The Sugar Bowl, born in the depths of the depression, has survived many difficulties, including a World War and a devastating hurricane, and still ranks as one of the most uniquely successful amateur athletic achievements in the history of American sports.
Behind the Sugar Bowl is a story of community spirit and initiative that has been instrumental in spreading the name and fame of New Orleans worldwide.
The New Orleans Mid-Winter Sports Association actually became a reality when, in late October 1934, it was able to announce it had in escrow the sum of $30,000 for the promotion of the inaugural Sugar Bowl Football Classic.
The idea of a New Year’s Day football classic in New Orleans was first presented in 1927 by Colonel James M. Thomson, publisher of the New Orleans Item, and Sports Editor Fred Digby.
Every fall thereafter Fred Digby called for action, outlined a mid-winter calendar of sports, and even gave the still dream game its name – “Sugar Bowl.” The idea also began to catch on in the community, with civic and political leaders beginning to discuss the potential. In fact, in 1929, Mayor A.J. O’Keefe sent a delegation to the Southern Conference asking approval of a proposed New Orleans game. The request was rejected.
Early in January 1934, Warren V. Miller, representing the Co-Operative (now Executives’) Club, and Joseph M. Cousins, head of a citizens committee, came forth simultaneously with proposals to put the plan into action.
Managing Editor Clarke Salmon of the The Item recommended that the Miller and Cousins groups combine and invite other civic, professional and athletic clubs to join in the promotion.
Meeting in Mr. Cousins’ office a few days later were Mr. Miller, Dr. Fred Wolfe, Sr., Dr. M.P. Boebinger, F.D. “Hap” Reilly, Ralph J. Barry, T. Semmes Ranlett and Fred Digby.
Out of this discussion came a call for a city-wide meeting. On February 15, 1934, the New Orleans Mid-Winter Sports Association was formally organized under a constitution and by-laws were written by Mr. Miller.
First Officers were Warren V. Miller, president; Joseph M. Cousins, vice-president; Harry W. Fletcher, treasurer; and T. Semmes Ranlett, secretary.
For months the membership rolls were kept open, but many were still skeptical and saying: “It can’t be done.” Even some who sat in on early discussions failed to maintain their interest. After one year the rolls were closed and limited to the original 39 organizers.
Even after the birth of the association, its future looked dark because of the many obstacles it faced, but President Miller had a comprehensive program and was a determined leader. Meanwhile, Digby continued to lend encouragement in the The Item, and their associates remained enthusiastic.
From its inception, the Mid-Winter Sports Association has been free of political entanglement. Under the charter drawn by Mr. Miller, attorney-president, it was stipulated that it was to be a “voluntary, non-profit civic organization whose members serve without remuneration.” In practice this means that every Sugar Bowler buys his own tickets to all events.
Further, the charter provided that there shall be no private profits, and any surplus above the required operation expenses or reserve fund must be devoted to “charitable, religious or educational purposes.”
The plan to finance the Classic called for 300 guarantors to post $100 each to set up the $30,000 necessary for payment of the participating schools on a basis of $15,000 for the visiting team, $12,500 for the host, with the remaining $2,500 in reserve for expenses.
Effects of the financial depression were still evident, and along with doubt that existed in some quarters as to the success of the venture, the task of gathering the necessary funds was difficult.
However, a majority of the Sugar Bowlers displayed their confidence by becoming guarantors.
Each guarantor was assured (1) the return of his $100 in cash or (2) that he could buy tickets for this amount. Without exception, the guarantors accepted tickets. The Sugar Bowl has since annually granted them the privilege of buying 20 tickets, which represented the equivalent of the amount of their original guarantee.
With $30,000 in escrow, and consent given by Tulane University for use of its 24,000-seat stadium without rental, approval of the Southern Conference followed. The Southwest and Southern Conferences also indicated teams would be permitted to play in the Sugar Bowl.
New Orleans Public Service, Inc., through the late A.B. Paterson, contributed $1,000 to advertise and publicize the event, and Herbert Schwartz arranged a radio contract with WSMB and tendered to President Miller use of a staff and facilities of Maison Blanche for sale of tickets, without cost.
The trophy for the winning team, a genuine antique silver single-bottle wine cooler, was donated to the Association by Waldhorn Company, Inc. This cup was made in London in 1830 during the reign of King George IV and is an exquisite example of the silversmith’s art. The winning team each year is presented a replica of this bowl to retain in its trophy case.
On December 2, 1934, the executive committee went into session at the New Orleans Athletic Club to consider eligible teams, and after long deliberation, invited Tulane University’s Green Wave, unbeaten in the South, and Temple University’s Owls, the only unbeaten team in the North.
