Heisman Trophy Winners in the Sugar Bowl
By Marty Mulé, Allstate Sugar Bowl historian

Photo by Tim AlexanderIt is fitting that the Sugar Bowl, one of the highlights of every college football season, has also included many of the greatest players in the game's history. In its first 76 years, the New Orleans Classic has featured 15 Heisman Trophy winners - many who only enhanced their reputations with their performances in the bowl. Those efforts lead to a pair of trivia questions - which Heisman winner threw for 700 yards in the Sugar Bowl? And which one ran for 337 yards?

Though these individual stars led their teams to New Orleans, the Heisman have proven to be no guarantor of victory in the Sugar Bowl. In the 19 Sugar Bowl games in which those 15 individuals were on the roster, their teams won eight and lost 11.

Their appearances are nearly evenly divided: nine times the recipient played in the Sugar Bowl the same season he won the award; nine times the player got it in a later season; and once did the star play in the Sugar Bowl after he won the Heisman in an earlier season. In addition, three times the player played in the Sugar both before and in the gilded season - which provides the hook to the trivia questions.

Florida's Danny Wuerffel quarterbacked the Gators in the 1995 Sugar Bowl, when he was a sophomore, throwing for 394 yards and a touchdown in a 23-17 defeat against archrival Florida State. Two years later, after Wuerffel was presented the coveted bronze statue, he was 18-of-34 for 306 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-20 victory against the same rival Seminoles. As lagniappe, this time Wuerffel was also the Miller-Digby Award recipient as the game's MVP - and his team also was accorded the national championship.

Georgia's Herschel Walker, in three straight appearances in the Sugar Bowl, most of any Heisman winner, rushed for 150 yards, 84 yards and 103 yards against Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Penn State, respectively. Just for seasoning, he also caught three passes for another 53 yards.

Walker's performance against the Irish was especially noteworthy, not only because the 17-10 victory gave the Bulldogs the national title but because he did it under extreme duress: he separated a shoulder early in the game, but still played well enough to score two touchdowns and be named MVP. The 150 yards he gained came against a defense that hadn't given up as much as 100 to any opponent during the regular season - and taking away Walker's yeoman's effort and the Bulldogs registered minus-30 yards of rushing offense.

That's one impressive day of football, coming in the only Sugar Bowl Walker and Georgia would win in their memorable three-year run.

The other multiple-appearance Heisman winner was LSU's Billy Cannon, who was also the MVP in the 1959 game after throwing a halfback pass for a touchdown, kicking the PAT and being in on many defensive plays in a 7-0 victory over Clemson. Unfortunately, the next season Cannon's team was beaten 21-0 in a rematch from the regular season with Ole Miss.

Florida's Steve Spurrier played a part in three Sugar Bowls, but only one as a player: in a memorable 1966 game against Missouri in which he became the first athlete from a losing team to be named MVP after throwing for 352 yards. He then coached in two, including the national title Sugar Bowl in which Wuerffel shone in 1997.

For a one-Sugar Bowl appearance, it would be hard to overlook Pittsburgh's Tony Dorsett, who rushed for 202 yards and a touchdown in the 1977 game against Georgia. That rushing total stood as the Sugar Bowl record for almost three decades, until West Virginia's Steve Slaton broke it by one yard in the 2006 game - coincidently, also against Georgia in a 38-35 Mountaineer upset. However, in 2010, another Florida star and Heisman winner turned in a dominant performance as quarterback Tim Tebow set the Sugar Bowl record with 482 passing yards, completing 31-of-35 passes, in a 51-24 shellacking of third-ranked Cincinnati.

Another legendary tailback who added the Miller-Digby Award to go with a Heisman Trophy was Auburn's Bo Jackson, who ran for 130 yards in a 9-7 victory over Michigan in the 1984 Sugar Bowl. Jackson added to his legend in the Superdome in his rookie year in the NFL when he threw a ball which hit the Dome's overhead scoreboard, believed to be the only player to manage that trick.

The very first Heisman recipient to make an appearance in the Sugar Bowl was Texas Christian's Davey O'Brien in 1939. O'Brien, playing in an era when the pass was rarely the first option, put up numbers which would not be out of place in today's pass-happy style. In a 15-7 victory over Carnegie Tech, O'Brien was 17-of-28 passing for 224 yards and one touchdown.

The single Heisman recipient who never did make a dent on the Sugar Bowl stat sheet was Penn State's John Cappelletti, whose team played Oklahoma on New Year's Eve of 1972. He earned his Heisman trophy the following season. Cappelletti had the flu and was in his hotel bed when his Nitttany Lions took the field against the Sooners in the Sugar Bowl. The only indication he was on Penn State's squad afterward was the designation: DNP, nonetheless, he was a part of that team.

HEISMAN TROPHY WINNERS IN THE SUGAR BOWL

YEAR IN SUGAR BOWL

PLAYER

SCHOOL

RECORD IN SUGAR BOWL

PERFORMANCE IN SUGAR BOWL

1939

Davey O'Brien

TCU

1-0

17-27-0; 224 yards; 1 TD

1951

Billy Vessels

Oklahoma

0-1

2 receptions for 21 yards

1959,'60

Billy Cannon

LSU

1-1

1959: 51 rushing yards; 9 yards passing; 1 TD
1960: 8 rushing yards; 3 receptions for 39 yards

1966

Steve Spurrier

Florida

0-1

22-45-2; 352 yards; 2 TDs

1972 (Jan.)

Pat Sullivan

Auburn

0-1

20-44-1; 250 yards, 2 TDs

1972 (Dec.)

John Cappelletti

Penn State

0-1

Did Not Play

1977

Tony Dorsett

Pittsburgh

1-0

202 rushing yards; 1 TD

1981,'82,'83

Herschel Walker

Georgia

1-2

1981: 150 rushing yards; 2 TDs
1982: 84 rushing yards, 2 TDs, 53 rec'g yards
1983: 103 rushing yards, 1 TD

1984

Bo Jackson

Auburn

1-0

130 rushing yards

1986

Vinny Testaverde

Miami

0-1

20-36-3; 217 yards; 1 TD

1993

Gino Toretta

Miami

0-1

24-56-3; 278 yards

1995,'97

Danny Wuerffel

Florida

1-1

1995: 10-27 rushing; 28-39-1; 394 yards, 1 TD
1997: 18-34-1; 306 yards; 3 TDs

2000

Chris Weinke

Florida State

1-0

20-34-1; 329 yards; 4 TDs

2004

Jason White

Oklahoma

0-1

13-37-2; 102 yards

2010Tim Tebow
Florida
1-0
31-35-0; 482 yards; 3 TDs

 

Marty Mulé is the author of the history Sugar Bowl Classic.