How Missouri and Florida Met in the 1966 Sugar Bowl
Less than two weeks after Jim Nance endorsed New Orleans, an American Football League All-Star game was moved from the city to Houston because of discrimination charges. This civic embarrassment stemmed from black players being refused cab service and admittance to French Quarter nightclubs.
There was no problem whatsoever with the better establishments. Indeed, the New Orleans hotel, restaurant, and motion picture associations agreed to accommodate all citizens and visitors. Players were welcomed into places like Al Hirt’s, where Buffalo end Ernie Warlick was introduced and applauded. It was some less-fashionable spots that were in question, a detail that steamed the ire of Orleanians. The black professionals voted 13-8 to pull out, and AFL Commissioner Joe Foss complied.
New Orleans suffered a huge black eye, one that would affect the next Sugar Bowl, and one that the northern press predictably emphasized. Only Dick Young, the respected sportswriter of the New York Daily News, peeked beyond the obvious for eastern readers. Young wrote: “…What I mean is, you don’t judge an entire town by some slob cab driver because there are a lot of good cabbies, and you don’t say an entire city stinks just because some guys in a lousy ginmill insult you, because there is something about a ginmill that makes it very easy to be insulted, whether you’re black or white, and when that happens you either fight your way out of the joint or you find another ginmill…
“There were many fine places in New Orleans willing…Some AFL Negroes stayed away from Bourbon Street. They ate in the Blue Room of the Roosevelt Hotel, and in Antoine’s, and in other swank, respectable places, and apparently they were well-treated…”
The walkout was to play a role in the 1966 bowls, and New Orleans was made to pay further. The rules were changed in the 1966 postseason jousting tournament. Because so many outstanding teams were still in the running, the Associated Press decided to name its national champion after the bowls so the top teams were looking for the match that would best help their chances. Alabama-Nebraska was the match-up for which both of the “open” bowls (Orange and Sugar) were angling. The Cotton Bowl, with No. 2-ranked Arkansas, had the highest-rated team either ‘Bama or the Cornhuskers could play in their quests for the national championship. Razorback Coach Frank Broyles, however, wasn’t interested in putting his team’s long winning streak on the line against either one.
Largely due to the effect of the AFL walkout, Nebraska wasn’t coming to New Orleans.
Intrigue characterized the bowl cast after it became apparent Alabama and Nebraska were to play in Miami. Southeastern Conference Commissioner Bernie Moore became the middleman in providing SEC teams for the Sugar and Cotton Bowls. Missouri, who lost a 16-14 heartbreaker to Nebraska and held only a 5-2-1 record with Oklahoma and Kansas remaining to be played, had moved into the Sugar Bowl picture.
It appeared that Kentucky would host the Sugar Bowl, and Florida was headed for the Cotton. But Kentucky had beaten Missouri and agreed to accept a Cotton Bowl bid if it defeated Houston. (It did not.) Florida, meanwhile, agreed to take the Sugar Bowl bid if it beat Tulane (which the Gators did). LSU, with a 7-3 record, eventually filled the spot for the desperate Cotton Bowl. And Florida later lost to Miami, also falling to an unexciting 7-3 record. Florida under Ray Graves, who had played for Tennessee in Boston College’s monumental 1941 upset, had a spectacular passing combination in quarterback Steve Spurrier and receiver Charlie Casey. Missouri, with a horde of pro prospects, was a more conservative but very steady team offensively and defensively. But in some ways the 1966 Sugar Bowl was the lowest point of the Mid-Winter Sports Association.
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.