Q: Has the SEC Championship game always been played in Atlanta?
A: No. The first conference title game was played at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1992. Alabama defeated Florida 28-21 in front of 83,091 fans.
“The 1992 SEC Championship Game will go down as one of the most influential college football games in modern college football history. Not because of the outcome, but for what it did to the landscape of the game,” according to BleacherReport.com.
Alabama would go on to beat Miami in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1993, to claim the 1992 National Championship.
“The outcome of the 1992 SEC Championship Game not only vaulted Alabama to a national championship, but it solidified a place for conference championship games in the landscape of college football,” according to Bleacher Report.
Not everybody thought conference championships were good for the game.
From BleacherReport.com: “Detractors said that the game would be bad for conferences in the national title hunt. As luck — or fate — would have it, the Alabama Crimson Tide rolled into Birmingham on December 5, 1992, with an 11-0 record and a No. 2 ranking. Florida entered the season as defending SEC Champions, but sputtered to a disappointing 8-3 record.”
In 1993, Florida defeated Alabama 28-13 in Birmingham.
“I think a lot of conferences will be looking at (championships) very carefully,” NCAA Executive Director Dick Schultz told the Chicago Tribune in 1992. “If it’s a big success, I think you’ll see two or three other conferences go in that direction.”
Then SEC commissioner Roy Kramer decided to move the game from Legion Field to Atlanta in 1994.
“It wasn’t very popular in Birmingham,” Kramer said in 2016. “[Atlanta] is such a natural location, you get away from bad weather and every team can get there easily.”
Once again, Florida played Alabama for the SEC title at the Georgia Dome. The Gators won 24-23.
The Florida Times-Union reported in 2016, “(Kramer) remembers informing the league’s coaches in 1990 that the conference would expand to 12 members and start a title games.”
About 10 teams were against the plan, Kramer said during a news conference at the Georgia Dome prior to the 25th SEC championship game between Florida and Alabama in 2016.
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Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC