How LSU and Syracuse Met in the 1965 Sugar Bowl
Seven days after the Alabama-Ole Miss football game, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Louisiana statute requiring racial segregation of public entertainment and athletic events was unconstitutional. Ernest N. Morial and A.P. Tureaud, who argued the case for Horace Bynum, were the winning attorneys. Both were trailblazers in the civil rights’ years and Morial, 14 years later, would become the first black mayor of New Orleans.
That decision removed a barrier that had hindered the Sugar Bowl from being the national game it had been before 1957. There was no reason New Orleans shouldn’t pick up the bowl tempo again. Meanwhile, the Orange Bowl, in one of the most farsighted moves any postseason game ever took, changed its kickoff from early afternoon to prime television time-in the evening. The Rose Bowl, because of the time difference, had always started later than the other three bowls. That, combined with the tie-up between two of the country’s most populous areas, had given Pasadena control of the ratings and a much larger TV contract than the others. Miami, no longer bound to the Big Eight, would now also be unopposed. Eventually, the money would be an inducement to help the Orange Bowl get the games it most desired. This was the real start of the television age for the bowls.
Hearts across the nation quickened when it was rumored Notre Dame might break its long-standing bowl ban. Irish Athletic Director Ed “Moose” Krause ended such banter by stating, “We’re not going to any bowl game.” He couldn’t have been more definitive. Alabama, who would finish as the national champion, had no-strings-attached invitations from the Sugar, Cotton, and Orange Bowls. Coach Bear Bryant said he wouldn’t consider any of them until after his Georgia Tech game.
It was known, however, that he favored the Cotton Bowl, a game he had not been to since his coaching years at the University of Kentucky. But the Orange Bowl lured Bryant from Dallas to Miami for a titanic confrontation with fifth-ranked Texas. Undefeated Southwest Conference champion Arkansas was scheduled against Nebraska in the Cotton. Both were excellent pairings. The Sugar was left with a solid, if not quite flashy, hand.
Sam Corenswet, Sr., of the Mid-Winter Sports Association was asked what he looked for in bowl matches. “Attractiveness and individual stars,” he said.
That left a great deal of leeway in the 1964 season. States-Item columnist Peter Finney and his Times-Picayune counterpart Buddy Diliberto felt one team filled both bills for the Sugar Bowl: Syracuse – the East’s best team – featured an incredible running tandem in fullback Jim Nance and half-back Floyd Little. The two accounted for 1,779 yards and 25 touchdowns.
The problem was the Orangemen had two defeats and one game to go before the Bowl invitations would be extended. Finney and Diliberto continued to plug for Syracuse. “For one thing,” said Diliberto, “we thought it would be a dramatic way to end the segregation thing. Secondly, there was talk beginning then that New Orleans might be in line for a National Football League franchise. If there was any doubt about racial problems in the city, it could have endangered that move.”
“The East vs. the South competition,” wrote Finney, “as far as I’m concerned has more postseason appeal than the SWC vs. SEC or all-SEC matches we’ve been getting.”
Louisiana State University had an iron defense and an exceptional flanker-kicker. The kicker had set a national record with 13 field goals during the regular season. LSU was a logical SEC choice since Alabama was going to the Orange Bowl. Seventh-ranked LSU, however, also had a loss and a tie with a game with Florida remaining.
The Sugar took a chance and invited both. Ninth-ranked Syracuse lost its last game to West Virginia. LSU was beaten by Florida, setting up a New Orleans match with the most combined losses since 1945.
“Finney and I were sitting in the press box when the results of the Syracuse-West Virginia game began coming in by quarters,” laughed Diliberto. “Man, you should’ve seen the looks the Sugar Bowl people were giving us. We just kind of ducked our heads and talked to each other. No one else would. But, considering everything, it was still the right choice.”
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.