50th Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 2, 1984
#3 Auburn 9 (Final: 11-1-0, #3)
#8 Michigan 7 (Final: 9-3-0, #10)


What goes through a kid's mind when playing games: Ninth-inning of the World Series, one run down and I'm at bat with two outs . . . or a 20-foot putt to win the Masters, and so on.

How Auburn and Michigan Met in the 1984 Sugar Bowl

Auburn kicker Al Del Greco had been thinking along those lines for weeks. "Since the Alabama game,'' Del Greco said, "one of the coaches had me going to the 40-yard line. He'd say, ‘Georgia beat (No. 2-ranked) Texas (in the Cotton Bowl), (and) Miami's leading (No. 1-ranked) Nebraska in the fourth quarter (of the Orange Bowl). Now, what you gonna do?'"

"When the score was 7-6 in the fourth quarter and we got the ball, I said on the sideline, ‘Well, that's just what's going to happen.'"

And it did. Del Greco had to make a kick for Auburn to beat Michigan in the Sugar Bowl and win the national championship - though the storybook finish turned into a horror story for the Tigers.

Michigan, a three-and-a-half point underdog, scored on its second possession with quarterback Steve Smith rolling in from the 4 after an interception. Then they used a combination of solid defense and timely turnovers in keeping the Tigers off-balance.

Two turnovers and the workmanlike Wolverine defense kept the Tigers at bay - and off the scoreboard - in the first half. This was only the second time all season Auburn had been held scoreless at halftime. Michigan's defensive plan was geared toward stopping Auburn on first downs and limiting the number of carries by Jackson, who had handled the ball only eight times for 67 yards in the first half. The plan was working to perfection.

Finally, after Auburn's second series of the second half, Del Greco put the Tigers on the scoreboard with a 31-yard field goal. It came after a typical Auburn offensive drive with the Tigers controlling the ball for 6:17.

Nursing a 7-3 lead early in the final quarter, Smith was caught trying to pitch at the Michigan 48.

Linebackers Jeff Jackson and Gregg Carr were coming in. Jackson hit Smith as the quarterback tried to bring his arm forward to launch the pass upfield. The ball flew weakly into the arms of Carr, who pulled the ball in at the Wolverine 41 and advanced it to the 39.

The Auburn wishbone, which would spring Jackson for 131 yards, Tommy Agee for 93 and James for 84, was now operating at a high degree of efficiency, going to the 15 where Del Greco booted his second field goal, this one of 32 yards.

On the following Auburn series, at the end of a drive that consumed 7:21 while going 61 yards in 10 plays, Del Greco got to live his imaginary game: With seconds to go, for what might be for the national championship, he booted a 19-yard field goal.

"If you hit it good," said the 5-foot-10 senior kicker from Miami after the 9-7 victory, "the angle doesn't matter. And I hit it good. I knew it was in the moment it left my foot."

Just as Al Del Greco's coach had imagined, Georgia beat Texas (20-9) and Miami upset Nebraska (31-30).

However, that only set up a major injustice to Auburn. The next day fifth-ranked Miami, which had been lobbying voters from the time the Hurricanes got its Orange Bowl invite, leaped to No. 1, in what can only be construed as a political ballot. Third-place Auburn, after playing a schedule that included nine bowl teams and won a cumulative 70-percent of its games, remained at No. 3.

Though they both had the same 11-1 record, Miami's loss to Florida, 28-3, was the worst smudge on the resumé of any team to be named national champion. Auburn's only loss was to Texas, who by any measure was a Top-5 opponent. Also, it should be noted, Auburn beat Florida 28-21.

The only poll that ended with Auburn on top was the New York Times', in which, rare at the time, a computer was fed information and came up with its ranking.

"I kind of like that computer,'' Dye said wryly.

Recap excerpted from the book "Sugar Bowl Classic: A History" by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

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