In over 75 years of NCAA football games, the Sugar Bowl has seen its share of thrilling finishes, big-time upsets and clutch performances. Here are a few of the most memorable games that this bowl has given us.
The 72nd Sugar Bowl marked the first and only time that the game was played outside of New Orleans. The change of venue occurred due to the devastating effects that Hurricane Katrina leveled on The Big Easy. The game was moved to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, which certainly seemed to give the #8 Georgia Bulldogs home field advantage over the underdog #11 West Virginia Mountaineers. However, when all was said and done, the Mountaineers upset the Bulldogs 38- 35. West Virginia held underdog status for a few reasons. First, its ranks included eight true freshmen and eleven redshirt frosh. Second, the Mountaineers were from the Big East Conference, a league that was considered to be inferior to the SEC. But with less than four minutes to play, the Bulldogs were down by three and West Virginia held the ball. Then with less than two minutes to play, it looked like Georgia would get one more shot as the Mountaineers had a fourth and six on their own 45. However, Phil Brady pulled a fake punt and ran for 10 yards. UWV held onto the ball for the rest of the game and won. When all was said and done, West Virginia’s rookie tailback Steve Slaton set a new Sugar Bowl record by rushing for 204 yards (breaking Tony Dorsett’s 202 mark, which was set 30 years prior), the Mountaineers finished the year at #5 and the Bulldogs were relegated to #10.
The 40th Sugar Bowl saw #3 Notre Dame meet #1 Alabama. This was a hard-fought, tight contest throughout. With 9:33 left in the fourth quarter, the Crimson Tide went ahead when ‘Bama quarterback Mike Stock ran a trick play that resulted in a touchdown pass to the other Tide quarterback Richard Todd. Bill Davis, Alabama’s placekicker, missed the extra point and with that the score was Alabama 23 and the Irish 21. With 4:12 to go, Notre Dame went up by one point on a 19-yard field goal by Bob Thomas. The Tide made no progress on the next series of downs and punted to the Fighting Irish. The punt was downed at the one-yard line and after two downs the Irish found themselves on their five in a third-and-six situation with 2:12 to go. In an attempt to draw the Tide offsides, famed Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian called for a long count. Instead, Irish tight end Dave Casper moved too early and the team was back on its heels near the two. Parseghian called for a pass play. If the Irish could eek out a first down, they could run out the clock and win the game. The Irish set up as if to run, which drew the Alabama defense in tight. On the play, Notre Dame signal caller Tom Clements took the ball around the left but couldn’t find his go-to receiver Casper. He was covered in the middle of the field. Clements saw his secondary target, Robin Weber in the clear. Weber, who was nursing a knee injury, had not practiced in two days. Additionally, he had not caught a single pass all season. Clements tossed the ball, Weber grabbed it and scampered to the 38. With four more downs in hand, the Irish ran down the clock. Their one point victory made them number one on the nation and the Tide finished the season at #4.
In another game that was for all the marbles, #2 Alabama met #1 Penn State. This time the Crimson Tide would prevail in what was a defensive classic. There were just three scores in this contest. ‘Bama went on the board first as quarterback Jeff Rutledge hit receiver Bruce Bolton with a 30-yard touchdown pass with just eight seconds to go in the first half. In the third quarter, the Nittany Lions tied the game on a 17-yard toss to Scott Fitzkee from Chick Fusina. Then the Tide’s Lon Ikner returned a punt for 62 yards and with the ball on the eight Major Ogilvie ran it in for a score. With the game at 14- 7, the two teams slugged it out in the final quarter. It all ended in a massive goal line stand that included three tries by the Lions to muscle the ball into the end zone. On fourth down, with the ball just a few feet away from the end zone and the game and the National Championship on the line, Penn State’s running back Mike Gunman saw a gaping hole and went for it. Alabama linebacker Barry Krauss bolted towards Gunman, closed the hole and stopped the runner less than a yard from pay dirt. That was the title right there. Alabama was #1 and Penn State #4.
The first BCS title contest was played in the Superdome on January 4, 2000, when the #1 Florida State Seminoles met the #2 Virginia Tech Hokies. Although the score wasn’t close in the end, Florida State won 46- 29 and the teams finished as they had started, ranked first and second, there were some truly spectacular performances. Michael Vick, Tech’s redshirt frosh quarterback, led his team back in the second half when they were down 7- 28. By the end of the third quarter, the Hokies were leading 29- 28. But the Seminoles didn’t miss a beat in the final quarter as they scored 18 unanswered points while shutting down the Hokie offense. Here are some stats from the contest. The Seminole’s Peter Warrick grabbed six passes for 163 yards and scored 20 points, a new Sugar Bowl record. The two teams scored a total of 10 touchdowns and set Sugar Bowl records of 75 total points and 862 total yards on offense. The 503 yards of offense by Virginia Tech was the most compiled by a losing Sugar Bowl team. It was a truly explosive game.
The first Sugar Bowl saw #13 Tulane play #3 Temple. The Tulane Green Wave won the game 20- 14 on the efforts of two fine players: offensive dynamo Claude “Monk” Simons and top performing end Dick Hardy. Simons played the game just one month after fracturing his shoulder on a game-winning punt return versus LSU. His performance included a 75-yard kickoff return in the third period for a touchdown with Temple leading 14- 0. That play sparked the Tulane offense. Later, Hardy caught a touchdown pass and the game was tied. In the fourth quarter, Hardy became the hero, catching a deflected pass on the run and scampering into the end zone to give Temple the lead and, ultimately, the win as the Wave shut down the Owls in the fourth. The victory resulted in Tulane being ranked eighth in the nation, while Temple moved down in the rankings to ninth.