New Orleans, La.--On Monday night the Auburn Tigers will be making their sixth appearance in school history in the Sugar Bowl when Coach Gus Malzahn’s team takes on the Oklahoma Sooners.
Auburn’s first Sugar Bowl came following the 1971 season against Oklahoma as well, a loss to the Sooners. The Tigers then beat Michigan following the 1983 season, tied Syracuse four years later, and lost to Florida State following the 1988 season.
The last appearance for Auburn in the Sugar Bowl came 12 seasons ago when Tommy Tuberville’s Tigers defeated Virginia Tech to complete a perfect 13-0 season.
That game and season is forever etched in the memory of many Auburn fans and the players on that team are no different.
One of the key players that day was running back Carnell Williams. A future first round NFL selection, Williams said capping off the season with a win in the Sugar Bowl made everything worth it for he and his teammates.
“It meant everything in the world to us,” Williams said of the win. “We had the opportunity to come down to the Sugar Bowl and they do an awesome job of laying it out for the players. Even though we didn’t go to the national championship we wanted to do it for each other, to finish the season out undefeated.
"We also wanted to do it for the Auburn people. We had a sour feeling in our mouths because we weren’t getting to play for it, but us seniors came together and told the guys how important it was to finish it out right.”
The same is true of Williams’ teammate and close friend, defensive back Carlos Rogers. He said the win over the Hokies was a big step and a big finish for his team.
“It was real special just to get the win period to top our season off,” Rogers said. “I don’t want to say we did it to prove something to the committee that didn’t put us in the national championship, but we wanted to show them we were a real team. It’s hard to go through the SEC undefeated and not be in the national championship game.
“We put all that aside and went out there and handled our business. We put it all on the line and came out with a great win.”
That 2004 team was one that got it done on both sides of the ball. While the offense got the headlines, the defense showed up time and time again in big games. Rogers said seeing Auburn’s defense take huge strides this year has made him a happy man.
“I love it, I love it,” Rogers said. “I’m always watching that side of the ball and critiquing things they can do better, like I’m a coach. I just like defense. Anytime you have a good defense it will take you a long way.”
A player who was part of two teams that wound up earning a spot in the Sugar Bowl, wide receiver Dale Overton said the memories he has from his time in New Orleans will be with him forever.
“My first year we went to the Sugar Bowl was my redshirt year and I didn’t get to play in that one,” Overton said of the tie with Syracuse. “That was a huge experience for me and us playing No. 2 Syracuse. For me to come down here to a place like New Orleans was a new experience. Everybody outside of Auburn gave Coach (Pat) Dye a hard time for going for the field goal at the end, but he did it for the senior class so they could leave here as the winningest class ever.
“The next year we went back and played Florida State and I was lucky enough to play in that game and go up against Deion Sanders. It was just a huge experience. We struggled in the first half protecting Reggie (Slack), he was running for his life. In the second half we were able to run the ball and keep them out of the end zone. Of course, everybody remembers the pass interference in the end zone, but it was just a tremendous experience for me, a small hometown boy from Hackleburg to play in two Sugar Bowls.”
Steve Wallace and Ronnie Brown talk about their Sugar Bowl experiences
One of the top players in Auburn history and an All-Pro offensive tackle with three Super Bowl rings, Steve Wallace was on the 1983 team and knows about the importance of playing well in big games. He said having success in the game is big for the team because of what it could mean for the future of the program.
“It’s a great start to recruiting,” Wallace said. “It’s always a happy feeling and the players feel great about the next year. When you can beat a 10-2 Oklahoma team then that says a lot. This is a team that’s highly respected and it’s one that you can get a great start next year with recruiting.”
This current Auburn team now has the chance to make some Sugar Bowl history of their own on Monday night against a 10-win Oklahoma team. Going into the game as underdogs at 8-4 overall, the Tigers could finish with a bang and put themselves into a great position heading into 2017 said Williams.
“I was just telling somebody else that we need to win,” Williams said. “We need to win because, kind of just like last year when they went to Birmingham and won, it just helps everything in your offseason, your spring and your preparation.
“This is a huge game for Auburn. I hope those guys are taking it serious and how important it could be for next year. It could set them up really good just winning Monday night.”