Cody came into this season as a consensus All-America and was a finalist for the Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik awards. He blocked two field goals in the fourth quarter of a 12-10 win over Tennessee—the second of those coming as time expired. Just as Florida opponents suffer from Tebow fatigue, some Gators seemed weary of hearing about Mount Cody in the run-up to the SEC title game.
"He ain't Superman now," said Florida right guard Mike Pouncey. "He can be blocked."
No, Cody ain't Superman. But the Gators' problem, on this day in particular and in '09 in general, was that Tebow wasn't Superman either. The folk hero of whom it was written, "Superman wears Tim Tebow pajamas," returned to Earth this season. In the SEC title game he was outplayed by the quarterback whom Alabama fans regarded not so long ago as the booby prize after Tebow broke their hearts.
THE DAY BEFORE HE COMMITTED TO Florida in December 2005, Tebow welcomed then Alabama coach Mike Shula into his house. For 12 hours. The two got on famously, and Shula allowed himself to hope—even though Tebow's parents, Pam and Bob, were Florida alums; even though there was a Danny Wuerffel poster on Tim's bedroom wall. After Tebow made his announcement, recalls Birmingham News columnist and radio talk-show host Paul Finebaum, "the joke around Alabama was that [Shula] must not have noticed the Gator on the mailbox."
Almost as a consolation prize 'Bama signed Greg McElroy, who had thrown 56 TD passes as a senior at Southlake (Texas) Carroll High. After sitting for two years behind John Parker Wilson, the Texan's time arrived. Taking over the offense in 2009, he averaged 234.5 yards and had just one interception during the first four games.
His growing pains, it turned out, had merely been delayed. During a four-game stretch in October, McElroy averaged 126.8 yards passing and threw for two touchdowns.
He pulled out of his funk on Nov. 7, throwing for 276 yards and two touchdowns (against one interception) in a 24-15 win over LSU. After some ugly moments in the Iron Bowl against Auburn on Nov. 27, McElroy saved the Tide's season, leading a 15-play, 79-yard drive that was capped by a four-yard touchdown pass to running back Roy Upchurch with 84 seconds on the clock.
Flush with confidence coming off that rally, McElroy was on fire early against Florida. He opened the game with an 18-yard completion to wideout Julio Jones and deftly mixed pass and run on the drive, which led to the first of Leigh Tiffin's two field goals. That balanced attack prevented the Gators from loading the box to stop Ingram and his studly understudy, freshman Trent Richardson, who had 80 yards on just 11 carries.
On a third-and-five early in the second quarter McElroy rolled right, looking for Ingram, who was covered. Pulling the ball down, McElroy dashed up the right sideline. Trying desperately to stay inbounds before he got to the marker, he hopped twice in succession on his right foot, like a triple jumper—mimicking the "one-leg pops" that are among the plyometrics all Tide players must perform in the off-season during strength coach Scott Cochran's Fourth Quarter Program.
Saban and his staff have missed no opportunity to remind their players that they blew a shot at last season's national title by folding in the fourth quarter against Florida. A 20-17 lead turned into a 31-20 defeat, thanks in part to an offense that generated one yard. The Tide stewed in that failure for a full year. Saban saw to it.