23rd Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 1, 1957
#15 Baylor 13 (Final: 9-2-0, #11)
#2 Tennessee 7 (Final: 10-1-0, #2)
How Baylor and Tennessee Met in the 1957 Sugar Bowl
This was a bright day, but a dark Sugar Bowl.
On the football front, after studying the Tennessee films, what the underdog Baylor Bears feared most was not the Vols: it was overconfidence.
“Tennessee, with its single wing offense, is going to get about as far as our ends let ‘em,” crowed Bears right end Jerry Marcontell beforehand. Second-string fullback Larry Hickman said afterward, “We knew they were good, but we also knew we could muscle with them. We knew we could win.”
The Bears did, but with a backdrop of a hideous on-the -field incident, one which overshadowed Baylor’s major accomplishment of beating the previously unbeaten Vols.
That, though, wouldn’t occur until the second half.
Right off the Bears seemed in control, driving to the Vols’ 4 to start the game, and where the Tennessee band, directed by an Elvis Presley imitator in a cerise jacket, blared the strains of “Hound Dog” at the Baylor team as a missed field goal ended the threat.
In the second quarter, Del Shofner, flanked to the right on the 12, went down and in on a pass pattern, taking the defensive back with him. Marcontell went down and out, found himself open, grabbed the ball on the goal line and fell in for the touchdown. Barry’s dominance: The Bears had 186 yards rushing to Tennessee’s 82.
Johnny Majors, though, had the Vols smoking to open the second half, returning a punt to the Tennessee 46. After a roughing penalty put the ball on the 39, Majors carried on nine of 11 plays, overcoming a 15-yard penalty in the process, and scored around end from the 1. Sammy Burklow kicked the PAT and Tennessee was in front 7-6.
Everyone braced for the exciting finish that appeared to be developing…when the Sugar Bowl took a sinister turn.
Tennessee guard Bruce Burnham and Baylor guard Charley Horton got into a scuffle on the ground. Burnham got in a couple of punches. Seeing that, Hickman rushed in and kicked Burnham in the face.
The defenseless Vol lay sprawled on the field quivering, ribbons of blood covering his features. “I thought the boy would be gone before we got him off the field,” commented a physician on the scene. “There’s no way anyone could excuse what I did,” Hickman reflected decades later. “I think I was so keyed up…In my mind I saw him doing something he shouldn’t, and I guess I just flashed temper.”
Hickman was banished from the game and Burnham was taken to Touro Infirmary. For the rest of the Sugar Bowl, Hickman sat on the Baylor bench, head in palms, sobbing.
The Bears turned a fourth-quarter opportunity into the winning points. Majors took a Shofner punt at the Vols’ 6, raced out to the 15 where he was smacked by Bill Glass, the ball popping out. Ruben Saage recovered for Baylor. Buddy Humphrey – one of four quarterbacks used by Baylor – sneaked over six plays later.
Most of the post game talk centered not on a magnificent upset, but on the kicking incident. Burnham had a concussion and broken nose, but it seemed he wasn’t in nearly so much pain as Hickman, who stood in a corner of the Baylor locker room still crying. When approached by Tom Fox of the New Orleans Item Hickman again buried his head in his hands and “quivered like a child. Once he raised his head and again tried to speak. ‘Mister’ was all he was able to say before he burst into tears again.”
Baylor’s victory represented the third Sugar Bowl loss in 16 years for a Tennessee team that entered the game undefeated and untied.
Hickman visited the recovering Burnham the next day at the hospital to apologize personally. The night before at a Sugar Bowl post-game party, the 20-year old stood before the Volunteer team and softly said, “I hope someday that boy and you Tennessee players can find it in your hearts to forgive me for what I’ve done. I’m sorry, truly sorry.”
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.