Sweet!: The Story of Ohio State and the Sugar Bowl Classic

By Kyle Rowland on December 16, 2010 at 3:40p

The Ohio State football program is all about tradition and its rich history. A tradition the Buckeyes have upheld for years is playing in some of the most hallowed bowls; the Rose, Orange, Fiesta and, for the fifth* time come Jan. 4, the Sugar Bowl. 

Played annually since 1935, the Sugar Bowl (along with the Orange and Sun) is the second-oldest bowl game in the country. Last season's contest marked the game's 75th anniversary. 

Like everything in college football (at least it seems that way), the game was the idea of a prominent newspaperman and sports editor in New Orleans. After eight years of wrangling there was finally enough support for the creation of the Sugar Bowl. For the first 40 years, the game was played outdoors at Tulane Stadium until the Louisiana Superdome was built. 

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast, it became apparent the Superdome would not be able to host the 2006 edition of the Sugar Bowl. The Georgia Dome stepped in and played host. The Superdome took over its hosting duties the next season and has hosted the game every year since. 

Unlike most bowl games that recycle their way through sponsors, the Sugar Bowl has only had three sponsors in its history. USF&G was the title sponsor from 1987-1995 before Nokia took over for a a dozen years. In 2007, Allstate began its run as sponsor. Until Fox took over the broadcasting rights of the BCS games, ABC had aired the Sugar Bowl 28 consecutive years. The game will go back to its roots this season as ESPN (which is owned by Disney which also owns ABC) begins broadcasting the BCS games.  

Like the Rose Bowl's contractual agreement with the Big Ten and Pac-10, the SEC has long been associated with the Sugar Bowl. Including this season, the past 11 games have featured an SEC team. 2000 was the last time an SEC team didn't appear in the game and the only reason one didn't that year was because the Sugar Bowl hosted the national championship game. Alabama and LSU have appeared in the most Sugar Bowls at 13 a piece. 'Bama has won the most games, garnering an 8-5 record.

The Buckeyes first appeared in the Sugar Bowl following the 1977 season. The 9-3 and eighth-ranked Buckeyes faced No. 3 (11-1) Alabama. It was actually a surprise that the two teams were matched up. Notre Dame also had one loss and many thought an Irish-Crimson Tide show down was too good to pass up. The Sugar Bowl had other ideas, though, and felt matching Bear Bryant and Woody Hayes against one-another was a golden opportunity. It also marked the first time a Big Ten school had played in the Sugar Bowl.

Ohio State and Alabama had two of the best offenses and defenses in the country that season. You certainly would have believed it watching 'Bama, but not the Buckeyes (not the offense anyway). The Crimson Tide racked up almost 400 yards of offense and 25 first downs en route to a 35-6 shellacking of the Buckeyes. The score was 20-0 before Ohio State even put points on the board. The 'Bama defense pressured Rod Gerald into three interceptions. Amazingly, Alabama fumbled the ball 10 times, but only two were recovered by Ohio State. 

It would be another 20 years before Ohio State would return to New Orleans. When they did, they faced one of the best teams in the country again - Florida State. The match-up between the No. 4 Seminoles and No. 9 Buckeyes was highly anticipated. Unfortunately, for Ohio State it was over in a hurry.

The Buckeyes took a 3-0 lead before Florida State rattled off  21 unanswered points to take a 21-3 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Buckeyes wold pull to within 13 (21-8) and 10 (24-14), but that was the closest they got, eventually losing 31-14. It was an unusual 14 points scored by OSU. Two field goals, a safety and a touchdown with a failed two-point conversion. 

The game turned on Ohio State while they trailed 7-3. Prior to the game, John Cooper spoke with the officials about a fake field goal they were going to run during the game. The officials said the play was legal and that they'd watch for it. Ohio State ran the play to perfection as holder Brent Bartholomew threw a strike to John Lumpkin for a touchdown. However, Lumpkin was flagged for not reporting to the huddle. Cooper and the OSU coaches were furious at the officials. Ohio State would end up missing a field goal on the possession and the flood gates opened from there. 

