Review – ESPN documentary series SEC Storied: “The Play That Changed College Football”

The second of four documentaries set to air on ESPNU this year as part of the SEC Storied documentary series, “The Play That Changed College Football” is an intricate look at the first Southeastern Conference Championship Game played in 1992 between the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (11-0) and No. 12 Florida Gators (8-3).

Directed by Jeff Cvitkovic and narrated by Luke Perry, the film is centered on the thesis that one game – and more specifically one play – “helped shape how conferences are constructed and championships are decided.”

When the SEC expanded to 12 teams (adding Arkansas and South Carolina) nearly two decades ago, then-commissioner Roy Kramer chose to format the conference into two six-team divisions and add a championship game that was previously unheard of in Division I college football.

The prevailing thought was that a SEC team would never win a national championship because even if one got through the regular season undefeated, the team could be canalized in the title game and ruin its chances at national glory. What Kramer saw, however, was not the risk but instead the rewards of increased exposure, television revenue and conference prestige.

“You had a chance to have a team play for the national championship. Now, all of a sudden if they lose this game, they’re gonna lose their shot at a national championship. I was concerned we had shot ourselves in the foot,” he admitted.

The former commissioner is honest and forthcoming when admitting that, while he may be considered a visionary now, he was one play away from potentially being a pariah. Luckily for him, the former came true and not the latter.

Read the rest of OGGOA’s review of ESPN’s latest documentary…after the break!

Florida entered the 1992 season as defending SEC regular season champions, and Alabama had a chip on its collective shoulders after being routed by UF 35-0 in Gainesville, FL just one year earlier. After going undefeated in the regular season, UA would have normally immediately gone to the Sugar Bowl to face Miami for the national title. Instead the Crimson Tide was forced to square off with the Gators for the conference title first.

Florida head coach Steve Spurrier (whose team was favored heading into the season) believed the game was a benefit for the second place squad, which had everything to gain and nothing to lose. As it turns out, Spurrier’s team wound up being in that position and had a chance to spoil Alabama’s 21-game winning streak and national title hopes.

“Divisions and a championship game? I didn’t know that was legal,” he joked.

Gators fans will see plenty of Spurrier as well as appearances from Gators quarterback Shane Matthews and running back Errict Rhett, while Crimson Tide faithful will be most concerned with hearing what cornerback Antonio Langham has to say.

Matthews, the back-to-back SEC Player of the Year who threw the faithful pass, is cast in the Bill Buckner-like role, while Thorpe Award winner Langham got to enjoy the glory associated with making a game-changing play before committing a serious mistake which partially impacted his legacy.

Cvitkovic does a masterful job setting up the game, storyboarding the critical aspects of the contest and looking at the “play that changed college football” from a number of angles. Not only is actual game footage used, but Cvitkovic also had Rhett bring a copy of Spurrier’s game plan to a filming session and used it to showcase how UF was able to find success early in the game.

Kramer, Langham, Matthews, Rhett and six more players all met on Legion Field in Birmingham, AL (the site of the game) to discuss the impact it and the one play in particular had on their lives and the sport of college football.

Watching the former players reenacting the plays together, one could tell how pained Matthews was by his mistake and how much Langham’s big play has impacted his life. It also delights the viewer to see how much these guys, years removed from the game, still enjoyed getting on a field and playing some football.

In the end, Cvitkovic’s contention that Langham’s interception “changed college football” is relatively sound. It legitimated the conference championship game as a non-obstacle to winning a national title, leading other conferences to eventually increase their size to 12 teams. He does a fine job tying in the SEC’s decision to add two teams and a conference championship in 1992 to the eventual creation of the BCS (by Kramer) and all of the realignment going on in the present day.

However, the film also falls short in a few areas.

Cvitkovic’s choice of Perry (an Ohioan) as narrator, while time period conscious, was not the best choice for a documentary about football in the south. His voice simply did not fit the topic and another choice such as a Billy Bob Thornton, for example, would have made the production even more authentic.

Additionally, while the premise is certainly legitimate, it is an assumption to say the game would have been a failure if Langham did not intercept Matthews. The SEC Championship would have still been a huge success from a financial and exposure standpoint, and the game itself was exciting and the perfect way to conclude a conference season.

