The site of the fourth-ever meeting between the Crimson Tide and the Buckeyes is the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, a game that is practically home turf for Southeastern Conference champions. While Alabama makes a record 16th appearance in the game, Ohio State will be appearing in only its fifth Sugar Bowl, a postseason contest that has nearly eight decades of history behind it.
The inaugural Sugar Bowl game was played Jan. 1, 1935, tying it with the Orange and Sun bowls as the second oldest postseason games in college football. The Rose Bowl, first played in 1902, continues to be The Granddaddy of Them All.
Ideas for a New Year’s Day football game in New Orleans were being formulated as early as 1927 when newspaper publisher James M. Thomson presented a plan to bring together two major college football programs to play in the Big Easy.
For the next several years, Thomson and New Orleans Item sports editor Fred Digby tried to build support for the game, even coming up with the Sugar Bowl name before the game ever got off the ground. The moniker was derived from the fact that Tulane University – the proposed host site – had been built on the site of an old sugar cane plantation.
With the formation of the New Orleans Mid-Winter Sports Association, the game finally became a reality with Tulane hosting the inaugural contest in 1935 and taking a 20-14 victory against Temple, a team coached at the time by the legendary Glenn “Pop” Warner.
Tulane Stadium hosted the game through 1975 after which it was moved to the Louisiana Superdome in downtown New Orleans. It has been played there ever since with the exception of the 2006 game, which was moved because of extensive damage to the Superdome inflicted by Hurricane Katrina. The ’06 game between West Virginia and Georgia was played in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Since its inception, the Sugar Bowl has evolved in several ways. After Tulane hosted the inaugural game in 1935, LSU played in each of the next three contests and lost them all.
The 1956 game was surrounded by controversy when Georgia Tech debated whether to play Pittsburgh because the Panthers were led by fullback/linebacker Bobby Grier, who was black. Georgia Gov. Marvin Griffin was bitterly opposed to integration, and just weeks before the game, Griffin made public a telegram he sent to his state’s board of regents imploring that teams from Georgia not engage in racially integrated sporting events.
Some fought to bar either Grier or the entire Pittsburgh team from the game, but Grier eventually played and became the first black player to participate in the Sugar Bowl.
Georgia Tech took a 7-0 victory over the Panthers, but the game’s only score resulted from a disputed first-quarter pass interference penalty that went against Grier, a call that many believed could have gone either way.
In 1960, the Sugar Bowl became the first college bowl game telecast in color from coast to coast, and the game was played at night for the first time in 1972 when Oklahoma took a 14-0 win against Penn State on New Year’s Eve. Five years later, the game signed an exclusive agreement with the Southeastern Conference.
The Sugar Bowl joined forces in 1991 with the Orange, Cotton and Fiesta bowls as well as the ACC, Big East and Notre Dame to form the Bowl Coalition. Three years later, that group evolved into the College Football Bowl Alliance. Then in 1997, the Sugar Bowl aligned with the Orange, Fiesta and Rose bowls to form the Bowl Championship Series, and the game served as the BCS title game following the 1999 season when Florida State emerged as champion.
The Sugar Bowl served as the title game venue again in 2003 (LSU won in its home state) before the BCS expanded two years later to a format that featured a separate national championship game. New Orleans hosted its first title game under that format following the 2007 and 2011 seasons, with LSU again capturing the former game and Alabama winning the latter.
When the BCS was dissolved in favor of the current College Football Playoff format, the Sugar Bowl was designated one of six postseason games – along with the Rose, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta and Peach bowls – to host national semifinal games on a rotating basis.
OSU is 2-2 in its previous trips to the Sugar Bowl, and another postseason game in New Orleans resulted in a 38-24 loss to LSU in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game.
Here is a brief summary of Ohio State’s five previous postseason appearances in New Orleans. 1978 – No postseason game drew a larger buzz than the Sugar Bowl played Jan. 3, 1978, since it pitted two of college football’s coaching legends against one another. Paul “Bear” Bryant brought his third-ranked Alabama team into the contest against Woody Hayes and his No. 9 Buckeyes for the first and only time the two coaching giants met.
Unfortunately, the game failed to live up to the pregame hype as the Crimson Tide rolled to a 35-6 victory. After a scoreless first quarter, Alabama scored 21 straight points and ran away with the win.
Quarterback Jeff Rutledge earned game MVP honors for the Crimson Tide after he completed 8 of 11 passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Rutledge led an attack that piled up 389 total yards, 280 of it on the ground.
Alabama tried to make things closer by fumbling 10 times in the game, but the Tide lost only two of those miscues.
Ohio State managed only 263 yards and turned the ball over three times. QB Rod Gerald accounted for the Buckeyes’ lone score with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Jim Harrell in the fourth quarter, but Gerald was limited to a 7-for-17 passing performance for 103 yards and three interceptions.
1998 – The New Year’s Day contest was a painful one for Ohio State fans to watch and even more so for quarterbacks Joe Germaine and Stan Jackson as they were constantly harassed by a smothering Florida State defense during a 31-14 win for the fourth-ranked Seminoles.
Germaine and Jackson stood in as best they could against the withering FSU pass rush, but the Seminoles totaled six sacks and three interceptions in the game. Germaine completed only 10 of 26 attempts for 173 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions while Jackson was 6 for 10 for 34 yards, no TDs and one pick.
