ATLANTA – Alabama and Georgia don’t meet every season, so when the tradition-rich schools play, it’s special – even when it is a regular-season matchup.
So while it may sound like just another SEC game, when the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs play Monday night for the national championship, it will be an event.
There have been some memorable games in the rivalry that began in 1895 when the teams first played in Columbus, Georgia. Both hope Monday night will be another.
Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones, who played in a lopsided Alabama win over Georgia in 2008, is looking forward to seeing his alma mater play in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, his NFL home stadium.
The Falcons are preparing to play at the Los Angeles Rams in the playoffs on Saturday, but the Alabama-Georgia showdown had his attention on Wednesday.
“I’ve been pulling for Georgia, too, but I can’t cheer for them Monday,” Jones said Wednesday. “I can’t.”
Alabama has a 38-25-4 advantage in its series with Georgia. From 1941-65, the SEC rivals met almost every season. Since then, the meetings have been far more rare – four times in the 1970s, only twice in the ‘80s and four more in the ‘90s. They’ve played only twice in this decade, with Alabama winning both games.
The low point of the rivalry came in the early 1960s, when former Georgia coach Wally Butts and Alabama coach Bear Bryant each successfully sued the Saturday Evening Post magazine about a story which alleged they conspired to fix the 1962 game, won by the Crimson Tide, 35-0.
Butts was Georgia’s athletic director at the time of the alleged conspiracy, and he initially was awarded $3.06 million. The settlement was later reduced to $460,000, and Bryant settled for $300,000.
Now the juicy news is on the field.
As soon as former longtime Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was hired as Georgia’s coach before the 2016 season, fans began hoping to see Smart face his former boss Nick Saban , perhaps in the SEC championship game.
Having a national title on the line makes the reunion even more enticing.
Here are some memorable games in the Alabama-Georgia rivalry:
Sept. 18, 1965: Georgia 18, Alabama 17. The Bulldogs opened coach Vince Dooley’s second season with an upset of No. 5 Alabama. It was the Crimson Tide’s only loss of a 9-1-1 season under coach Bear Bryant. Georgia finished with a modest 6-4 record but won Dooley’s first Southeastern Conference championship the following season. The decisive play was Georgia’s flea-flicker for a touchdown. Quarterback Kirby Moore threw to Pat Hodgson, who then tossed it back to Bob Taylor, who ran 76 yards for the touchdown. Alabama fans insisted Hodgson’s knee was down before his pass. A two-point conversion gave Georgia the lead.
Oct. 2, 1976: Georgia 21, Alabama 0. With SEC player of the year Ray Goff, the future Georgia coach, and Matt Robinson splitting time at quarterback, the No. 6 Bulldogs shut out the No. 10 Tide’s wishbone offense led by quarterback Jeff Rutledge. Robinson, known as the passing quarterback, scored on a run in the final seconds of the first half and added a scoring pass in the second half.
Sept. 21, 1991: Alabama 10, Georgia 0. A week after getting blasted 35-0 by Florida, the Crimson Tide started a 28-game winning streak that included the 1992 national championship. It matched Alabama’s longest streak originally set by Bryant’s teams from 1978-80.
Sept. 27, 2008: Alabama 41, Georgia 30: The Bulldogs opened the season ranked No. 1, thanks to a big-name offense led by quarterback Matthew Stafford, tailback Knowshon Moreno and wide receiver A.J. Green. Georgia called for a “blackout” for the matchup of undefeated teams and wore black uniforms that seemed sadly appropriate when Alabama, led by Jones and running back Mark Ingram, led 31-0 at halftime.
The dominant win in Saban’s second season at Alabama is seen by some as the start of his dynasty. Alabama was ranked No. 1 for the first time since 1980 later in the season, and it won its first of four national championships under Saban the following year. Saban also won a national title with LSU in 2003.
Dec. 1, 2012: Alabama 32, Georgia 28. The Tide barely survived the SEC championship game against the Bulldogs before going on to rout Notre Dame 42-14 to claim a second straight national title. Aaron Murray drove Georgia down the field but his last pass was deflected at the line and caught by Chris Conley at the 5. Time ran out before the Bulldogs could run another play in one of the most dramatic finishes for the conference championship game.
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama contributed to this story.