Irish Legends: The Sugar Bowl

When Notre Dame and LSU kickoff Wednesday night, it will mark the return of the country's second-oldest bowl game to its home city of New Orleans. The Irish will be making their fourth appearance in the southern classic, and hoping to come away with their third victory.

Irish Legends takes a brief look at the history of The Sugar Bowl, as well as past Notre Dame appearances in the game and against LSU.

The History

The original idea for the Sugar Bowl came from a New Orleans newspaper publisher, named Colonel James M. Thomson. Thomas, who published The New Orleans Item, teamed up with his sports writer, Fred Digby, in hopes of making their dream a reality. In 1927, they proposed that the city of New Orleans host a New Year's football game. At first the idea was thought to be too ambitious. Despite little support, the idea stayed alive, and picked up momentum. Year after year, more supporters began to believe that the game could actually happen. Plans became more sophisticated, and the game even adopted a name, "The Sugar Bowl." Finally, in 1934, several New Orleans' committees, joined together to form the "Mid-Winter Sports Association." Led by President, Warren V. Miller, the MWSA vowed that the committee would be a "voluntary, non-profit civic organization, whose members serve without remuneration." In addition, any profits from the game would be donated to "charitable, religious, or educational purposes."

So, on January 1, 1935, The Sugar Bowl was born. The inaugural contest pitted the best in the north, Pop Warner's undefeated Temple Owls, against the best of the south, in the undefeated Tulane Green Wave. The game went to the hometown team, as Tulane scored 20 unanswered points to win the game 20-14. The game was an instant success. In fact, Tulane Stadium, which hosted the event from 1935-1974, can thank The Sugar Bowl for its stadium expansion. "The Queen of Southern Stadiums" which had originally had a capacity of 35,000, was continually expanded until it held nearly 81,000 fans. In 1975, The Sugar Bowl moved to the brand new Louisiana Superdome. Since its inception in 1935, New Orleans has hosted every Sugar Bowl with the exception of 2005. After Katrina, the game moved to Atlanta for one year, but will be making its return on Wednesday.

The Sugar Bowl has traditionally matched the best team in the SEC against an at-large opponent. Notre Dame has been selected three times in the past, of which Notre Dame has won two games, including a national championship.

Notre Dame in The Sugar Bowl

December 31, 1973

"Give Tommy Clements all the credit in the world!" proclaimed legendary broadcaster, Howard Cosell.

It was one of the "Games of the Century" in which #1 ranked Alabama (11-0) faced undefeated Notre Dame (10-0), who was ranked #3 in the AP and #4 in the URI poll. The game also matched the brilliant football minds of Paul "Bear" Bryant and Ara Parseghian. Played on the drenched artificial turf of Tulane Stadium, Notre Dame trailed 23-21 after Alabama scored on a trick play. Alabama missed the extra point, and Notre Dame took the lead shortly thereafter on a field goal, putting the Irish ahead 24-23. With three minutes to play in the game, Alabama kicker Greg Gantt bombed a 69 yard punt, pinning the Irish on their own 2-yard line. The hope was that the Alabama defense, which had played well, could force Notre Dame to punt which would put Alabama in great field position for a game-winning field goal. After shutting down two conservative Notre Dame runs up the middle, the Irish faced a 3rd down and long from their own end zone. A safety would would give Alabama the victory, and a punt would likely give Alabama a chance to win the game with a field goal. Parseghian called a play-action pass in which Clements was supposed to hit Notre Dame tight end, Dave Casper, on a crossing route. However, when Clements looked up after the fake, he saw wide receiver Robin Weber instead. Clements hit Weber in stride, and connected for a 36 yard pass play. Not only did it give Notre Dame a first down, but it allowed the Irish to run out the clock and claim their 9th National Championship.

