How Oklahoma and LSU Met in the 1950 Sugar Bowl
In 1949, the Sugar Bowl became the first bowl to work under new National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) guideline which included: 1) Two representatives from NCAA member schools must be on any noncollegiate or nonconference committee sponsoring a postseason football game. 2) NCAA members cannot take part in more than one such game in the same academic year, or in any game which lacks NCAA approval or doesn’t abide by NCAA rules. 3) Competing schools shall agree on officials. 4) The competing schools shall get not less than a third of the seats in the stadium. Each shall get at least one-sixth of them. 5) The competing schools shall get at least 80 percent of the gross receipts. The sponsoring group shall get no more than 20 percent of the gross. 6) The postseason game must be certified by the NCAA’s Extra Events Committee.
The 1950 Sugar Bowl pairing took an ironic twist. Second-ranked Oklahoma, which hadn’t lost in 20 games, accepted a second consecutive bid. Filling the other spot was more complicated. Louisiana State University was the nation’s most-publicized underdog. After losing two early games, the Tigers finished 8-2 and defeated three (Rice, North Carolina and Tulane) conference champions. The two losses were to Kentucky and Georgia, giving the Tigers a .667 winning percentage in its six SEC games. The SEC rule stipulated a conference school had to win at least 75 percent of its league games to be eligible for bowl competition.
T.P. “Red” Hear, the Tiger athletic director, anticipated victory, and began phoning around the SEC the day before the Tulane game. By 5 p.m. Saturday, LSU had beaten the Greenies and the rule had been thrown out. Digby informed newsmen, “LSU will play Oklahoma.”
Gaynell “Gus” Tinsley, the Tiger coach, was the first former Sugar Bowl player to return as a head coach. Tinsley got as much from a team’s ability with his 1949 Tigers as any coach ever did. Although ranked ninth nationally (the highest of any SEC team), LSU did not have anyone on the first team all-conference selection. Oklahoma was the country’s best rushing team (averaging 320.3 yards a game) and the nation’s best defensive team against the rush, giving up an average of 55.6 yards. Tinsley knew he was in trouble. “We just don’t know very much about them. We can’t find out much either,” the coach moaned two weeks before the Sugar Bowl.
There were others who were curious about the Sooners. A resident glanced out a window toward the Biloxi, Mississippi, High School Stadium where Oklahoma was practicing, and noticed someone hiding on a platform in the rear of the residence at 753 Lee Street. Oklahoma officials shortly received a call with the suggestion that someone hide in the yard of the informer and observe the house that adjoined the stadium.
The next day, a policeman and John “Baby Grand” Scafide, a letterman on Tulane’s 1932 Rose Bowl team, closed in on the spy, hidden behind a rigged blanket and ringed with scratch pads and a pair of binoculars. Bill Dennis, a free-lance Biloxi photographer shooting for the Times-Picayune, got a picture as the three flushed out the suspect.
Although his identity wasn’t then known, the man photographed was Walter “Piggy” Barnes, former LSU linesman playing with the Philadelphia Eagles. There was also another person involved, Gustave Adolthus “Goober” Morse, a fan closely associated with the LSU athletic department and who had served in the Navy during World War II with Sooner Coach Bud Wilkinson. Barnes got out of the policeman’s clutches and joined Morse on the garage roof where he defied the growing police contingent to come and get him. The police, uncertain as to whether the pair was really guilty of anything or who they were, hesitated. Eventually, Barnes and Morse, buoyed by the uncertainty, climbed down, walked through the police, got into their car, and took off for New Orleans.
“God, they got fighting mad,” recalled Morse. “That story just grew and grew all the time we drove to New Orleans until it was front page. Man, we didn’t stop until we reached the Roosevelt Hotel. We called Pappy (Art) Lewis (an assistant at Mississippi State about to be named head coach at West Virginia) and asked what he thought we ought to do. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘Your name is M-o-r-s-e, and yours is B-a-r-n-e-s…tell ‘em to make damn sure they don’t leave the ‘r’ out in the spelling.’ He was a big help.”
Morse insisted to his dying day that he and Barnes were scouting prospects for “Greasy” Neale, the coach of the Eagles. “LSU didn’t have a thing to do with it,” said Morse. “We just thought it would be a good idea to look ‘em over. We could’ve gone in the main gate, maybe. We didn’t exactly scout like we were supposed to. Normally you walk in through the gate and watch ‘em work out. So, we didn’t do it that way.”
It’s not a defense most lawyers would be eager to use.
“The coaches were furious,” said Sooner quarterback Darrell Royal, “really angry. That gave us additional impetus.” Wilkinson was angrily shaking his head, saying, “I can’t believe LSU would do such a thing. I just can’t believe they’d do us this way.”
At a meeting in New Orleans, Wilkinson refused at first to shake Tinsley’s hand. LSU officials argued before Barnes’ and Morse’s identities were know that it could have been done by Oklahoma to fire up a complacent team.
Morse chuckled, “Later on, the Atlanta Touch-down Club gave Coach Wilkinson the Walter Barnes-Goober Morse Award, which was a pair of binoculars. Every time I see Coach Wilkinson, we laugh about it now.”
But Bud Wilkinson wasn’t laughing January 2, 1950.
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.