Ohio State actually had more first downs than Florida State and held the Seminoles to 60 rushing yards. Thad Busby went wild, though, with 334 passing yards. Jan. 1, 1998 was one of the worst days ever for Buckeye fans. Not only did Ohio State get blown out, but Michigan defeated Washington State in the Rose Bowl prior to the Sugar Bowl to win the national title. 

The Buckeyes returned to New Orleans the next year to take on a Texas A&M team that had knocked off No. 1 Kansas State a few weeks earlier. The Buckeyes were arguably the best team in the country that season, but a November loss to Michigan State derailed their title hopes. That is, until Dec. 5, 1998 came around. No. 1 Kansas State and No. 3 UCLA both lost. If No. 2 Tennessee lost, the Buckeyes would find themselves back in the title game. Unfortunately, they recovered in the second half of the SEC Championship Game against Mississippi State to win the game. 

Heading into the game, some believed if Ohio State won impressively and Florida State beat Tennessee in a sloppy Fiesta Bowl, the Buckeyes could be crowned national champions. Ohio State dismantled A&M, winning 24-14, but it could have been much worse. After trailing 7-0, the Buckeyes rattled off 24 straight points to take a 24-7 lead at the half. However, they got complacent in the second half and failed to score. 

Ohio State outgained A&M 432-283. After the Aggies had run all over Kansas State in the Big XII title game, OSU limited them to 96 yards on the ground. Joe Germaine threw for 222 yards and a touchdown. Joe Montgomery and Michael Wiley combined for 184 yards rushing and a touchdown. 

*Technically Ohio State has only been to three Sugar Bowls, but I am lumping the 2008 BCS National Championship Game with the rest. While it wasn't the Sugar Bowl, it was still played in the Superdome and every other aspect of the game was the same as the Sugar Bowl. 

While the crazy ending to the 1998 season didn't work out for Ohio State, the tailspin of every Top 10 team in the country in 2007 worked out A-OK for the Buckeyes. Like 1998, a November loss appeared to end all national championship aspirations Ohio State had. Then all hell broke loose. Countless teams in the Top 5 lost, including No. 1 and No. 2 (Thanks Rich Rod!) on the last day of the season. Thus, one-loss Ohio State and two-loss LSU squared off with a national title on the line. 

Despite a total meltdown the previous year vs. Florida in the championship game, Ohio State and its fans were extremely confident entering the game. And why not? LSU had already lost twice. In eerily similar fashion to the 2007 title game, OSU jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead before the apocalypse arrived again. LSU rattled off 31 straight points to take a 31-10 lead. The Buckeyes cut the lead to 14 and had the ball, but Todd Boeckman and a porous offensive line spelled doom for Ohio State. LSU won the game 38-17 to captures it second national championship in five years. 

Fun trip down memory lane, huh? Ohio State is 1-3 in the Superdome and all three loses were routs. We're told history doesn't matter. But does it? Some parallels and statistics are too hard to ignore. For example, the Buckeyes 0-9 record against SEC teams in bowl games. Nine games is a pretty big sample. It can't just be a coincidence that OSU has lost every time they faced a team from the Southeastern Conference in the post season, can it? New Orleans is the city of Voodoo. Maybe someone can cast a spell on Arkansas and deliver a much needed victory to Ohio State. On second thought, that probably won't be needed. After all, Ryan Mallett is a Michigan Man


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BuckeyeChief's picture

Really, really hoping we can pull this off.

"2014 National Champions...deal with it!!!"

Irricoir's picture

An exerpt from ESPN:

hoolame (12/16/2010 at 3:52 PM) said "better yet, disqualify teams who do play FCS opponents from being eligible for BCS games or a playoff if ever implemented. This would elevate the quality of the regular season games instead of a "practice" week for Ohio State when they play Youngstown St."
Alabama vs. Georgia State
Arkansas vs. Tennessee Tech
Florida vs. Appalaichan St.
Georgia vs. Idaho St. (FCS ? Big Sky?)
Kentucky vs. Charleston Southern
LSU vs. Mcneese St.
Ole Miss vs. Jacksonville St.
South Carolina vs. Furman
Tennessee vs. TN-Martin
Hey at least Vanderbuilt didn't schedule any FCS teams! Now I am not saying that all schools in the nation don't schedule a tune up game, but before you go talking about the splinter in my schools eye, pull the board out of your conference! So the SEC is the best conference in football and almost every team in that conference schedules a patsie? And you want to bring up Ohio State by name? We didn't even play an FCS team this year. Before you reply, finish those dishes and bring me a beer!

