Sunday’s NFC Championship Game between the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers marks the final time a game will be played on the turf at the Georgia Dome. Since opening in 1992, the Dome has been the venue of Super Bowls, Final Fours, and every year since 1994, the SEC Championship Game.
The Dome is set to be demolished later this year, as the brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium next door is in the final stages of construction and will be ready for the football season in the fall.
With the NFC Championship Game marking the end of an era for football in the South, we thought this would be a good opportunity to run down some of the SEC’s best moments in the Georgia Dome, since it’s been the site of so many significant moments in the conference’s history.
The first SEC title game to ever be played in the Georgia Dome set the tone for the many memorable games that were to come. In 1994, much like 2016, it was the Alabama Crimson Tide facing the Florida Gators. But unlike the most recent edition, it was the Gators holding the trophy at the end of the day.
1997 was similarly exciting, and not just because it featured Peyton Manning. Manning’s Tennessee Volunteers took it down to the wire against Auburn, narrowly escaping with a 30-29 victory. After Auburn took a 20-7 lead, Manning led the Vols all the way back with three second-half TDs.
The 2000s also featured several breathtaking games. In 2001, Nick Saban’s LSU squad denied Tennessee a trip to the BCS title game, beating the Vols 31-20. 2006 introduced the country to a freshman named Tim Tebow (who had just 31 yards rushing in the game), as the future national champion Gators beat Darren McFadden and Arkansas 38-28. 2008’s SEC championship was perhaps the most hyped in the game’s history, as the No. 2 Florida Gators — led by Tebow — took down No. 1 Alabama 31-20.
But it was 2012 that brought us what was probably the best SEC title game we’ve ever seen. As No. 2 Alabama squared off against No. 3 Georgia in what was a de-facto national semifinal, the game more than lived up to the hype. The Bulldogs ultimately came up just 4 yards short, as Aaron Murray completed a pass to Chris Conley in the middle of the field, allowing the clock to expire. The Crimson Tide went on to slaughter Notre Dame in the BCS title game, earning Nick Saban his third national title in a four-year span.
Those are just the SEC titles games, however, and only a few of them at that. There were several excellent bowl games played in the Georgia Dome featuring SEC teams as well. Included in that group is Texas A&M’s comeback in 2013, led by Johnny Manziel, to turn a 38-17 halftime deficit into a 52-48 victory in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Duke. The 2012 edition of that same bowl game was similarly memorable, though it ended in a 25-24 LSU defeat to Clemson.
All things considered, it was a great run for the SEC’s relationship with the Georgia Dome. It’s hard to think about one without the other at this point, though the league at least won’t have to alter its travel plans much, as the 2017 SEC Championship Game will be held at Mercedes-Benz Stadium through at least 2026. Time will tell if the new venue can create as many memories as its predecessor.