Seventy-five Years of Showstoppers
By Marty Mulé
Alabama’s Barry Krauss rising from the Superdome turf in the fourth quarter to stop Penn State’s Mike Guman an inch from the goal-line to preserve a 14-7 victory – and the national championship.
That, 30 years after the fact, is the most enduring mental picture of eight decades of Sugar Bowl history, the play most fans think of when the subject of New Orleans postseason football comes up.
Starting from the first, in the 75 years of the Sugar Bowl, where national titles have frequently been settled, and where mesmerizing football has been the norm, there have been dozens of plays that have determined outcomes – and remained vivid in the memory banks of spectators. Could anyone say one, even the stirring goal-line stand, is any greater than the others?
There’s Tom Clements’ pass from his own end zone in 1973 to tight end Robin Weber – a tight end who hadn’t caught a pass all season – for a first down with two minutes to play, which allowed Notre Dame to run out the clock against Alabama – and win the national championship, 24-23; There’s the blocked punt by Georgia freshman special teams player Terry Hoage that led to a Bulldogs’ field goal, and more. On the ensuing kickoff miscommunication between the Irish deep men allowed Georgia to fall on the live ball at the 1, from where Herschel Walker scored. Hoage’s block led directly to 10 points in a 17-10 Bulldogs’ victory which secured the national championship; Kentucky’s Walt Yowarsky breaks through to throw Oklahoma’s Billy Vessels for a five-yard loss from the Wildcats’ 4. The Sooners never did score on the series, and the Wildcats snapped the 31-game victory streak of national champion OU.
Picking the biggest plays in Sugar Bowl history is pretty subjective, but here are the 20 most memorable plays in chronological order:
1. 1935 – Monk Simons returns a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown to ignite Tulane to a 20-14 victory over Temple in the inaugural Sugar Bowl after falling behind 14-0.
2. 1939 – Davey O’Brien hits Durwood Hunter for a 44-yard touchdown on the first possession of the second half as TCU takes the lead (12-7) for the first time against Carnegie Tech. Until the Sugar Bowl, the national champion Horned Frogs had not been behind all season. TCU defeated Carnegie Tech 15-7.
3. 1940 – Texas A&M end Herbie Smith, at 5-foot-8 the smallest man on the field, blocks the extra point attempt of Tulane’s Jimmy Thibaut. That was the crucial play in a 14-13 victory for the national champion Aggies.
4. 1941 – Charlie O’Rourke runs 24 yards for a touchdown – on a play taken from the Tennessee playbook – with two minutes to play lifts Boston College to 19-13 upset over the previously undefeated Volunteers.
5. 1945 – Duke’s Gordon Carver tackles Alabama receiver Ralph Jones, who caught a pass from Harry Gilmer and only had to beat the defender at the Blue Devil 24, on the last play of the game. Duke won 29-26.
6. 1951 – Yowarsky’s heroics end OU’s long victory streak.
7. 1958 – Ray Brown, flushed out of punt formation, races 92 yards for Ole Miss in a 39-7 victory over Texas. Brown became the first unanimous recipient of the Miller-Digby Trophy, emblematic of the MVP of the Sugar Bowl.
8. 1967 – Ray Perkins’ 45-yard reception of a pass from Kenny Stabler on the game’s first play set the stage for Alabama’s 34-7 victory over Nebraska. The win climaxed an 11-0-0 season for Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide.
9. 1972 – Tinker Owens’ 20-yard catch from quarterback Dave Robertson, which set up the first touchdown in Oklahoma’s 14-0 win over Penn State.
10. 1973 – Tom Clements’ daring pass from his own end zone to with two minutes to play, allowed Notre Dame to run out the clock against Alabama – and claim the national championship, 24-23.
11. 1980 – Krauss and the Alabama defense stop Penn State’s Guman cold on fourth-and-inches from the goal line. The touchdown-saving goal-line stand preserved the Crimson Tide’s 14-7 victory, allowing No. 2-ranked Bama to jump past the No. 1-ranked Nittany Lions to the national championship in the final vote.
12. 1981 -Perhaps no single play ever meant so much in the Sugar Bowl as Hoage broke through the line to block a Notre Dame punt that led to a Bulldogs’ field goal, then Georgia recovered the live ball in the ensuing kickoff that led to a touchdown – the difference in winning the national championship or falling short.
13. 1982 – With 42 seconds remaining on fourth-and-five, Pittsburgh quarterback Dan Marino hits tight end John Brown for a 33-yard touchdown as the Panthers defeated the Georgia Bulldogs 24-20.
14. 1983 – With Georgia needing just a field goal to snatch away a victory – and the national championship – away from Penn State, quarterback Todd Blackledge speared receiver Gregg Garrity for a six-yard gain on a third-and-three at the Nittany Lions’ 32 with two minutes to go. The play allowed Penn State to run out the clock.
15. 1984 – Al Del Greco’s 19-yard field goal with seconds to play as Auburn beat Michigan 9-7. Del Greco scored all of Auburn’s points as the Tigers finished 11-1.
16. 1993 – George Teague’s 31-yard interception return seals Alabama’s 34-13 upset of No. 1-ranked Miami as the Crimson Tide took the No. 1 crown for itself.
17. 1995 – Byron Still’s 60-yard punt return ignited Virginia Tech from a 0-10 deficit against Texas to a 28-10 victory.
18. 2000 – Florida State’s Peter Warrick catches a 64-yard touchdown pass from Chris Weinke. At the time of the play, Virginia Tech had outgained the Seminoles 123-8. The touchdown fired FSU to a 46-29 victory, and the national title.
19. 2004 – LSU defensive end Marcus Spears intercepts a pass at the line on the first series of the second half and plows 20 yards into the Oklahoma end zone. The touchdown proves to the scoring difference as the Bayou Bengals beat the Sooners 21-14, and claim the BCS championship.
20. 2006 – In a game of big plays on both sides none was bigger than Phil Brady faking a punt and running for 10 yards, which allowed West Virginia to run out the clock in a staggering 38-35 upset over Georgia.
Marty Mulé is an award-winning sportswriter who covered national and Southeastern Conference sports, including the Sugar Bowl, in his 33 years at the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He is now a free-lance writer.