January 1, 1981

Facing an undersized, and allegedly overrated Georgia team, the #7 Fighting Irish were expected to run over the Bulldogs. On the first play from scrimmage for the Bulldogs, freshman sensation, Herschel Walker, took a punishing hit. Team doctors told Walker that he was finished for the day with a dislocated shoulder. However, Walker insisted that the doctors pop it back into place, so that he could return to the game. Walker went on to run for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns. As the game wound down, Notre Dame trailed 17-10. Georgia had been unable to move the ball most of the second half, as the bigger Notre Dame defense was wearing them down. With time running out, Notre Dame quarterback, Blair Kiel, was intercepted by the Georgia defense. Amazingly, Georgia quarterback, Buck Belue, had not completely a single pass the entire game. He had misfired on all eleven attempts. That was until the final drive, in which he connected on a 7 yard pass play to Amp Arnold. That first down would allow Georgia to run out the clock, and claim their first National Championship.

January 1, 1992

They said Notre Dame had no chance against Florida. "They" referred to every media outlet willing to comment on the game. The third ranked Gators, were supposedly too fast and too talented for the #18 Fighting Irish. It will be remembered by some as the "Cheerios Bowl." The story goes that Coach Lou Holtz was asked by a New Orleans waiter, "What is the difference between Cheerios and Notre Dame?" The answer was that Cheerios belonged in a bowl. Master motivator, Lou Holtz, made sure to pass this story along to his team. It was also the game that Holtz unveiled the road-green uniforms. The Irish took the field in sharp-looking white jerseys with green numbers and green socks. At first the Irish struggled with the Florida offense, and trailed 16-7 at halftime. However, Holtz made adjustments at the intermission, which included dropping as many as eight or nine guys into pass coverage. In the second half, Notre Dame's running attack proved to be too much for the Florida defense to handle. Running backs Jerome Bettis, Rodney Culver, and Tony Brooks combined for 311 yards and 7.4 yards per carry. Bettis put the game away with two long touchdown scampers, as the Irish upset the Gators 39-28.

Notre Dame versus LSU

Wednesday will be the tenth time that the Irish and the Tigers clash. Notre Dame holds a 5-4 advantage, including their most recent meeting in 1998 at Notre Dame Stadium. This will be the first time since 1971 that both squads come into the game ranked. The only time the teams met in a bowl game, was the 1997 Independence Bowl. LSU won that game 27-9. Historically, Notre Dame has played well against SEC teams, compiling a 21-12 record over the premier conference in the south. However, LSU presents a speed challenge that will really stretch Notre Dame. In the past, Notre Dame has rivaled the southern speed with a powerful defense. This year, the strength is certainly in the offense. Notre Dame may have to win a shootout, and hope that LSU is inconsistent on offense. If Notre Dame can find the inspired defense that they have been missing, the Irish should have a very good shot at winning. The Irish have never had the team speed that LSU has this year, but that does not mean they cannot win. They need to be quick with decision making and playing the ball. Mental speed can help to overcome the physical speed deficit, but that is also where Notre Dame has struggled at times this year.

Prediction

Irish Legends has not been too successful with predictions this year, with the exception of the Navy game. So instead of predicting a score, Irish Legends will make note of a key of the game for Wednesday night.

-One of the biggest mismatches in the game will be the LSU defense, against the Notre Dame offensive line. The Irish line has really struggled this season, and everyone including Charlie Weis knows it. Expect Charlie to draw up a number of short dump-off and safety valve plays. Quinn will take a beating on Wednesday, but LSU gives up only 93 rushing yards per game. The Notre Dame passing game will be key, especially the short-range passes.

On paper, LSU appears to deserve the 8.5 point favorite that they have been declared. They have the nations #3 ranked pass defense, and #2 ranked total defense. They appear to be very similar to Michigan, in the threats that they present to Notre Dame. The question will be turnovers and passion. The long layoff between the regular season and bowl game can flatten a team's spirit, especially if the game is not for the National Championship. Expect a close game, but Notre Dame will have to find a way to score on the LSU defense. If Notre Dame comes out flat, they could be in for a long night. LSU seems extremely confident, but it is hard to believe that they would take Notre Dame lightly. This Sugar Bowl is extremely important to LSU, their fans, and the state of Louisiana. If the Irish bring their "A game" this should be another exciting Battle in the Bayou.


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