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

tomcollins's picture


I don't mind a single FCS game.  A lot of FCS opponents are better than the worst FBS opponents (Youngstown would have been tougher than Eastern Michigan).  There are too many damn teams in FBS anyway if we were going to have a playoff.  At least 40 of them have absolutely no business in there, and probably more.  Paring it down to 80 teams would be reasonable.

NW Buckeye's picture

And so it begins.  Let's pare down the FBS in order to have a playoff.  And all the remaining teams are not allowed to play anyone outside the FBS.  The rich get rich, the poor get poorer.  This is exactly what I predict will happen once we embark on the Playoff Champion shtick.  The talk of it is already starting, right here with Tom Collins.  I can only imagine that Wetzel is going to champion this as well.  Replace the MNC with a PC.  While you are at it, may as well expand the playoff field to 80 to completely devalue the regular season (this way no team can complain about not making the playoffs) .  That should just about guarantee that football will eventually be eliminated altogether from the college landscape.  May as well just make all the teams a kind of minor league / farm system for the pros.  Works great in baseball - just look at the numbers the minor leagues generate there! 

tomcollins's picture

The "poor" are making a killing off the backs of the teams that actually bring in the fans and money right now.  They have it very, very good.

My main concern of a playoff is devaluing the regular season.  Even if we hit a sweet spot of 6 or 8 teams, it would quickly expand once money gets involved.  That concerns me a lot.

You realize that FBS just keeps expanding and diluting every year, right?  Texas State and UTSA (who doesn't even have a program) are joining in the next few years.  Villanova will likely jump.  Teams like FIU or Eastern Michigan compete at the same level as the big boys?  There already is a divide, just formalize it.

NW Buckeye's picture

That's the whole idea of the way it is set up now. Spread the wealth. It is a very expensive proposition to field a team and fund an athletic department. Thanks to Title 9 schools must match sports evenly between men and women. The NCAA is all about spreading the wealth to maximize the numbers of all college athletes, not just the numbers at the upper echelon schools. My previous post was meant to be a little sarcastic, but this is really where it all begins. Wetzel thinks that the eventual cash draw of his accounting model "Death to the BCS" will be too much for the NCAA to ignore. He wants to compare a football playoff to the basketball tourney and predicts a larger cash flow. The fact is that they are two different beasts entirely. B-ball never had a rich post season to draw from without the tourney. B-ball can conduct a large amount of games in a short amount of time at just a few scattered venues. B-ball at most schools only finances itself with proceeds from their season. Football has an established bowl system that has helped generate a positive cash flow for the leagues involved. Football does generate funds to pay for many more sports at the schools. The current post season certainly helps, but the real lions share comes from the regular season games. Many of the BCS schools play in home stadiums that dwarf most of the bowl venues. The reason schools strive to move up and the NCAA encourages them to do so is to let them ride on the back of the system and hopefully generate more opportunities for college athletes as a whole, not just for football. A playoff system jeopardizes that and I can understand why university presidents are skeptical. The only way that we ever wnd up with a football playoff is to ensure that it will not diminish the cash flow that already exists for all the BCS schools. And talk of paring down the numbers for the sake of a football playoff will only add to the fears that a playoff system would diminish the regular season and keep the NCAA from it's scheme of spreading the wealth to the most schools possible.

slidingscrapes's picture

The difference this year? We have a theme song.

Show them Ohio's here!

buckeyedude's picture

Q. What's the Arkansas state motto?

A. If you can't keep it in yer pants, keep it in the familee!



blazers34's picture

Good work on the Vandy facebook page fellas.  #ronP

anchorman's picture

We will be 2-3 in the Superdome when it is all said and done. We will win this game easily against Arkansas. Not worried!

OHIOinME's picture

Hey Guys,  Did you guys see...did you hear...have you....I thought this was Arkansas' Fight Song but I found out this is.

Jason Priestas's picture

My God, that was awesome.