The Allstate Sugar Bowl Believes in Champions – Frank Ros
Champions have long defined the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The list of Hall of Fame athletes who have competed in the annual contest is staggering. Heisman Trophy winners, future NFL Super Bowl champions and national championship coaches have made their mark in the annual game that brings in thousands of fans and millions of television viewers to New Orleans. But the list of Sugar Bowl champions extends well past the gridiron. There is a long list of distinguished individuals who have proven themselves to be champions in life as well – the Sugar Bowl’s current series highlights these lesser known success stories.
Memories of Georgia’s victorious Sugar Bowl in 1981 often revolve around legendary freshman running back Herschel Walker. Hall of Fame coach Vince Dooley also quickly comes to mind in recollecting that undefeated, national championship season. But the true key to the Bulldogs’ last national title was a dedicated and focused senior class, including team captain Frank Ros, a hard-hitting 215-pound linebacker.
“We had 24 or so seniors with a lot of character,” Ros said. “We were focused. The coaches convinced us if we didn’t play our absolute best every game we wouldn’t have a chance. And Coach Dooley, he was a strict disciplinarian, but if you took care of business, if you worked hard on the football field and in the classroom, he’d do anything for you. And we all knew that.”
Georgia’s senior class had seen a lot entering their final season in Athens. In 1977, they weathered Dooley’s only losing season (5-6). In 1978, they rebounded to win nine games, but fell to Stanford in the Bluebonnet Bowl. They slipped back to 6-5 in 1979 before a seminal moment in Bulldog history came on Easter Sunday on 1980. Herschel Walker, the most sought-after high school player in the nation, signed with his home state Bulldogs. A 6-2, 222-pound running back, Walker had rushed for 3,167 yards as a senior in high school (while also earning valedictorian honors).
Did Georgia’s senior class have any reservations about dealing with the highly touted freshman?
“Not one ounce,” Ros said. “The main thing was the way he carried and handled himself. That did more to gain our respect than his ability. The first drill in full pads, Coach Dooley was anxious to see how he’d react – the first play we give him the ball, [264-pound guard] Eddie Weaver, [200-pound linebacker] Nate Taylor and I crunched him. He gets up, puts the ball down, and goes back to the huddle without a word. He earned respect on his own in how he handled himself. It was almost scary, because as good as he was, he had no ego.”
Walker was as advertised in his debut season, setting the NCAA freshman record with 1,616 rushing yards and scoring 15 touchdowns. He finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting (the highest finish by a freshman at the time). Pairing the dynamic Walker with the Bulldog veterans lifted Georgia to its first undefeated regular season since 1946, And just like 1946, the Dawgs were selected to go to the Sugar Bowl.
Even with an unblemished record, Georgia was the underdog against a powerful Notre Dame team – despite the fact the Fighting Irish had lost to USC and tied Georgia Tech (a team Georgia had handled 38-20).
“We knew they were favored, but we didn’t make it a rallying cry,” Ros said. “It might have added a little fuel, but we were just focused, like every other game. Notre Dame was just a continuation of that mentality – the name ‘Notre Dame’ added another dimension to it but we just went out to win.”
Dooley, the strict former Marine, surprised his team by looking to his senior class for advice on how to handle the distractions of New Orleans.
“Coach Dooley always set curfew, but that year, he relied on seniors for discipline,” Ros said. “He asked us [the seniors] what we wanted curfew to be. We talked it out and offered no curfew for the first night – let guys get it out of their system. The next night was midnight, then 11:00 and 11:00. That was the only time he gave that leeway.”
The hard-nosed Bulldogs didn’t dominate the game – Notre Dame controlled the time of possession and out-gained Georgia in total yards, 328-127. But the Dawgs made the critical plays, with Ros anchoring the defense as he had all season long. The senior linebacker tallied seven tackles, including a big forced fumble early in the second quarter to set up Walker’s second rushing touchdown of the day and give Georgia a 17-3 advantage.
After Notre Dame rallied with a third-quarter touchdown to make it 17-10, the Irish finally started to slow down Walker – or more accurately, the grueling game caught up to the fantastic freshman. He would finish the day with 36 carries which remains the Sugar Bowl record – in the 39 Sugar Bowls since that day, the most rushing attempts is 28. And by the way, he had separated his shoulder on the opening play of the game.
On Walker’s first eight carries of the fourth quarter, Notre Dame had allowed just nine yards and the Bulldogs found themselves in a third-and-seven situation at midfield with 2:05 to play. The likely passing situation was clouded by the fact that quarterback Buck Belue was an inauspicious 0-for-11 passing on the day – the Irish still focused on Walker.
Belue dropped back, looked, finally let loose, and completed his first – and only – pass, seven yards to Amp Arnold. That allowed Georgia to run out the clock and secure its first consensus national title.
“I was standing next to Coach Dooley [after the completion] and I looked up and realized they didn’t have timeouts,” Ros said. “I told him we won the game, but he wasn’t happy yet. He yelled at me ‘It’s still not 0:00 on the clock.’ But he did have a little smile when he yelled.”
Walker finished with 150 yards and defensive back Scott Woerner, a Sugar Bowl Hall of Famer, had a pair of interceptions and three critical pass break-ups.
“I don’t know how good we are,” Dooley said afterwards. “But I do know we’re 12-0 and nobody else is.”
After graduation, Ros remained with the Bulldogs as a graduate assistant coach while earning his master’s degree. From there, he built a very successful career in business. He worked for three different companies in his career, retiring as an vice president for Hispanic strategies for the Coca-Cola corporation.
“The lessons I learned from sports helped me in my business life, my personal life, in marriage, in raising children; they helped me in everything,” Ros said. “Discipline, dedication, commitment, if you apply those to all parts of your life, it will be hard to not be successful. You have a lot of disappointments in sports, you have to bounce back. Same thing in life. Focus on your goals and you’ll get there.”
While Ros established himself as a business leader, he never let go of his Bulldog foundation – and to this day, he takes being selected as a team captain seriously. For years, Ros has been the official reunion organizer for the 1980 Bulldogs.
“Being recognized as a team captain is the greatest honor you can have,” Ros said. “Your teammates believe in you and respect you. I took it as a personal point of pride to keep that team together. I’ve worked on all of the reunions, organizing hotel rooms, event space, buses, everything – 10 years, 20 years, 25, 30, 35, we’ve averaged 92-95% percent participation. And I’m working on the 40th right now.”
“I’m not tooting Frank’s horn — he’s my big brother — but Frank and I are together a lot and one thing that’s really, really unique is he has kept that team together,” Walker told DawgNation. “If anything is going on, the guys all call Frank and he gets everybody together. My hat is off to him. It’s a tough, tough job, organizing everything. I think that’s what’s so great about that team, is we’re still together. And it’s because of Frank.”
The Allstate Sugar Bowl has established itself as one of the premier college football bowl games, having hosted 28 national champions, 96 Hall of Fame players, 50 Hall of Fame coaches and 18 Heisman Trophy winners in its 86-year history. The 87th Allstate Sugar Bowl Football Classic, which will double as a College Football Playoff Semifinal, is scheduled to be played on January 1, 2021. In addition to football, the Sugar Bowl Committee annually invests over $1.6 million into the community through the hosting and sponsorship of sporting events, awards and clinics. Through these efforts, the organization supports and honors over 100,000 student-athletes each year, while injecting over $2.7 billion into the local economy in the last decade.