Since its inception, only one SEC title game has cost a team (Tennessee) a shot at a national championship. Assuming that it would have been dropped all together if it happened the first time around in 1992 – considering how successful it was in other aspects – may be a bit of a reach.

All-in-all, like most ESPN films as of late, it is a must-watch and a great look into the history of the SEC and one of the reasons why the conference stands head and shoulders above the rest nationally.

“The Play That Changed College Football” airs Thursday, Dec. 1 at 11 p.m. on ESPNU with replays on ESPN and ESPN2 in the coming days and weeks.

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6 Responses to “Review – ESPN documentary series SEC Storied: “The Play That Changed College Football””

  1. Ken (CA) says:

    Interestingly, as well as the SEC CG has worked out for the SEC, the other conference championships have had the opposite effect. Several SEC teams have benefitted from Big-12 teams stubbing their toes in their CG, including the Gators. Part of the issues in the Big 12 were that some teams were frustrated about the CG and didn’t want it while others did.

  2. Brian Mex says:

    Looks like a great docu–and a shitty way to end a bad week for Florida Football! Seriously, Shane Matthews and those Spurrier teams are the reason we have all these expectations that burned Urban out-Go Gators!

    • Ripley says:

      The expectations are not what burned Urban out. Urban and his hours of prep and meticulous ways are what burned him out. Coaches have been quoted saying that there is no time off, there is no off season, and there is only work with Urban. Now, it might sound cute on a t-shirt, but no off-season is hard on everyone. He had so much success, he wanted to be the best so bad, and losing that game to Alabama, messed him up in his head, and his work.

      As for this Urban hate everyone has seems to have?!?! It is no doubt in my mind that the 2005-6-7-8 coaching staff was the best ever. Urban, 65-15 at Florida, Dan Mullen (HC Miss. State), Charlie Strong (HC Louisville), Dan McCartney (HC North Texas), Steve Adazzio (HC Temple), Billy Gonzales (WR/PG COOR LSU), Greg Mattison (DC Balt. Ravens/DC Michigan), All of those coaches in meetings, at practice, and at the clinics, were amazing. Thats is why that team was impressive. Not to forget the others Coach Mick, the BEST, Stan Drayton a damn good one, Chuck Heater, AMAZING, It takes the whole parts. We as florida fans should be greatful that we had a run of four years as good as any in football. Three BCS wins, Two SEC titles (true florida fans will tell you thats all that matters), TWO NATIONAL TITLES, and three 13-1 seasons. I cant think of anything better. Not to forget the offensive explosion of the Tebow Heisman year (nine wins and a thumping of FSU.)

      The expectations are fans and their belief that every year is our year. Lets be honest. Thats not possible even with Urban and all the coaches. You are going to miss on recruits. You are going to run into tough teams in the SEC. Now, am I giving up on this staff? No. I am just saying that the lack of depth, a new system, new coaches, the toughest schedule in the EAST, and playing the most underclassmen in the country, led for some rough roads. Now, if we find a way to get another touchdown against Auburn, SC, and Georgia we’re a bunch of happy gators?? But, we didnt. So, give this staff, and your expectations a break. Lets see them recruit, lets see them develop talent, lets see that SALTY DEFENSE from the last game grow up right before our eyes.

      Looking forward to the growth from year one to year two with 13th street Will.

  3. Marshall says:

    Alabama has given us some of highest highs, and lowest lows. Hearing the respect they had for each other in this group and of the coaches helps us understand what has been elevated so much higher in the years since. Thanks Coach Spurrier. I don’t think anyone could have taken “wait ’till next year” and turn that around. SOS claims that first win at Alabama proved we could do it. The ’91 game and then the later championship games took it over the top. Urban took it to another level, but without the ability to sustain it. Will and Charlie have the chance now….and they are getting the players to match that level. Let’s give ‘em the chance. Next years team has just a few seniors too.

  4. FlyingStorm says:

    Roll Tide Roll. 14 and 0 National Champions. I think Im going to go Tebowing now
    Happy Easter.

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