OSU took an early lead on Dan Stultz’s 40-yard field goal late in the first quarter, but Florida State erased that on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Thad Busby to flanker E.G. Green on the final play of the opening period. Things remained close until right before halftime when the Seminoles tallied a pair of rushing touchdowns in the final 3½ minutes.
Busby completed 22 of 33 passes for 334 yards and one score, and he also rushed for a touchdown. Meanwhile, Green was voted the game’s most outstanding player after he finished with seven catches for 176 yards and a touchdown. Green came within two yards of the Sugar Bowl record set by Alabama’s Ray Perkins during his team’s 34-7 win over Nebraska in 1967.
The real stars of the game, however, were Florida State defensive end Andre Wadsworth, who tallied three tackles for loss including two sacks and an interception, and linebacker Sam Cowart, who had nine total stops and several key quarterback pressures. The Seminoles’ six sacks were part of an amazing 19 tackles for loss they registered in the game.
1999 – One year after being battered and bruised at the Superdome, Germaine led his team to a decisive 24-14 victory over Texas A&M.
The Aggies tallied on their first possession of the game when running back Dante Hall scored a 9-yard touchdown to give his team an early 7-0 lead. But the Buckeyes came roaring back as Germaine engineered a pair of 71-yard touchdown drives, the first covering eight plays and the second encompassing only six.
OSU then put an exclamation point on the first-half proceedings when Derek Ross smothered A&M punter Shane Leckler and Kevin Griffin scooped up the blocked kick and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown.
Germaine completed 21 of 38 passes for 222 yards. Junior wide receiver David Boston was named the game’s MVP after he grabbed 11 receptions for 105 yards. Boston came within one catch of tying the Sugar Bowl record of 12 receptions set by Arkansas receiver Chuck Dicus during a 16-2 win over Georgia in 1969.
The Buckeyes pounded out 432 yards of total offense, including 210 on the ground. Joe Montgomery carried nine times for 96 yards and a touchdown while Michael Wiley added 88 yards on 16 attempts.
2008 – Ohio State made its second consecutive appearance in the BCS National Championship Game, but the Buckeyes wound up on the short end of a 38-24 decision to hometown favorite LSU. Eager to make up for the previous year’s blowout loss to Florida, OSU took an early 10-0 lead thanks to a 65-yard touchdown bolt from Chris “Beanie” Wells and a 25-yard field goal from Ryan Pretorius.
But the roof caved in after that. The Tigers clawed their way back into it with a 32-yard field goal from Colt David, and then tied the score with a touchdown drive aided by a pair of crucial penalties called against the Buckeyes.
OSU was poised to regain the lead midway through the second quarter, but LSU defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois blocked a Pretorius field-goal attempt. The Tigers turned that into a touchdown and they never looked back. They intercepted quarterback Todd Boeckman and turned that into another score, and a crucial roughing-the-punter penalty allowed LSU to sustain another touchdown drive.
In all, the Tigers scored 31 straight points to take an insurmountable third-quarter lead. The Buckeyes actually outgained their opponents by a 353-326 margin, but OSU committed three costly turnovers and committed seven penalties for 83 yards.
Wells led the Ohio State offense with a game-high 146 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Meanwhile, Boeckman completed 15 of 26 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns, but he also pitched two interceptions and was sacked five times.
LSU quarterback Matt Flynn was an efficient 19 of 27 for 175 yards, one TD and one interception. Seven of Flynn’s completions went to speedy receiver Early Doucet, who turned them into 51 yards and a touchdown.
Running back Jacob Hester added 86 yards and a score rushing for the Tigers, who became the only two-loss team to capture a national championship during the BCS era.
2011 – Ohio State ended a 0-for-9 postseason streak against SEC competition with a 31-26 victory against Arkansas, a bittersweet win that was later vacated by an NCAA investigation initiated by several OSU players trading and/or selling autographs and other memorabilia for tattoos.
Shortly before leaving Columbus, the university announced that quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan “Boom” Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, offensive lineman Mike Adams and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas would be eligible to play in the Sugar Bowl but would be suspended for the first five games of the 2011 regular season.
The pregame distraction seemed to have little effect on the Buckeyes, who jumped out to a 28-7 lead late in the first half and still enjoyed a 31-13 cushion following a 46-yard field goal from Devin Barclay with 4:10 remaining in the third quarter.
Arkansas scratched its way back, however, with a touchdown and two-point conversion with 58 seconds to go in the third period. The Razorbacks added a safety and a field goal to make it a one-possession game at 31-26 with 8:55 remaining, and then they blocked an Ohio State punt and recovered on the 18-yard line with just over a minute to go.
But the Buckeyes rallied on defense, intercepting Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett’s second-down pass to preserve the victory.
Each of the to-be-suspended OSU players played a key role in the victory. Adams provided protection for Pryor, who threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns while adding a team-high 115 yards rushing. Meanwhile, Herron carried 24 times for 87 yards and a score, and Posey had three catches for 70 yards and a TD.
Topping things off, Thomas had the game-saving interception with just 58 seconds remaining.
The Buckeyes returned to Columbus to a scandal that simply wouldn’t go away. After more allegations surfaced, the team was forced to vacate each of its 11 victories during the 2010 season, Pryor left school, and head coach Jim Tressel was fired for failing to disclose to the university or the NCAA his knowledge of the matter while it was occurring.