What I Love About the Sugar Bowl…
By Kirk Herbstreit
Story submitted Fall, 2008, for the Sugar Bowl’s 75th Anniversary Celebration
What I love about the Sugar Bowl, is that it’s more than just a football game. It’s an event furthered by the uniqueness that is the city of New Orleans.
I’ve covered four of these games now and each time I have walked away with memories and moments that made each experience a unique one. And look forward to the next time another one will be added to the list.
But my memories of the Sugar Bowl predate my covering the game in person. It was watching Herschel Walker and Notre Dame. It was watching Bear Bryant and Alabama with a dramatic goal line stand against Joe Paterno’s Penn State team. Todd Blackledge leading Penn State to a win and a national title. It was a New Years Day staple that your day was planned around. Never would I have thought I would have the opportunity to take part personally in this event and see similar things.
It seems like yesterday I was in the Hyatt on New Year’s Day 1997, covering my first Sugar Bowl, watching Ohio State play Arizona State in the Rose Bowl. And when Joe Jermaine found David Boston for a winning TD with just seconds left, the place erupted with a roar that traveled up the center of the hotel – as Florida fans so desperately needed Jake Plummer’s Sun Devils to lose in order to have a shot at winning the national title against the Seminoles. The buildup was now unprecedented. FSU had just beaten the No. 1 Gators in Tallahassee and Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel had taken a pounding. Now it was about winning a national title in addition to revenge. It was on – and it was all Gators and the “Fun ‘N Gun”. Seeing firsthand the excitement on the faces of Steve Spurrier and his players and staff after winning the national title was something to remember.
GameDay was at the Sugar Bowl for the Virginia Tech-Florida State BCS Championship Game. It was millennium New Years. And it turned out to be one of the most special times of my life. Sitting there in Jackson Square as the countdown to midnight was on – my wife told me she was pregnant with what turned out to be twins – our twin boys Jake and Tye. New Orleans will always have a special place in my heart for giving me that moment in my life.
The game itself was a treat to cover. Seeing Virginia Tech fans so excited to have a magical season with a special player in Michael Vick. Hokies fans dominated the scene inside the dome and when Tech took a 29-28 lead into the 4th quarter, it was as electric of an atmosphere I have ever felt at a football game. Here was Virginia Tech, 15 minutes from beating mighty Florida State and winning a national championship. But it wasn’t to be. The Seminoles converted a key 4th down and Peter Warrick and the FSU defense dominated the final period, pulling away to win.
Flashback to the 1993 Sugar Bowl. Here was defending national champion Miami, carrying a 29-game winning streak into the game as a heavy favorite over SEC champion Alabama. Now I wasn’t there for it, but people tell me they walked into that building and saw, oh, 60,000 or so Alabama fans, and knew Miami was in trouble. Boy, were they ever, it turned out.
Fast forward to the 2004 Sugar Bowl. Here we were again. In came Oklahoma to face LSU of all teams. It was basically a home game to win the national championship! And that’s what happened. From the time Justin Vincent ripped off a long run on the first series to the time the clock winded down, there was little doubt what the outcome would be. Oklahoma now knew how Miami felt a decade earlier and I saw it first-hand. The crowd has more of an effect in this game more than any other bowl, that’s for sure! And that’s a good thing. Atmosphere adds immense value to the game. And the Sugar Bowl does it better than anyone.
You would have thought I learned my lesson when covering the 2007 BCS Championship Game – and second one in New Orleans with LSU in the game! But here we were again in a wild 2007 season that ended in controversy and an LSU-Ohio State matchup in the BCS Championship Game. Again we saw how important the home field advantage and crowd support can be in the Superdome. Ohio State jumped to an early lead, but LSU wouldn’t be denied, buoyed by big plays from their defense and special teams and driven by their home fans, the Tigers won their second BCS Championship Game in the Superdome.
But as I said earlier, the Sugar Bowl is more than a game. It’s an experience. It’s things uniquely New Orleans. It’s Bourbon Street and hordes of fans showing their spirit. It’s the culture of the city and region. And if you know me, most importantly, it’s about food!
I’d be hard pressed to find a time when I had better meal and dining experience than I did at Emeril’s when I was in town for the BCS Championship Game between LSU and Ohio State. Meeting Emeril, having him personally serve us at the table and talk football was a great time. There are countless other restaurants I have had similar experiences – great food and great people all over the city. I could go on forever!
Combine the quality of the game, the people and city of New Orleans, Sugar Bowl personnel and the overall atmosphere and you have the definition of a great bowl experience. You have the Sugar Bowl.
Kirk Herbstreit has been an analyst for ESPN since 1995. Since 1996, Herbstreit has joined Chris Fowler and Lee Corso each Saturday morning on the Emmy Award-winning pregame show “College GameDay.” A former QB and captain at Ohio State, Herbstreit also serves as a color analyst for ABC College Football on Saturday night.