Allstate Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame
The idea of a New Year’s Day football classic in New Orleans was first presented in 1927 by Colonel James M. Thompson, publisher of the New Orleans Item, and sports editor Fred Digby. Digby continued to push the concept on a yearly basis, convinced that football had a future and New Orleans should be a prominent part of it.
Finally, on January 1, 1935, the inaugural Sugar Bowl Classic kicked off with a proud Digby in attendance. While there was considerable doubt in the potential for the event, the teams in that first game, Tulane and Temple, were both paid nearly double their guarantees.
Since that first Classic, the Sugar Bowl has hosted 83 more games, including today’s College Football Playoff Semifinal. Over its storied history, 48 Hall of Fame coaches have stalked the sidelines of the Sugar Bowl, while 92 Hall of Fame players and 17 Heisman Trophy winners have shown their skills in the New Orleans event. Throughout history, Sugar Bowl fans have had the opportunity to experience the brilliance of 27 national championship teams as well as seven match-ups between the top two teams in the nation – true national championship games.
The Sugar Bowl has always treasured its rich history, taking great pride in the quality of play the game has presented over the years. In the spring of 2017, a group of Sugar Bowl Committee members formulated a plan to establish an official Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame.
“The Sugar Bowl has had the opportunity to host many of the greatest coaches and players in college football history,” said Stanley Cohn, the President of the Sugar Bowl Committee. “We wanted to have a way to recognize the best-of-the-best in our history – what better way to do that than to create a Hall of Fame?
“We believe we have an inaugural class which should go down as one of the most accomplished groups of inductees into any Hall of Fame,” Cohn continued. “But let me tell you, it was very challenging to limit it to 16. There have been so many legends in our game, our future classes figure to be just as impressive as this one.”
Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame: The 1930s and 1940s
The 1930s and 40s were a tumultuous time for the Sugar Bowl, as well as for the United States. However, the success of the inaugural Sugar Bowl in 1935, followed by more memorable games afforded the Sugar Bowl the opportunity to focus on growing its annual Classic.
The Sugar Bowl’s success led directly to significant funding to expand and improve Tulane Stadium, which was a 24,000-seat venue for the 1935 game. It expanded to 40,000 for the 1938 game, then made a jump to over 70,000 seats by 1940. It eventually became the largest stadium in the South with a capacity of over 85,000.
Many legendary players from that era were critical to the Bowl’s success. The four players from the 1930s and 1940s selected for the inaugural Hall of Fame Class provided star power on the field, but perhaps more importantly, their skills and reputations drew the attention of the nation’s football fans to New Orleans.
Claude “Little Monk” Simons was the star of the inaugural Sugar Bowl Classic in 1935. The Green Wave speedster had what is still considered one of the greatest plays in Sugar Bowl history when he took a lateral and dashed 85 yards to paydirt to jump start a stalled Tulane offense. After his playing career, Simons would go on to a prominent role with the Sugar Bowl Committee from 1949 to 1975, including serving as President for the 1959 and 1960 games.
TCU’s Sammy Baugh came into the 1936 Sugar Bowl known as “Slingin’ Sammy” due to his prowess as a quarterback. However, three days of heavy rains leading into New Year’s Day made the 1936 showdown between the Horned Frogs and LSU a mud bowl. The teams combined to complete just four passes, but Baugh averaged 47 yards on 14 punts and made a pair of touchdown-saving tackles as a defensive back to cement his status as one of the greats of college football.
Another TCU passing legend was Heisman Trophy winner Davey O’Brien, who led the Horned Frogs into the 1939 Sugar Bowl against Carnegie Tech. Despite being just 5-7, “Little Davey” was the biggest name in college football, and he proved himself in New Orleans. O’Brien completed 17-of-27 passes for 224 yards in TCU’s victory. For good measure, the star booted a fourth-quarter field goal before effectively ending the contest with a late-game interception to clinch a perfect season and a national title for TCU.
As the country moved into the 1940s and the war years, the Sugar Bowl managed to continue. On January 1, 1944, Georgia Tech defeated Tulsa, 20-18, in the 10th annual Sugar Bowl Classic. One of the Yellow Jacket stars was a young three-sport standout named Frank Broyles who rushed for 70 yards and the Jackets’ first touchdown in their hard-fought victory. However, his impact on the Sugar Bowl would go well beyond that as he is recognized as the man who had the most roles with the Bowl – player, assistant coach, head coach, athletic director, broadcaster and fan (see page 148 for full feature).
Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame: The 1950s and 1960s
The Sugar Bowl saw continued success in the 1950s and 1960s, including a handful of dynasties becoming part of the Classic’s history. Bud Wilkinson’s powerhouse Oklahoma teams visited New Orleans multiple times in the early 1950s; there were three appearances by Bobby Dodd’s Georgia Tech squads; Alabama began its rise under Bear Bryant; and Johnny Vaught’s talented Ole Miss squads made seven Sugar Bowl appearances. Eighteen of the 20 Sugar Bowls during these decades welcomed over 70,000 fans, including 13 Classics with over 80,000 fans.
