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Sunday, 21 December 2014

College Football: Top 5 Sugar Bowl Games Of All Time

Not every bowl game goes as planned. Some are blowouts and some are upsets no one saw coming. Then there are the games that are the stuff of legend.

I was at the 1997 Sugar Bowl, which pitted a rematch of the FSU/Florida game from November.

The 63rd edition to the annual Sugar Bowl game and served as the Bowl Alliance's designated national championship game. It featured the top-ranked Seminoles, and their heated rivals, the Gators, whom the Seminoles who were ranked third and were already defeated 24–21 in the final game of the regular season.

Florida defeated Florida State in their Sugar Bowl rematch in convincing fashion, with a final score of 52–20, and with the victory, earned its first-ever consensus national championship.

The Gators were led by their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Danny Wuerffel who threw three touchdown passes to Ike Hilliard and ran for another score. Wuerffel became the second Heisman Trophy-winner in four years to win a national championship, following Charlie Ward of Florida State in 1993.

Third-ranked Florida was invited to the Bowl Alliance's designated national championship game for the 1996-97 season because the Pac-10 Conference was contractually obligated to play in the Rose Bowl, and unavailable to participate in the Bowl Alliance. As a result, the second-ranked Pac-10 champion, Arizona State, played the fourth-ranked Big Ten champion, Ohio State, in the Rose Bowl. With the Sugar Bowl win over Florida State, Florida was assured of winning the consensus national championship when Ohio State defeated second-ranked Arizona State in the Rose Bowl.

While I left Louisiana sad and broken hearted (and with a major league hangover) it was just one of my huge games played in the Crescent City.

Here are five of the greatest Sugar Bowl games that have ever been played, according to

West Virginia 38 Georgia 35 – 2006

This was one hellacious football game, one worthy of notation by itself, an upset of the highest order. But the backdrop of this Sugar Bowl puts it in a separate category.

For the only time in the almost three quarters of a century history of the game, it was played outside of New Orleans. This was the aftermath of the devastating Hurricane Katrina, when the streets of New Orleans were submerged for weeks, when thousands of homes were destroyed, when hundreds of lives were lost, when the Superdome was knocked out of commission.

Notre Dame 24 Alabama 23 – 1973

Moving the chains was never more dramatic.

Of the eight decades of the Sugar Bowl, and the thousands of plays run in that time, this one first down is indelibly etched into the chronicles of the game. In a game charged with as much electricity as filled the New Orleans skies with a fierce thunderstorm hours earlier, there was a Sugar Bowl record 93-yard kickoff return by Notre Dame's Al Hunter, and a 25-yard Alabama touchdown pass from quarterback Mike Stock to quarterback Richard Todd on a trick play that put the Crimson Tide in front 23-21 with 9:33 left in the fourth quarter. 'Bama kicker Bill Davis missed the extra point attempt.

All the scoring ended with 4:12 remaining in the game when Notre Dame kicker Bob Thomas put the Irish ahead 24-23 with a 19-yard field goal.

Alabama 14 Penn State 7 – 1979

If there is a single image that paints the Sugar Bowl picture, it's this one: Alabama linebacker Barry Krauss, seemingly shot out of a missile silo, zeroing in on Penn State's Mike Guman at the goal line.

In one of the most fabled goal-line stands in college football history, in a game between the No. 1-and No. 2-ranked teams in the land, the Crimson Tide won - and Penn State lost - the 1979 national championship. It was the final of three touchdown-saving plays that preserved 'Bama's 14-7 edge in the fading minutes.

Even Krauss was surprised at his team's achievement. "They were down there at the 1-yard line, and I had to admit I was thinking they'd probably score, go for two and try to beat us.''

It was a fitting climax to a game that was a defensive classic before the fireworks two feet shy of the Superdome end zone.

Florida State 46 Virginia Tech 29 – 2000

This one was memorable because I held my four-month old son the entire game as the Seminoles destroyed the Hokies in New Orleans.

The first Sugar Bowl of the new millennium was a kaleidoscope of mesmerizing football, fitting for the first BCS game in New Orleans.

With a backdrop of a Superdome filled to the rafters with a festive and raucous crowd, FSU's Peter Warrick caught six passes for 163 yards and set a Sugar Bowl record by scoring 20 points. Michael Vick, Virginia Tech's redshirt freshman quarterback, guided his team to 503 yards, most ever in a losing Sugar Bowl effort.

In a game that spent the energies of fan and athlete alike, Vick began lighting the fuse to blow up Florida State's No. 1 dream from the opening kickoff, driving the Hokies to within hailing distance of the Seminole end zone three times, only to come up empty. Most costly was a lost Tech fumble at the FSU 1 on the Hokies' first drive.

Warrick, who was held to one catch for seven yards in the '97 title game, erased that memory quickly. After a Tech threat was quelled, he opened the scoring by grabbing a 64-yard touchdown from Chris Weinke.

Georgia 17 Notre Dame 10 – 1981

It was an ugly stat: in a game when Georgia needed air-support to keep defenders off tailback Herschel Walker, quarterback Buck Belue was 0-for-11 passing.

This was a remarkable Georgia team, one that ran the table more because all its units meshed than on overwhelming talent, other than the redoubtable Walker.

Going into the Sugar Bowl against Notre Dame, conventional wisdom said to survive one more time in this memorable season Georgia would need all its resourcefulness - and more. The Bulldogs had to have a passing threat to relieve pressure on its one-dimensional ground-game.

Although Belue didn't pass much for this infantry-oriented squad, he would have to pass, and pass well, in order to avoid having the Notre Dame Goliaths aim their defensive guns solely on Walker. Sprint-outs and play-action calls by Belue would be the only other offensive options in Georgia's limited offense. The Bulldogs didn't get that needed air-support - and still found a way to win.



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