The famous Glenn “Pop” Warner was coach at Temple, Ted Cox at Tulane. First announcement of the selection failed to create much enthusiasm, but within 24 hours after fans scanned team records, sentiment changed and the sale of tickets soon exceeded $40,000.
Thus assured of financial success, the Sugar Bowlers breathed easier when the Green Wave and the Owls waged an exciting contest in which Tulane overcame a 14-point deficit to win, 20-14.
Tulane and Temple each received $27,800 from the gate receipts provided by an attendance of 22,026. Admission prices were $1.50 and $3.50.
After the 1936 game, a stadium enlargement was proposed, and following negotiations with the Tulane Board of Administrators, the Sugar Bowlers decided to close the North end of the stadium by adding 14,000 seats at a cost of $164,768.84.
Two years later, the Sugar Bowl had again outgrown the stadium. The first proposal was for 60,000 seats, but after scanning the sketches and considering ticket costs, the Sugar Bowl decided to aim for 70,000 through a bond issue of $550,000.
On January 13, 1939, Sugar Bowl President Herbert Benson appointed a special Stadium Committee of A.B. Nicholas; Chairman, A.N. Goldberg, Fred Digby, Jos. B. David and Frank V. Schaub to complete plans for enlarging the stadium and raising $550,000.
The Stadium Committee recommended that a citizens group be formed to join the Sugar Bowlers in raising the funds and adopted the campaign slogan “70,000 or Bust.”
Just 40 days later, Benson and Nicholas, together with the citizens committee headed by Jay Barnes and Herbert J. Schwartz, announced that the $550,000 bond issue had been completely sold. Digby described this tremendous feat as “one of the great civic achievements in the history of New Orleans.”
The 1939 campaign drive was conducted by 11 teams, each headed by a prominent New Orleanian. The 11 team captains were C.L. Brown, Thom W. Collens, Mayer Israel, Harold Salmon, Phil Schoen, Sam Smallpage, E.A. Stephens, Clarence Strauss, W. Horace Williams, Seymour Weiss and William Zetzmann. Captain Strauss’ team, composed entirely of Sugar Bowlers, was the top team with bond sales totaling $105,000.
Purchasers of bonds were offered the privilege of buying two tickets with each $100 bond, at two percent interest, and the assurance that a minimum of $25,000 of bonds would be retired annually from football gate receipts.
Herbert A. Benson, architect and Sugar Bowl past president, drew up the plans for the 1939 enlargement. The contract was awarded to Doullut and Ewin, Inc. In June 1939, the first piling was driven and the double deck structure was completed in time for the 1940 kickoff.
Increasing interest in the Sugar Bowl’s postseason football games brought more demands for seats. Early in 1947, President Sam Corenswet appointed a committee of Jos. B. David; Chairman, H.A. Benson, Fred Digby, A.N. Goldberg, W.V. Miller, A.B. Nicholas, Irwin F. Poche, F.D. Reilly, Frank V. Schaub and Albert Wachenheim, Jr., to survey the situation. The membership gave its approval to a plan submitted by Chairman David and another bond issue of $550,000 was offered to the public to boost permanent seating capacity to 81,000. The bond issue was sold in record time, and so spontaneous was the response to Chairman David’s announcement of the bond sale, that the planned campaign was cancelled. In three days, the subscriptions totalled more than $700,000 and it was generally accepted that more than $1 million in stadium bonds could have been sold. So that all subscribers could share in ticket privileges, each was limited to the purchase of three bonds.
Work on the structure started in May 1947 with past presidents Benson as architect and Goldberg as contractor. The Virginia Bridge Company erected the steel stands with William Woodbury serving as consultant on the design.
By extending and double-decking the North stands, 13,247 new seats were provided, and by linking with the East and West stands, a horseshoe was completed. Permanent box seats, portal seats, two electric scoreboards, an electric timer, a press box elevator and a photographers’ roof were added.
In the end, the Sugar Bowlers’ efforts had served to create on the Tulane University campus the world’s largest double-decked steel stadium. The stadium enlargement and improvements financed by the Sugar Bowl represented an investment of more than $1.5 million.
BOWL BY THE DECADE
- 1927 Two members of the New Orleans Item – Publisher Col. James M. Thomson and Sports Editor Fred Digby – present the idea for a New Orleans football classic on New Year’s Day.
- 1929 Mayor A.J. O’Keefe sends committee to Southern Conference asking approval of proposed New Orleans game. Request refused.
- 1934 January – Warren V. Miller, representing the Co-Operative Club (now the Executives Club), and Joseph M. Cousins, head of a citizens committee, simultaneously announce plans for a New Year’s Day game featuring top college football teams.