During these years, the bowl also established itself as a groundbreaker in the television industry as the 1953 game was the first live television program in New Orleans history and the 1960 game was the first bowl televised coast to coast in color.
Great performances continued on the field as well with 29 future College Football Hall-of-Famers showing their prowess in New Orleans. Four legends from this era are among the inaugural inductees into the Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame.
Franklin “Pepper” Rodgers debuted in the Sugar Bowl in 1953 as he threw a touchdown pass, kicked a field goal and knocked home three point-after kicks in Georgia Tech’s 24-7 victory over Ole Miss. He outdid himself the following year, however, passing for 195 yards and three touchdowns while kicking another field goal and two more extra-points to lead the Yellow Jackets to a bowl record 42 points in a lopsided victory over West Virginia.
In the 1957 Sugar Bowl, Heisman Trophy runner-up Johnny Majors led the Tennessee Volunteers against Baylor. Majors was bottled up by the tenacious Bears, but he still managed 51 rushing yards and a key touchdown in a 13-7 loss. Those less-than-fond memories of New Orleans were likely tempered by Majors’ return trips as a head coach. In 1977, his Pitt squad capped a national championship season with a 27-3 win over Georgia and he added two more victories as the Tennessee coach in 1986 over Miami and in 1991 over Virginia.
Arguably the greatest all-around performance in Sugar Bowl history was turned in by Raymond Brown in the 1958 Sugar Bowl. Ole Miss had lost in its first two Sugar Bowl appearances, but Brown ensured that wouldn’t happen again. The senior rushed for an early touchdown, passed for a second-quarter score and recorded a Sugar Bowl-record three interceptions on defense. However, his most memorable moment came as the clock wound down. Dropping back to punt from deep in his own end zone, Brown found himself under heavy pressure; he bolted to the right and then steamed down the sideline 103 yards for a touchdown – the play was officially 92 yards, still the longest in Sugar Bowl history.
The final Hall of Famer from this era bridged the gap into the 1970s. Arkansas receiver Chuck Dicus had one of the greatest receiving days in Sugar Bowl history when he caught 12 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown in a 16-2 win over Georgia in the 1969 game. One year later, on January 1, 1970, Dicus proved 1969 was no fluke as he caught six passes for 171 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown. While his Razorbacks lost that day to Ole Miss, his two-game totals of 19 receptions and 340 receiving yards are both tops among individuals in Sugar Bowl history.
Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame: The 1970s
The 1970s for the Sugar Bowl featured a variety of memorable highlights. The Bowl played four New Year’s Eve games during the decade, including one of the greatest college football games ever played – on December 31, 1973, as No. 3 Notre Dame defeated No. 1 Alabama, 24-23, when Tom Clements completed an unexpected pass from his own end zone to a receiver who hadn’t caught a pass all season. That game was watched in person by a Bowl-record 85,161 fans, and it earned the Sugar’s best-ever TV rating of 25.3. The Sugar Bowl also had its first night game in 1972 and, in 1977, it locked down an official partnership with the SEC to participate in the game on an annual basis. In addition, the fabulous Louisiana Superdome became the home of the Bowl starting with the 1975 game.
The Sugar Bowl greats of the 1970s are represented by four legends of football – a quarterback, a coach and two running backs – in the inaugural Hall of Fame class.
The decade kicked off with a memorable performance by Ole Miss and its swash-buckling quarterback Archie Manning, who passed for 273 yards and a touchdown while also running for another score in a 27-22 victory over Arkansas. Manning would return to the Crescent City in 1971 after being drafted by the New Orleans Saints and would become one of the most beloved athletes in the city’s history. He was elected to the Sugar Bowl Committee in 1986 and remains a vital part of the organization today.
Another superstar came to New Orleans following the 1976 season when Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett led his Pitt Panthers into the Sugar Bowl. Dorsett was solid in the first-half, scoring his lone touchdown of the game on an 11-yard dash, but it was the second half where he made his mark as he carried the ball 15 times for 130 yards and finished with a Sugar Bowl-record 202 rushing yards in a 27-3 win over Georgia.
Alabama, the team with the most Sugar Bowl appearances, has had many stars in the Sugar Bowl, but only one has the distinction of scoring touchdowns in three different Sugar Bowls. Major Ogilvie keyed three straight wins for the Crimson Tide in 1978, 1979 and 1980. In addition to scoring in all three, he was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 1980 game when ’Bama wrapped up another national championship.
