The package arrived in the mail a couple of years ago from as a special prize from the Football Writers Association of America.
The book, the size of an encyclopedia, was the hardbound history of the Sugar Bowl Classic — commemorating its 75th year. It was chock full of information, background and highlights from every Sugar Bowl.
Until now, the book served as both a good weight for exercise and a sturdy bookend.
With the University of Arkansas’ impending trip to New Orleans, I scanned the 408-page volume with more interest.
Here are some notable things I discovered:
*In the early part of the 20th Century, New Orleans was described as "blithesome town framed in wrought iron." It was hardly a destination city for tourism.
From its early days, it was a Southern sports mecca of eclectic notoriety. At one time, it was the only city in the country with two competing thoroughbred race tracks running concurrently 100 days a year. The dice game of "craps" was introduced there. Gentleman Jim Corbett knocked out John L. Sullivan in New Orleans in the first heavyweight championship in history fought with competitors using boxing gloves. Clara Baer of Newcomb College wrote the first rules there for the six-on-six game of girls basketball. Fencing was introduced to America in New Orleans and the rain check and "Ladies Day" in baseball originated with the New Orleans Pelicans minor league team.
* The Sugar Bowl was birthed during the Great Depression after the Rose Bowl set the template for postseason games and festivals surrounding them. The Rose Bowl began in 1902 but died quickly after a lopsided matchup. A crusading sports editor named Fred Digby and Warren Miller united to resurrect the Rose Bowl in 1916. Eighteen years later, the two were instrumental in creating the Sugar Bowl.
Theoretically, the Rose Bowl was created to match the "Champions of the West." against the "Champions of the East/Midwest." When Alabama went to the Rose Bowl in 1926, Digby and Miller began to think about involving champions from the South and Southwest in a more regional setting that could draw tourists and attention to New Orleans. The process was put in motion when Tulane, with a 9-0-1 record, was snubbed for the Rose Bowl (the West champion had the veto power on the opposition in those days).
* The bowl was born and named Sugar Bowl as a salute to New Orleans being at the heart of Louisiana’s sugar cane industry.
* The first game in 1935 matched Tulane and Temple. Temple? it was a good team in those days and was coached by the legendary Pop Warner. Tulane won 20-14. Advance tickets were $3.50 reserved and $1.50 general admission. Each team received $27,800.
* The second game was played in a deluge with TCU and Sammy Baugh edging LSU in a baseball-like score of 3-2. TCU and LSU were declared co-national champs. However, SMU, which lost its bowl game, was declared national champion by the ratings that ended after the regular season. This was the only time two teams from the old Southwest Conference claimed national titles in the same season.
* Santa Clara, which had its best teams snubbed by the Rose Bowl because it wasn’t from the conference that later became the Pac-6 then 8 (the 10, now 12), defeated LSU back-to-back in the third and fourth games. TCU defeated the Carnegie Tech Skibos (which boasted 42 engineering students and one musician on its roster) in the fifth Sugar Bowl. Skibos? Skibo was the name of the manor of the school’s namesake, Andrew Carnegie.
Now, to fast-forward.
* Georgia Tech defeated Tulsa, 20-18, in the 1944 Sugar Bowl. The quarterback for Georgia Tech, who scored on a 1-yard touchdown run and completed one of two passes for 26 yards, was Frank Broyles.
* The 1960 Sugar Bowl game, a rematch of a regular-season game between Ole Miss and LSU, was the first bowl to be televised in color from coast to coast.
* The bowl also had some challenges with a changing culture. In the 1950s and 1960s, some very good Southern teams could not accept bids because of school policy to not play games against teams with African-American players. Some Louisiana officials even tried to push legislation that mandated teams with African-American players could not be invited. There was other legislation would have required Caucasian and African-American spectators to be sold tickets and be seated in separate sections of the stadium. Because of the culture, beginning in 1956, and continuing for a decade, only teams from the (all-white) Southeastern, Southwest and Atlantic Coast Conferences played in the bowl.
* The Razorbacks, who have played in Sugar Bowls previously as an SWC member, has never played anyone other than a Southeastern Conference team in the bowl, losing twice to Alabama and Ole Miss and defeating Georgia (1969).
* Twenty-two teams (the most of any bowl) that have been declared national champions have played in the bowl with the national championship decided in the game three straight years.
The bowl, played in Tulane Stadium until the Superdome was built, has not exclusively been played in New Orleans. It was moved to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta in 2007 because of Hurricane Katrina.
Arkansas vs. Ohio State is one of the signature matchups of this bowl season. The Hogs and the Buckeyes now play on a solid foundation, created from the bayou in the Great Depression and undeterred even by the aftereffects of Katrina.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)