During my lifetime, the college football world has witnessed some historical national championship games. Whether it was under the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) or the College Football Playoff (CFP) umbrella, some interesting and intense matchups have been played on the biggest stage.
Just recently, the Georgia Bulldogs defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide for the 2022 crown — their first in 41 years.
With that, I thought I’d explore, what I believe to be, the top five national championship games I’ve watched in real time. (Note: I was born in 1997)
No. 5: Alabama defeats Texas 37-21 in 2009
This game was seemingly a wrap when Texas quarterback Colt McCoy left early in the game with a shoulder injury. So, this one didn’t come down to the wire or anything like that.
I rank it No. 5, though, because of the historical significance.
This was year No. 2 under Nick Saban for the Crimson Tide. Let’s say McCoy stays healthy throughout the entire contest and Texas wins? Does the Alabama dynasty even begin? Are the Crimson Tide as dominant?
So much history could have been rewritten if Texas called a different play that McCoy got hurt on or whatever else might’ve been different.
We’ll, obviously, never know, but it begs the question: What could have been?
No. 4: Florida defeats Oklahoma 24-14 in 2008
Two factors went into placing this game at No. 4.
The first being that this was the first national championship game I can remember watching as I was only 11 years old. So, a little nostalgia kicks in when thinking about this game.
Then, there’s Florida quarter Tim Tebow’s “promise.”
Halfway through the ‘08 season, the Gators were upset 31-30 against Ole Miss. In the postgame press conference, Tebow delivered a resounding speech to become known as the “I promise” speech.
The whole message relayed to the media that day was Tebow assuring the fanbase and supporters that the current team was going to get better from that point on.
Tebow and the Gators delivered on that promise, too, winning the rest of their games including the national championship. It was truly magical to see how that unfolded.
No. 3: LSU defeats Clemson 42-25 in 2019
Sometimes, you have dynasties formed like Alabama or the New England Patriots. Other times, the stars align, teams catch lightning in the bottle or however else you want to categorize it.
The 2019 LSU Tigers fall under the latter category, because the stars aligned perfectly for a dominant championship run.
Along the way to defeating Clemson to win it all, the Tigers downed six top-10 teams by an average of more than two touchdowns.
Led by Joe Burrow, Jamarr Chase and Clyde Edwards-Helaire as well as offensive analyst Joe Brady, the Tigers’ offense was a sight to see throughout the season.
And, even though winning the national championship seemed inevitable, this championship game has to be ranked No. 3 because of what it capped.
No. 2: FSU defeats Auburn 34-31 in 2014
Now, three through five on my list had to do with historical significance and nostalgia. The next two have to do with the actual game themselves.
Starting with the Florida State Seminoles defeating Auburn in 2014.
This national championship concluded the BCS era and, boy, what an ending it was.
Trailing 31-27 with just 1:20 remaining in the game, the Seminoles seemed to be on the losing end. But Jameis Winston had other plans.
On what turned out to be the game-winning drive, FSU drove 80 yards in seven plays and 1:06. The drive was capped off by a touchdown pass from Winston to Kelvin Benjamin for a 2-yard score.
I firmly believe this connection between Winston and Benjamin delivered the second-best moment in championship history that I’ve ever witnessed myself.
No. 1: Alabama defeats UGA 26-23 (OT) in 2018
The single best moment in championship history that I’ve seen in real time was when the Crimson Tide came back to defeat the Georgia Bulldogs in 2017.
On a play that is known as “2nd and 26,” freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa connected with freshman wideout Devonta Smith for the game-winning score in overtime.
The touchdown helped claim the 2018 crown for the Crimson Tide.
But, does that one moment warrant this game being my No. 1? Not at all.
The reason this game sits atop my list has to do with one thing: Guts.
You see, at halftime, the Crimson Tide trailed UGA 13-0 and their offense was dormant. Then, during the intermission, head coach Nick Saban made a change.
He subbed out Jalen Hurts who went 26-2 as a starter for a freshman who had just seen minimal action throughout that season.
Saban’s decision turned out to be the correct one as Alabama came back to win.
As I sit here and write this column, I vividly remember saying to myself right after this game, “No one else will ever have the guts to pull that off again on this stage.” And, right now, I stand by that statement.
There might be some coaches who challenge Saban on his throne as ‘greatest college football coach of all-time,’ but there’ll never be a coach to make a gutsy decision on the biggest stage in college football.
And that is why, this game is my No. 1 favorite I’ve watched in real time.
Phillip B. Hubbard is sports editor for The Covington News. Reach him at email@example.com