- February 15 – New Orleans Mid-Winter Sports Association is formally organized at city-wide meeting. Constitution and by-laws written by Mr. Miller. Officers elected were: Mr. Miller, president; Mr. Cousins, vice president; Harry W. Fletcher, treasurer; and T. Semmes Ranlett, secretary.
- October – NOMWSA announces 300 persons have pledged $100 each for escrow fund of $30,000 to promote inaugural Sugar Bowl.
- December – National Champion Wilmer Allison wins first Sugar Bowl tennis tournament, defeating Berkeley Bell.
- December – David Wuescher of Southern Yacht Club of New Orleans wins first Sugar Bowl Regatta Race of Champions.
- 1935 First Sugar Bowl track meet draws champions like Glenn Cunningham of Kansas, Don Lash of Indiana, Chuck Hornbostel of Harvard, Forrest Towns of Georgia, Jack Torrance of LSU, Bill Brown of Baker High School and Eddie Daigle of Loyola.
- January 1 – Tulane defeats Temple 20-14 in first Sugar Bowl Football Classic.
- 1936 January 2 – Pittsburgh defeats national champion LSU, 52-47, in first Sugar Bowl basketball game.
- 1936 Sugar Bowl enlarges Tulane Stadium, adding 14,000 seats at a cost of $164,768.84 to bring capacity to 38,000.
- 1936 Orleans Rowing Club defeats New Orleans Athletic Club in the first Sugar Bowl rowing competition. The bowl sponsored rowing through 1942 and reinstated it in 1980.
- 1939 January 13 – Sugar Bowl President Herbert Benson announces plans for $550,000 bond issue to enlarge stadium to 70,000.
- Bond issue completely sold out, a feat which Fred Digby called “one of the great civic achievements in the history of New Orleans.”
- 1942 January 3 – Sugar Bowl is host to East-West Shrine Game as contest is moved away from San Francisco as war-time safety measure.
- 1946 Track, regatta, boxing, tennis and basketball events suspended because of World War II. Football Classic continued.
- 1947 Warren V. Miller Memorial Trophy established for the game’s most outstanding player as tribute to first Sugar Bowl president.
- Sugar Bowl sells $700,000 worth of bonds in three days to finance enlargement of stadium to 80,985.
- 1953 Sugar Bowl sponsors first live television program in New Orleans history. Game broadcast and telecast coast to coast.
- 1955 January 1 – Navy “Team Named Desire” becomes first service academy team to play in the Sugar Bowl. Middies upset Ole Miss.
- 1958 Most Outstanding Player trophy renamed Miller-Digby Memorial Trophy as tribute to both first president and first general manager.
- 1960 Sugar Bowl becomes first bowl televised coast to coast in color.
- 1967 Sugar Bowl becomes first bowl game televised by satellite to Hawaii.
- 1968 Sugar Bowl tennis tournament in 1967-68 festival of sports played indoors on Astroturf for first time.
- Ten New Orleans area civic leaders elected to Sugar Bowl regular membership.
- 1970 Sugar Bowl pays record $698,792.96 to Ole Miss and Arkansas. Each team took home $349,396.48.
- 1971 Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird is a Sugar Bowl visitor for Air Force vs. Tennessee game.
- 1972 A record 84,031 fans watched Oklahoma beat Auburn 40-22. Record payoff of $742,878.24 split between two teams.
- Remaining 108 debenture bonds of $500,000 Series Two issue of 1947 retired.
- December – UCLA, the nation’s No. 1 college basketball team, won the Sugar Bowl title by beating Illinois, 71-64, and Oklahoma’s second-ranked Sooners beat fifth-ranked Penn State 14-0 in the 39th Sugar Bowl Football Classic in the first night game in the Bowl’s history.
- 1975 The fabulous Louisiana Superdome became the new “home” for the Sugar Bowl. The Bowl also announced a three-year agreement with the Southeastern Conference to have its champion come to New Orleans for the game.
- 1977 The “marriage” of the Sugar Bowl with the SEC to send its football champion to New Orleans was consummated New Year’s Day with the appearance of the Georgia Bulldogs against No. 1 Pitt.
- 1978 Another “first” for the Sugar Bowl was the appearance of Big 10 school Ohio State against Alabama on Jan. 1.
- 1981 Agreements with SEC and ABC TV extended through Jan. 1, 1987.
- 1982 New radio agreement with Mutual Broadcasting reached.
- 1983 Record $1.8 million paid to both Georgia and Penn State.
- 1984 The 50th Anniversary year culminated with Auburn’s 9-7 win over Michigan on Jan. 2.
- 1985 Radio agreement with Mutual Broadcasting renegotiated to extend through Jan. 1, 1988.
