How LSU and Clemson Advanced to the 1959 Sugar Bowl It was hard to believe to those who built it, but the Sugar Bowl would be celebrating its silver anniversary on New Year’s Day, 1959 and after a quarter of a century, the Classic exceeded the stature and prominence that even its founder, Fred Digby, had envisioned.
Time inevitably brought about other changes, too. Miller and nine other original members of the Mid-Winter Sports Association were now deceased. The Item, which had been the project’s incubator, had been sold to the Times-Picayune Publishing Co. and merged with The States.
And less than a month before the Bowl’s silver anniversary game, Digby passed away.
The evening of Nov. 2, he listened from his hospital bed to the broadcast of the LSU-Ole Miss football game. Both teams were high on the Sugar Bowl’s checklist. Digby was visibly moved when announcer J.C. Politz passed along the good wishes of himself and the schools. The next day, with his wife at his bedside, Digby died.
Joe Carter, who had covered every Sugar Bowl as sports editor of the Shreveport Times, summed up the feelings of those involved with the Mid-Winter Sports Association in a touching piece just before the 1959 game.
“They are going to stage the 25th annual Sugar Bowl football classic in the Tulane University stadium this Thursday afternoon, New Year’s Day,” Carter wrote. “Even the familiar cry of the hucksters as they ply their trade both on the inside and outside of the huge stadium will be there, but in the press box far above the maddened crowd will be a vacancy. It will be the spot where Fred Digby, general manager of the Mid-Winter Sports Association, sat every New Year’s Day game and watched the dream of a lifetime unfurled. A spot from where he saw his master handwork put into reality.”
LSU, en route to the national championship, was obviously the first choice of the Mid-Winter Sports Association. After a late season squeeze past Mississippi State, the eventual signing of the home-state Tigers was a simple formality.
Most New Orleans fans preferred a match between LSU and Southern Methodist, with the Mustangs’ spectacular quarterback Don Meredith.
However, from the available pool of Clemson, North Carolina, SMU and Air Force, Clemson was picked for two reasons: They were champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference with an 8-2 record; also, Paul Dietzel, the LSU coach, pressed for Clemson behind the scenes, thinking his lightning-quick team could handle the ACC Tigers.
Clemson coach Frank Howard realized he was sitting in an enviable psychological spot with practically all the New Orleans sports pages centering on the home-state Tigers and the lukewarm sentiment for Howard’s team. “The fans can think what they want,” snapped Howard, before adding to the overconfidence of LSU supporters. “My boys play like a bunch of one-armed bandits,” Howard said in comparison to the LSU defensive unit, the Chinese Bandits.
LSU was a two-touchdown favorite. But Howard was confident his Tigers could blow holes in the light LSU line, and that no third-string unit like the Chinese Bandits could stop his offense. Howard commented, “You can tell them for me they’re gonna have to be No. 1 to beat us . . . that’s the way our boys feel about this game.”
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.