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Volume 23 No. 24
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Closing Shot: A Tide Of Memories

Ten years ago, undefeated Alabama and Florida squared off for the SEC championship. For Greg McElroy, quarterback for the Crimson Tide, it was a shot at redemption. And for millions of television viewers, it was another example of the passion that drives the business of college football.
Greg McElroy, now working on the air for ESPN and the SEC Network, led No. 2 Alabama to a 32-13 win over Tim Tebow and No. 1 Florida.
Photo: getty images
Greg McElroy, now working on the air for ESPN and the SEC Network, led No. 2 Alabama to a 32-13 win over Tim Tebow and No. 1 Florida.
Photo: getty images
Greg McElroy, now working on the air for ESPN and the SEC Network, led No. 2 Alabama to a 32-13 win over Tim Tebow and No. 1 Florida.
Photo: getty images

Greg McElroy is now a well-known college football analyst, serving as a commentator on games for ESPN in addition to his regular role on the SEC Network’s “Thinking Out Loud” discussion show. He’ll spend this week analyzing the SEC championship game, an event with which he’s both intimately associated and well-acquainted.

It’s been 10 years since the 2009 SEC title game, which featured two 12-0 teams: McElroy and No. 2 Alabama against Tim Tebow and No. 1 Florida. The schools had met in the same game the previous year with rankings reversed, when the 11-1, No. 2 Gators beat the undefeated Crimson Tide en route to the national championship. 

The loss fueled Alabama for an entire year, and when the Crimson Tide rolled over the Gators 32-13 in Atlanta, they advanced to the BCS title game, where they beat Texas and won the school’s first national championship since 1992. That win in the Georgia Dome ignited the program’s dominance over the next 10 years, during which Alabama has won five more SEC title games and four more national championships. And it was a big moment for McElroy, who went to Tuscaloosa in large part because Tebow chose Florida, leaving a spot open on the Crimson Tide roster. 

“On a personal level, that game meant more to me than any other game I ever played,” said McElroy, who is friends with Tebow. “The narrative surrounding that game was the teams were essentially interchangeable, with the exception of the quarterback spot, in which Florida had a significant advantage. I wanted to dispel that narrative.” 

Fresh off the success of his junior season, broadcasting wasn’t on McElroy’s radar. But he impressed ESPN executives during several on-air appearances his senior year. ESPN kept him in mind when the SEC Network launched in 2014, around the same time his NFL career sputtered. Then-SEC Commissioner Mike Slive made a convincing pitch to McElroy to join the conference network, a decision McElroy now says “was kind of a no-brainer.”

The 2009 SEC title game was noteworthy in other ways: It marked just the second time the game was streamed on CBSSports.com, and more than 91,000 unique visitors watched. Ten years later, streaming is a standard option for any national sports broadcast.

But some things never change, especially the appetite for watching two blue-blood SEC football programs with a championship on the line. The SEC’s 2018 title game between Alabama and Georgia drew 17.5 million viewers. That was the second-most watched SEC championship game ever. The most-watched? The 2009 game, with just under 18 million viewers.