 8, 1932---The annual meeting of the Southern Conference convenes in Knoxville.  The Southern Conference was organized in 1920 as an offshoot of the 30-member S.I.A.A., but, despite an initial limitation of the league to 16 teams, the conference had grown to 23 member institutions by 1928.  At the 1932 annual meeting, the 13 schools south and west of the Appalachians---Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Louisiana State, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Sewanee, Tennessee, Tulane, and Vanderbilt---branch off and form the Southeastern Conference.  10 of the 13 charter members remain a part of the S.E.C. to this day.  

December 4, 1948---Following a 41-year hiatus, Alabama and Auburn resume their bitter rivalry in Birmingham.  The Crimson Tide walloped the Plainsmen, 55-0, but the annual grudge match was back on, to the manifest benefit of college football fans everywhere.  

September 27, 1958---Paul William Bryant coaches his first game as the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide.  The Bear would remain on the sidelines at his alma mater for 25 seasons, 232 victories, 13 Southeastern Conference championships, and six national titles.  His iconic visage remains the definitive face of Southern football to this very day.  

The Bear, who may or may not have been the inspiration for the William Faulkner short story of the same name.  

June 1, 1964---Georgia Tech's withdrawal from the league becomes official.  The Yellow Jackets departed so suddenly that the conference had no choice but to designate certain non-conference games as de facto S.E.C. contests.  Although the Golden Tornado was not the first charter member to leave the league (Sewanee had departed in 1940), Georgia Tech was (and remains) the most prominent original S.E.C. institution to bolt from the conference ranks.  A sufficiently bad taste was left in the league members' mouths that, when the Yellow Jackets petitioned for readmission in the 1970s, their request was denied and the Ramblin' Wreck opted instead to join the A.C.C.  

September 12, 1970---Southern Cal defeats Alabama at Legion Field by a 42-21 margin, thanks to Trojan tailback Sam "Bam" Cunningham's 135-yard, two-touchdown performance.  After the game, Coach Bryant brought Cunningham to the Crimson Tide locker room and introduced him with the words, "Gentlemen, this is what a football player looks like."  It had not escaped the Bear's notice that Cunningham was black, and, on the bus ride back to Tuscaloosa, Coach Bryant was reported to have remarked to Gene Stallings that he had to get some black players.  This was rather a significant statement for a prominent Alabaman to make less than two years after George Wallace's third-party presidential campaign in 1968.  Nevertheless, when push came to shove, Southerners in general and Alabamans in particular decided that, given the choice between the two, winning at football was more important than preserving segregation.  The 1970 Alabama-Southern Cal game gave rise to the famous statement that Sam Cunningham did more for integration in 60 minutes than Martin Luther King did in 20 years.  

September 6, 1980---Herschel Walker plays, but does not start, his first college football game, a 16-15 Bulldog win over Tennessee in Knoxville.  Georgia goes on to win 33 of the 36 games played while Walker was wearing a Bulldog uniform, capturing three straight conference crowns and a national championship.  Walker amassed more yards in a three-year career than any college tailback before or since, then compiled more all-purpose yards (in the U.S.F.L. and the N.F.L.) than any other professional football player.  

Really, this whole list was just a massive rationalization for posting another picture of Herschel.  

December 29, 1982---Bear Bryant coaches his last game.  One month later, he dies.  Coach Bryant's passing marks the end of an era in Southeastern Conference football and represents the culmination of changes in the early 1980s (including Erk Russell's departure for Georgia Southern and Pat Dye's arrival on the Plains in 1981) that cumulatively shifted the balance of power in the league.  

June 27, 1984---The U.S. Supreme Court hands down its decision in the case of N.C.A.A. v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma and Georgia Athletic Association.  The battle over revenue sharing and television contracts that had been brewing for more than a decade was brought to a head by a court challenge led by University of Oklahoma head football coach Barry Switzer and University of Georgia president Fred Davison.  As John Sayle Watterson later wrote, President Davison argued "that Georgia had property rights in its athletic programs and could thereby televise its games at will."  By a 7-2 vote, the High Court affirmed President Davison's position and held that the N.C.A.A.'s television contract represented a "classic cartel" in restraint of trade.  (Ironically, one of the two dissenting justices was Byron "Whizzer" White, who as a halfback at Colorado had finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1937.)  Thanks to Georgia's leadership in challenging the N.C.A.A.'s restrictive rules, conferences were able to cut their own television deals.  

January 10, 1990---Roy Kramer becomes the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference.  Under Kramer's leadership, the S.E.C. adds two new member institutions, begins divisional play, establishes the first conference championship game, leads the N.C.A.A. in attendance, forges a new T.V. contract, becomes a part of the B.C.S., and makes money by the truckload.  Also, there is alleged to be a little cheating going on, too.  

If Dr. Evil had asked the S.E.C. for one hundred billion dollars, Roy Kramer could have paid it out of petty cash.  

August 1, 1990---Arkansas is admitted to the S.E.C.  The defection of the Razorbacks spells the beginning of the end for the Southwest Conference, which now no longer has any members located outside of the Lone Star State.  The admission of Arkansas, coupled with the addition of South Carolina two months later, expands the S.E.C. from 10 to 12 teams, creating the first "superconference" and initiating a ripple effect throughout college football that leads ultimately to the creation of the Big 12, the expansion of the A.C.C., and the establishment of championship games in major leagues.  

September 8, 1990---The Florida Gators defeat the Oklahoma State Cowboys by a 50-7 margin in Steve Spurrier's first game as the head coach at his alma mater, signaling the start of a 12-year reign of terror for "The Evil Genius."  Darth Visor needles opponents with smart-aleck one-liners, unsportsmanlike conduct, and a "Fun 'n' Gun" offense the likes of which the league has never before seen.  Steve Superior went on to win six S.E.C. championships and a national title, often making it look easy in the process.  His 1991 team---the first Gator squad to win an official conference championship in football---dispatched its league opponents by margins of 35-0 (Alabama), 35-18 (Tennessee), 31-10 (Auburn), and 45-13 (Georgia).  The Ol' Ball Coach transformed the league in a way no coach had since the Bear.  

December 5, 1992---The first Southeastern Conference championship game takes place in Birmingham.  Undefeated Alabama beats upstart Florida to claim a berth in the Sugar Bowl opposite Miami.  The Crimson Tide's 13-0 national championship season allays the fears of many S.E.C. coaches, administrators, and fans that an eight-game conference schedule followed by a one-game playoff would allow too many opportunities for teams from the rugged league to knock one another off, thereby preventing teams from the conference from competing for the national title in major bowl games.  Alabama's success in the first year of divisional play puts such concerns to rest and the league goes on to produce undefeated teams and/or national champions in five of the next dozen seasons (Auburn in 1993, Florida in 1996, Tennessee in 1998, Louisiana State in 2003, and Auburn in 2004).  Also, the conference championship game begins generating sacks full of money for the league.  Did I mention that already?  

Artist's rendering of the rationale behind the S.E.C. championship game.  

Those are the 15 pivotal days in S.E.C. history from my perspective.  Any corrections, criticisms, or contrary opinions may be offered in the comments below.  

Go 'Dawgs!  

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