COUNTDOWN TO SUGAR:70 years and counting

Within the massive expanse that is college football history, the Sugar Bowl certainly towers as one of the sport's great pillars of tradition. <br><br> For seven decades, two of the nation's top teams have met in the New Orleans with championship ramifications involved several times. BCS No. 2-ranked LSU and top-seeded Oklahoma will meet in the 70th annual Nokia Sugar Bowl on January 4.

It marks the fifth time in the game's history that the nation's top two teams have faced off with the national title at stake.


The first Sugar Bowl took place on January 1, 1935. The game was the brainchild of New Orleans Item publisher Colonel James M. Thompson and sports columnist Fred Digby. The duo developed the idea originally in 1927 as a rival to the Rose Bowl, which was still drawing 60,000 people a year even in the midst of the Great Depression. The game was to be part of a midwinter sports cavalcade that would include a variety of athletic events. It seemed a natural fit for New Orleans, which was a popular winter vacation destination at the time.


It took some time but eventually enough support was garnered to begin planning the event. The inaugural game would be held in Tulane Stadium and was named the Sugar Bowl because of both the Louisiana staple crop and the fact that the stadium stood on a former sugar plantation.


A crowd of 22,026 watched Tulane defeat Temple (coached by the legendary Pop Warner) 20-14 in an exciting game that featured a Tulane comeback from a 14-0 Temple deficit.

As the game grew in importance, so did the crowd.


The stadium's capacity would be increased to 81,000 over the following decades, and the Sugar Bowl would be held in Tulane Stadium until 1975 when it was moved to the vast expanse of the Louisiana Superdome.


Since that first contest, the Sugar Bowl has been the stage for some of the greatest clashes in college football history. Sixteen times the winner of the game has been crowned the national champion.


The most recent national championship game was in 2000, when two undefeated teams, No. 1 Florida State and second-ranked Virginia Tech faced off for the BCS championship. The game was a national coming out party for Hokies' redshirt-freshman quarterback Michael Vick. Vick completed 15-29 passes for 225 yards and one touchdown and also ran for 97 yards and a score, dazzling fans with agility and speed unseen before at his position. But ultimately FSU would prevail 46-29, led by MVP and All-American receiver Peter Warrick who caught six passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns and also returned a punt 59 yards for a score. 


Another memorable contest was the 1993 game, in which Alabama clinched a national title by decimating heavily-favored Miami 34-13. The Hurricanes explosive offense and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Gino Torretta was shut down by a dominating Crimson Tide defense. The image of Alabama safety George Teague chasing down a Miami receiver and preventing a sure touchdown by stripping the football is one that is well remembered by fans of both teams.


Alabama leads all teams in Sugar Bowl appearances with 12 (and a record of 8-4).


The Crimson Tide also captured a national championship in the 1979 contest, a dramatic 14-7 win over Penn State. The game featured a dramatic fourth-quarter goal-line stand by the Tide that culminated with Nittany Lion back Mike Guman leaping for the endzone only to be knocked back by Alabama's Barry Krause (who won MVP honors in the game).


The legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant of Alabama coached in a record nine Sugar Bowls, with a combined record of 8-1. Several legendary coaches have graced the sidelines of the game, including Bobby Bowden of Florida State, LSU's Charles McClendon, coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osbourne from Nebraska, the legendary Woody Hayes of Ohio State, and Joe Paterno of Penn State.


Some of the game's most legendary players have also left their mark on the Sugar Bowl. Heisman Trophy winners Tony Dorsett, Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, and Danny Wuerffel have all graced the Sugar Bowl gridiron. The game's top player annually receives the Miller-Digby Award. Past winners include Florida State's Warrick Dunn, Jerome Bettis of Notre Dame, Pitt's Dan Marino, and Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning.


LSU and Oklahoma met once before in the 1950 Sugar Bowl, which the Sooners won handily, 35-0. Coach Bud Wilkinson's OU team was led by quarterback Darrell Royal and easily dominated the overmatched Tigers.


LSU has a 4-7 all-time record in the Sugar Bowl but coach Nick Saban is 1-0 in his only trip, winning the 2002 classic over Illinois 47-34. LSU broke eight Sugar Bowl records in the game, including passing yards (444 for Rohan Davey), receptions and yards (14 for 239 by Josh Reed), rushing TDs (four by Domanick Davis), and total offense (595 yards).


The Tigers' only national title was clinched with a 7-0 win over Clemson in the 1959 Sugar Bowl. All-American halfback Billy Cannon clinched the win for LSU with a touchdown pass to end Mickey



Oklahoma has a 4-1 record in the game. The Sooners' last appearance in the Sugar Bowl came in 1972. Chuck Fairbanks coached the Sooners to a 14-0 victory over Penn State.


This is current Sooners coach Bob Stoops' first appearance in the game, though he was defensive coordinator for Florida when they beat Florida State 56-20 in the 1997 Sugar Bowl (which clinched a national title for the Gators).


The 2003 Sugar Bowl will feature two teams with both dominating defenses and explosive offenses. Two defensive-minded coaches who are considered to be amongst the best in the nation will no doubt help this year's Sugar Bowl to be one of the game's most memorable matchups.

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