It was New Year’s Day 1972 and I was in New Orleans, Louisiana to watch my Oklahoma Sooners take on the Auburn Tigers of the Southeastern Conference. The trip from Oklahoma City to the “Big Easy” was by pickup truck, driven by my Dad, on New Years Eve morning, giving us (my best friend Dale was also along for the experience) some hours to prepare for a joyous and exciting night in the French Quarter that evening. We began the trip very early, around three am, as was my Dad’s routine when traveling. Leave early and get a couple of hundred miles out-of-the-way before the sun comes up.
I was of age, turning eighteen the previous January, and though I had been to the “Crescent City” a few times before, as a child and not knowing the ways of the world, this time I was aware of the sins of this religious but sinful city.
My Dad had the great idea to park his truck (with a camper over the bed) close to the French Quarter and have us spend the balance of the evening, and the coming of the New Year, taking in the festivities that the Quarter had for it’s visitors on this party night. We found a very nice seafood restaurant somewhere close to St. Charles Street and my Dad treated Dale and myself to a full bodied shrimp dinner, including a tasty shrimp cocktail. The dinner was interrupted when Dale, not that familiar with eating fried jumbo shrimp (fabulous freshly just caught out of the Gulf), tried to cut one of the succulent little fellows with a knife and it flew off the table to the floor, with onlookers noticing the miscue. He fumbled that shrimp like the Oklahoma Sooners wishbone did on the football field that season. But getting that crustacean back on his plate, it went down smoothly as did the Sooners as they ran up and down the field that season mindless of the fumblitis of the Sooner backs.
After dinner the three of us spent the next hours (until the coming of the new year) by walking the streets of the French Quarter, doing what you do on this night. This was the first time in my life I had the opportunity to buy liquor-by-the-drink on a public street, the first time I had viewed “almost” naked women swinging on bars, in and out of store windows, just one floor off the street, and the first time I had to take a pee in an alley because there was a need and not a good place to relieve myself. It was a night that I would not forget.
Once we were full of the night at the French Quarter we got back into the truck and motored over to a side street close to Tulane Stadium to wait out the few hours before we walked to the gate to enter the old steel venue of Tulane Stadium that had eighty-two thousand seats for the historic Sugar Bowl. It was an easy wait as I got some sleep in the back of the pick-up. With a kickoff at eleven o’clock in the morning a rooster start was good with me as my Dad had plans to drive back to Oklahoma City once the game concluded. My classes at Oklahoma City University were to start in a day or two and spending a night on the road was not good.
The game was very exciting for Sooner fans. Having good seats in the stadium, at the forty yard line about fifty rows up, it was also the first college game I had attended where I could purchase beer. That was nice, even if I was not that much of a alcoholic at the time The beer of choice in Orleans was Pearl, which was a local and favorite of the citizens of this area.
Going into the game Oklahoma had lost to Nebraska in the “Game of the Century” in Norman, 35-31. The Big Red of the South, ranked third in the country, was looking to win the Sugar Bowl and insure at least a third place finish in the national rankings, which consisted of the Associated Press and the United Press International. The “AP” vote was the media of college football casting ballots and the “UPI” was the Coach’s poll. Both crowned National Champions at the end of the bowl season. The “mythical” national championship for the 1971 season was Nebraska’s for the taking if they could beat Alabama in the Orange Bowl later in the day. Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Colorado had a historic opportunity to finish one, two, and three in the rankings if all three won their bowl games. Colorado had already taken care of the Houston Cougars New Year’s evening with a convincing 29-17 win in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl (in Houston). With wins over Alabama and Auburn, the top three would be the first time one conference held those spots in history. Nebraska did take care of the Crimson Tide, with ease, 38-6, in a match-up between number one and number two. It was Alabama’s first loss of the season. Auburn’s 9-1 record (a loss to Alabama in the Iron Bowl 31-7) put them in 5th coming into this Sugar Bowl to face OU, and the War Eagle had the Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan as their quarterback. Folks in the Midland’s thought OU’s great running back Greg Pruitt (3rd in the voting) or Cornell’s All-American Ed Marinaro, also a running back, were better than Sullivan. Sullivan nipped Marinaro for the Trophy. Sooner quarterback, senior Jack Mildren, was my choice that year, and Mildren, who finished 6th in the voting, completely outplayed Sullivan in this Sugar Bowl. OU had the game won at half and played out the second half in a ho hum fashion, winning the game 40-22. It was a game that Auburn had no clue to the Sooner wishbone. Coach Chuck Fairbanks and his offense, lead by Mildren and Pruitt, directed by offensive coordinator and future Sooner all-time head coach, Barry Switzer, rushed 439 yards and only passed for 11. Auburn was stymied on the ground with only 40 yards rushing and Sullivan did pass for 250 yards but it was too little as OU lead 31-0 at the half.
My interest in the game was high throughout as I knew Auburn was a top quality opponent and even though the SEC was not as highly regarded as it is today, any win over major programs such as Auburn was significant with the stakes they were playing for that morning. It was the first meeting between the two programs, with the second, as we know, coming up in a few weeks in the Superdome for the 2017 Sugar Bowl.
After the game I walked through the exit of Tulane Stadium for the first and only time, as the grand old stadium was soon to be wrecked by the ball in a short time. I have been back to New Orleans many times and on occasion I have been to the site where the stadium stood. If you didn’t know where you are when looking for the hollowed ground of Tulane Stadium, you would not recognize it as the place where it stood. I have a thing about going to places where famous structures once stood and this is one of those.
Our trip back home was uneventful and we got home around one am the next morning.
I came back to Oklahoma City with two items with my memories. My number one son has my 1972 Sugar Bowl program and Auburn pennant, both put away for my grandchildren. The Auburn pennant has the Sugar Bowl trophy on it. And I still remember those Auburn fans that were completely surprised by the powerful Sooners that day. They did not know how their team was run out of the stadium that day.