20 years ago (Jan. 1, 1993)
Alabama 34, Miami 13
Nobody saw this coming — least of all the Miami Hurricanes.
But maybe we should have.
It was eerie to think Alabama was back in the hunt for a championship 10 years after the death of Bear Bryant.
After going through a couple of other coaches, the man at the helm was Gene Stallings, who played for Bryant at Texas A&M and coached under the Bear at Alabama. Stallings was the first of Bryant’s disciples to become a head coach, and he beat him at his own game when the Aggies whipped the Tide in the 1968 Cotton Bowl.
When he returned to Tuscaloosa, Stallings took some of predecessor Bill Curry’s recruits, brought in some of his own and within three years was fielding a team that resembled some of Bryant’s. The Tide featured a solid running game and a suffocating defense but, because of that ball-control offense, Bama was a big underdog.
Especially against No. 1 and defending national champion Miami, which spanked the Tide 33-25 for the title in the Sugar Bowl three years before. This Hurricanes team featured a sophisticated passing attack with Heisman Trophy quarterback Gino Torretta.
But the Tide, an 81/2-point underdog, outrushed Miami 152-6 by halftime, at which point it led 13-6. Then Bama hit the ‘Canes with a roundhouse blow by scoring two touchdowns in 16 seconds. The first came after cornerback Tommy Johnson picked Torretta at the Miami 44 and returned the ball to the 20, leading to Derrick Lassic’s 1-yard touchdown run.
The second pick, on the first play of Miami’s next possession, was on a quick pass pilfered by George Teague (above), who stepped in front of Jonathan Harris at the 31. Teague took off down the right sideline and high-stepped into the end zone.
That play, for all practical purposes, ended matters, making Miami the biggest favorite to lose in Sugar Bowl history.
25 YEARS AGO (Jan. 1, 1988)
Syracuse 16, Auburn 16
Twenty-two years later, Dick MacPherson was still angry.
“It still gets my blood boiling,” the former Syracuse coach said at the 75th anniversary celebration of the first Sugar Bowl.
The reason: Auburn coach Pat Dye had kicker Win Lyle attempt a 30-yard field goal to tie the score with four seconds remaining.
Dye, whose 9-1-1 team had no shot at a national championship or any other postseason laurels, was willing to settle for a tie in the days before the rules were changed to implement overtime.
The only tie in the history of the Sugar Bowl was the only blot on Syracuse’s record (11-0-1).
When Lyle’s third field goal of the night sailed through the yellow uprights, MacPherson vented his anger by throwing his game plan — three sheets of rolled-up paper — to the Superdome turf.
30 years ago (Jan. 1, 1983)
Penn State 27, Georgia 23
Joe Paterno said he could “feel it beginning to slip away.’’ And if it did slip away, so would Paterno’s first national title.
Penn State had been undefeated before under Paterno (right), just like this 11-0 team facing No. 2 Georgia (10-1), but never was recognized as the national champion.
The Nittany Lions were clinging to a 20-17 lead in the third quarter — a period in which the Bulldogs climbed back into position for an unlikely victory, one in which the long Penn State passing lanes were shut down and one in which Paterno started getting queasy.
Georgia could only inch past its 45 twice in the first half, though both times the drives resulted in points. The Bulldogs, though, closed the gap to three on the first series of the third quarter, going 69 yards in 11 plays, with Herschel Walker scoring from the 1.
Suddenly, the Sugar Bowl was up for grabs.
The Nittany Lions seemed to have lost their poise, and quarterback Todd Blackledge later said he had been playing “out of whack.” When Blackledge got the ball back in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, Blackledge called “six-45,’’ a routine play-action fake while four receivers streak downfield. Flanker Greg Garrity flew past freshman cornerback Tony Flack and made a diving, skidding catch in the end zone.
But the door was not shut. There would be more drama.
The only turnover Penn State would commit that night, a fumbled punt return, made it close to the end. Quarterback John Lastinger guided the Bulldogs from their 35 to the Penn State 9, where he scrambled and then threw back across the field to tight end Clarence Kay for a touchdown with 5:54 left.
A two-point conversion would have put Georgia — which had one of the nation’s best kickers, Kevin Butler — in position to win with a field goal. But Walker was stopped short, leaving it 27-23.
The strategy from here was simple: Georgia needed to get the ball back, and Penn State had to hold on to it. On third-and-3 at the Nittany Lions’ 32, instead of a plunge into the line by Curt Warner that everyone expected, Blackledge said, “Let’s go for it.’’
He dropped back and threw a dart to Garrity for a 6-yard gain, and Penn State had its national title.
50 years ago (Jan. 1, 1963)
Ole Miss 17, Arkansas 13
Johnny Vaught’s Ole Miss Rebels appeared to be suffering from an identity crisis.
Over a decade, the Rebels were consistently the Southeastern Conference’s top team. Yet since 1951, Tennessee, Auburn, LSU and Alabama had won consensus national championships. Ole Miss had only been presented minor recognition — by the Football Writers, Dunkel Rating and Litkenhous. Never a consensus title from the Associated Press or United Press International.
It had to irk Vaught, who seemed determined to show the doubters just how good his program was during the 1963 bowls with his only — still Ole Miss’ only — undefeated, untied team.
This was a remarkable feat considering the turmoil Ole Miss was going through after a riot and federal troops were sent to Oxford to ensure the enrollment of the school’s first black student, James Meredith.
Vaught’s SEC champion Rebels were 27-1-1 in the previous three seasons, had the SEC’s best offense, the nation’s best defense and a versatile quarterback in Glynn Griffing. No. 6 Arkansas led the Southwest Conference in rushing and total defense in going unbeaten for nine games.
Afterward, Razorbacks coach Frank Broyles made a succinct assessment: “The difference was Glynn Griffing.” The Ole Miss linchpin completed 14 of 25 passes for a Sugar Bowl record 242 yards.
Still, undefeated Ole Miss did not get a sniff at that consensus national championship, finishing third behind Associated Press titlist Southern California.