How Auburn and Michigan Met in the 1984 Sugar Bowl Auburn was a special team in a season when good teams abounded. The no-frills Tigers were the perfect Southeastern Conference representative for the Golden Anniversary of the Sugar Bowl.
The trick this season was not only finding a suitable opponent, but one that would also bring in television viewers when the Sugar had no shot at the two top teams going into the bowls: No. 1-ranked Nebraska would be the host school in the Orange Bowl, and No. 2-ranked Texas would naturally be in the Cotton Bowl.
Exciting Southern Methodist University was first choice, but when Mustang athletic director Bob Hitch prematurely leaked to the press that his team was headed to New Orleans, the Sugar Bowl went with 9-2 Michigan, who rose to eighth after beating Ohio State to finish second in the Big Ten. Coming from an area where 25 percent of all the television sets in America were located didn’t hurt the Wolverines’ chances either.
There was never any doubt about Auburn, No. 3 by the time of the selection. Not flashy but fundamentally sound, the Tigers were a complete football team.
This was the intriguing match-up: Michigan’s formidable defense, yielding an average of just 95 yards rushing, would try to contain the South’s newest superstar – an incredible specimen named Bo Jackson, a 6-foot-1, 228-pound sophomore who could high jump 6-feet-10 and hit a baseball 500 feet.
Jackson averaged 7.7 yards per carry, totaling 1,213 yards with 13 touchdowns, but he was not the only weapon in Auburn’s arsenal.
Coach Pat Dye had consistently told anyone who would listen that he was going to field a very good football team in 1983. He had recruited exceedingly well, and he wouldn’t duck the truth. But there was also another reason: Auburn lived in the shadow of college football’s greatest factory – Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide – so long that it had developed an inferiority complex as big as the state of Alabama.
Dye’s strategy was calculated to pump confidence into the Auburn masses and the team. And after three years of assembling superior talent and trying to rid the program of negative vibes, he finally had Tiger fandom believing in Auburn and his athletes believing in themselves.
Auburn turned into a quiet, unemotional, efficient and excellent football team, slugging it out with the heavyweights of college football. Seven Auburn opponents were ranked in the Top 20 at the time of their game and only one, second-ranked Texas, would defeat the Tigers.
One of the Tigers few displays of emotion came immediately after the victory over Georgia, the win that represented the SEC championship. Players screamed and chanted, “SUGAR BOWL, SUGAR BOWL, SUGAR BOWL!”
Dye’s third Auburn team lived up to every expectation that season. It was an unusual – and special – football team. It wasn’t a team made of brick and mortar. It was a team made of heart and soul.
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.