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SEC Championship: The Long Road to the Rose Bowl Stadium

Posted: Dec 05, 2009

The day was September 12, 1970. The integrated football team of University of Southern California met the all-white team of the University of Alabama at Legion Field in Birmingham, AL. The Pac 10 Trojans represented the first fully integrated team to ever play Alabama in the south, and they routed the Crimson Tide by a score of 42-21.  Every Trojan  touchdown was scored by an African-American player. Two of the touchdowns were scored by USC's Sam Cunningham. (see video of 1970 game).

The legendary "Bear" Bryant was the coach of the Crimson Tide. Bryant had long known that Alabama needed to integrate their squad in order to become nationally competitive. The USC game in 1970 gave Bryant the ammunition he needed. It has been said that Sam "Bam" Cunningham did more to integrate Alabama in 60 minutes than Martin Luther King Jr. did in 20 years.
Today, December 5,  at 3 pm Central Time in Atlanta, GA, # 2 ranked Alabama will meet #1 ranked Florida for the SEC playoff game. Thirty-nine years after that Tide-changing game,  two black Alabama players are among the most  beloved Crimson Tide stars.  Sophomore running back Mark Ingram is a Heisman hopeful, and sophomore receiver Julio Jones was elected to a student-government seat after last season without even campaigning. He declined to serve due to his full schedule, but his election attested to his popularity.
If Alabama wins this contest they should return to the Rose Bowl stadium on January 7, the site of that contest 84 years ago when they became the first southeastern team to defeat a northern team--squeaking by the University of Washington Huskies 20-19 with Johnny Mack Brown making the game-saving tackle in the final moments. 

The good news for Alabama is that Mark Ingram expects to be recovered from his hip injury, and the heart and heft of the Alabama defense Rolando McClain and Terrence Cody will be loaded for Gator. Then, of course, there is Muscle Shoals native and finalist for the Lou Groza award, kicker Leigh Tiffin.The bad news is that Florida is a one touchdown favorite.

The bad news for Florida is that the Gators will be playing without their powerful defensive end Carlos Dunlap. The good news is that running back Chris Rainey is in top form and so is Heisman trophy winner Tim Tebow

The playoff this afternoon promises to be the game of the year. My daughter, a dyed-in-the-wool Auburn Tiger fan and my son-in-law will be siting in the stands. I will be glued to my flat screen, yelling for the best team to win and (in spite of my love for Auburn) secretly hoping that Alabama will go to Pasadena to play for the BSC national championship and get a chance to demonstrate their worthiness to be the number one team in the US.
----Penne J. Laubenthal

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