- 1986 Title sponsorship agreement gained with USF&G and TV agreement with ABC renegotiated through Jan. 1, 1991.
- 1987 Record $2.55 million paid to both Nebraska and LSU and a new agreement with the SEC, extending through the 1990 game, was reached.
- 1988 ABC television agreement extended through Jan. 1, 1997.
- 1989 SEC agreement extended through Jan. 1, 1995, and a record $2.8 million paid to both Florida State and Auburn.
- 1991 USF&G Sugar Bowl joins forces with the Federal Express Orange Bowl, the Mobil Cotton Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East Conference and Notre Dame to form the “Bowl Coalition.” Virginia and Tennessee both received a record $3.55 million for their Jan. 1, 1991, thriller.
- 1993 The Sugar Bowl is played for the first time within college football’s “Bowl Coalition” format. Alabama defeats Miami for the national championship in a matchup of the country’s top two teams.
- Troy Mathieu named new executive director of the Sugar Bowl in July after serving six years as assistant executive director.
- 1994 The Bowl’s 60th-anniversary celebration culminates on New Year’s Day with Cybill Shepherd’s ringing rendition of the National Anthem leading into a 41-7 Florida victory over West Virginia. Both schools received record payouts of over $4.32 million.
- The Sugar Bowl selected by commissioners of the country’s major football conferences to participate in new College Football Bowl Alliance, a three-way rotation of a national championship game that also includes Orange and Fiesta bowls.
- 1995 Florida and Florida State received record Sugar Bowl payouts of $4.45 million for participating in the 61st Classic.
- Nokia, a Finnish telecommunications and electronics supplier with 1993 net sales of $4.3 billion, becomes just the second title sponsor of the Sugar Bowl. The three-year agreement, announced at the Louisiana Superdome on Feb. 2, takes effect immediately with the first Nokia Sugar Bowl scheduled to be played on Dec. 31, 1995, as part of the new Bowl Alliance.
- December – In its first year as a member of the College Football Bowl Alliance, the Nokia Sugar Bowl hosted the Texas Longhorns and Virginia Tech Hokies. The Hokies, in their first Sugar Bowl appearance, defeated the Longhorns, in their third Sugar Bowl appearance, 28-10 in front of 70,283 fans at the Superdome. Both teams received record payouts of $7.825 million.
- 1996 Paul J. Hoolahan named new executive director in July after serving six years as director of athletics at Vanderbilt University.
- 1997 The Bowl celebrates its 63rd Classic while hosting the national championship game in front of 78,347 fans, a Sugar Bowl record at the Superdome. The Florida Gators beat the Florida State Seminoles 52-20 and both received record payouts of $8.736 million.
- 2000 The Bowl celebrates its 66th Classic in grand fashion while hosting the national championship game in the New Millennium. The BCS No. 1 and No. 2 teams squared off in front of a Superdome record 79,280 fans. The Florida State Seminoles beat the Virginia Tech Hokies 46-29 and both are awarded record payouts of $13 million each.
- 2004 The Classic celebrated its 70th anniversary with its second national championship game of the new millennium. The Tigers of LSU beat the Oklahoma Sooners, 21-14, for the BCS crown in front an all-time Dome record crowd of 79,342. The teams also received a sweet payout of $18 million.
- 2005 Monday, August 29, 2005 – Hurricane Katrina makes landfall in New Orleans and the Gulf South region causing devastation to the area and forcing the Sugar Bowl to be played outside the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana for the first time in its 72-year history.
- Atlanta, Ga. played host to the 72nd Annual Sugar Bowl Classic. West Virginia Mountaineers beat the Georgia Bulldogs 38-35 on Jan. 2 in the Georgia Dome.
- 2006 The Bowl ushered in the new year with a move back to the New Orleans area and welcomed Allstate Insurance as its a new title sponsor and FOX Sports as the Bowl’s new broadcast partner.
- 2007 The Classic made its triumphant return to the Superdome and New Orleans as the 73rd Classic saw LSU beat Notre Dame 41-14 on Jan. 3.
- 2008 For the first time in its history, the Sugar Bowl committee hosted two football games. On Jan. 1, Georgia defeated the previously unbeaten Hawai’i Warriors 41-10 in the 74th Classic. One week later on Jan. 7, the Bowl hosted its 20th National Championship Game and third this decade as #2 LSU defeated #1 Ohio State, 38-24.
- 2009 The Sugar Bowl celebrates its 75th Anniversary with a Legends Luncheon event that welcomes 42 former coaches and Most Valuable Players back to New Orleans. In the 75th annual Sugar Bowl, Utah shocks Alabama, 31-17.