The legendary coach from the Sugar Bowl’s 1970s archives established himself as a Sugar Bowl legend long before the 1970s. Paul “Bear” Bryant directed nine different teams to the Sugar Bowl. His first appearance was in the 1951 game where his heavy underdog Kentucky Wildcats shocked top-ranked Oklahoma. After taking over at Alabama, he led the Crimson Tide to eight Sugar Bowl appearances. His 1962 team capped a national championship season in the Sugar Bowl and his string of Sugar Bowl games ended with three straight appearances in 1978, 1979 and 1980. All three of those games resulted in wins over fellow College Football Hall of Fame coaches. His last two appearances (1979, 1980) were both national championships for the Crimson Tide.
Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame: The 1980s and 1990s
Mary Frances Digby remembered her husband Fred coming home the night of January 1, 1935, in a quiet, contemplative mood. “He was very happy,” she recalled with a smile. “After a while, he just looked up and said it has been a dream come true.”
Digby’s dream was for a college football bowl game in New Orleans. With the successful staging of that first Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day in 1935, Digby knew that his venture might possibly have legs. Who knows, maybe it would even become a part of the very fabric of New Orleans.
Despite his grand aspirations, it’s unlikely even Digby could have imagined what his brainchild would become by the 1980s. All 10 Sugar Bowls in the 1980s had sellout crowds of over 75,000 fans. The games were all televised coast-to-coast on color television. National champions were being crowned right in New Orleans – three alone in the 1980s. While Tulane and Temple each pocketed $27,800 following the inaugural Sugar Bowl – twice as much as they had been guaranteed – Florida State and Auburn were each paid $6 million for their 1989 Sugar Bowl showdown. Oh, did we mention the Sugar Bowl, which had started in 24,000-seat Tulane Stadium is now played in a 70,000-seat dome – one of the architectural wonders of the world upon its completion.
Much had changed since the 1930s, but one thing remained the same for the Sugar Bowl – it continued to offer its fans an exceptional football classic each New Year’s Day.
The early 1980s featured three legends for the inaugural Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame class.
Herschel Walker played in three straight Sugar Bowls (1980, 1981, 1982) for the Georgia Bulldogs, scoring touchdowns in all three. His team’s 17-10 victory over Notre Dame in the 1980 game capped an “unbeaten, untied and unbelievable” national championship season. Walker ran 36 times for 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the win – his huge running numbers came despite the ‘Dawgs completing just one pass all day and despite Walker dislocating his shoulder on the first play of the game. Georgia may have lost Walker’s other two Sugar Bowls (by a total of eight points), but the running back’s legend only grew as he added 187 more rushing yards and three more TDs.
Playing the foil to Walker in the 1982 Sugar Bowl was Pitt quarterback Dan Marino. Marino completed 26-of-41 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns, but no pass was more critical than his final one. Trailing 20-17 with 42 seconds to go, Marino faced a do-or-die fourth and five at the Georgia 33. He delivered a near-perfect pass to John Brown for the game-winning score.
For the Golden Anniversary of the Sugar Bowl Classic in 1984, the committee had the opportunity to invite Auburn and its once-in-a-lifetime athlete Bo Jackson. While Michigan managed to hold Jackson out of the end zone, he still finished with 130 yards on 22 carries as the Tigers escaped with a 9-7 victory. The legend of Bo also gained another chapter in New Orleans as it is said that the young football star tossed a football off the Superdome’s ceiling replay screen (over 200 feet up) during an Auburn practice session.
The final Hall of Famer is the most recent “alum” of the game. Gene Stallings directed Alabama to its first national championship in 13 years as his Crimson Tide shocked No. 1 Miami with a 34-13 blowout.
While these 16 football legends were selected as the inaugural class of the Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame, they are but a sampling of the many greats that have entertained hundreds of thousands of fans in New Orleans (and millions around the world on radio and television) while competing in the Sugar Bowl Classic. So, stay tuned for the honoring of more Sugar Bowl greats in the years to come.
Allstate Sugar Bowl Hall of Famers
|Sammy Baugh||Raymond Brown|
|Sugar Bowl 1936||Sugar Bowl 1958|
|Frank Broyles||Paul “Bear” Bryant|
|Five Sugar Bowls||Nine Sugar Bowls|
|Chuck Dicus||Tony Dorsett|
|Sugar Bowl 1969 & 1970||Sugar Bowl 1977|
|Bo Jackson||Johnny Majors|
|Sugar Bowl 1984||Four Sugar Bowls|
|Archie Manning||Dan Marino|
|Sugar Bowl 1970||Sugar Bowl 1982|
|Davey O’Brien||Major Ogilvie|
|Sugar Bowl 1939||Sugar Bowl 1978, 1979, 1980|
|Pepper Rodgers||Claude “Monk” Simons|
|Sugar Bowl 1953, 1954||Sugar Bowl 1935|
|Gene Stallings||Herschel Walker|
|Sugar Bowl 1993||Sugar Bowl 1981, 1982, 1983|