One play, a special moment, defined best Sugar Bowl ever

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One year short of a half-century later, it is still the greatest college football game played in New Orleans.

On December 31, 1973, Notre Dame defeated Alabama in a battle of unbeatens at Tulane Stadium in the Sugar Bowl, 24-23.

As a teenager who loved college football, that night provided a treasure trove of memories. Even the weather was memorable.

Driving to Tulane Stadium during a severe thunderstorm, we wondered if we would be able to navigate flooded streets. Once we did, we were greeted with a bone-chilling cold front.

It mattered little.

The game was dripping with subplots. It was the first time Alabama played Notre Dame. It was the first Protestants versus Catholics. It was the south’s dominant football power against a school that had its own national TV show on Sunday mornings.

Each Sunday, the Notre Dame replay aired on TV stations throughout the country. Who could forget the famous tag line by play-by-play man Lindsey Nelson?

“We now move to further action.”

At a time when one or two games aired on TV each Saturday, Notre Dame had a decided advantage.

And there was 1966.

On November 21, top-ranked Notre Dame decided not to try for points on its final drive and settled for a 10-10 tie with second-ranked Michigan State.

The following week, Notre Dame, which at the time did not play in bowl games, defeated USC, 51-0. The Irish was No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll. Michigan State was No. 2. Undefeated Alabama, 10-0, was third.

The crimson outrage was palpable.

Fast forward to the final three minutes of the Sugar Bowl. Notre Dame led 24-23.

It was then that Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian made his greatest call and etched himself in Irish lore. Facing a third down and eight at the Notre Dame 3-yard line, Parseghian knew if he punted, Alabama would be in great position for a game-winning field goal.

Instead, Parseghian called for a pass, and quarterback Tom Clements threw a 35-yard strike to Robin Weber, who caught it right in front of the Alabama bench.

Notre Dame ran out the clock, handing Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant and Alabama a bitter defeat.

Years later, Weber would reflect on the moment. The Texan noted that he was recruited by Darrell Royal of Texas, Frank Broyles at Arkansas and John McKay of USC but chose Notre Dame for one reason.

“I wanted to play for a national championship, and Ara was the guy to get it done.”

The Allstate Sugar Bowl has a vault full of memorable moments.

In 1981, Herschel Walker led the Georgia Bulldogs to a national title over Notre Dame.

Then 12 years later, Alabama surprised top ranked Miami, ending the Hurricanes 29-game win streak.

Still, the Sugar Bowl was never better than on the night of December 31, 1973. That still holds true 49 years later.

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Ed Daniels

WGNO Sports Director/106.1 FM

Ed is a New Orleans native, born at Baptist Hospital. He graduated Rummel High School, class of 1975, and subsequently graduated from Loyola University. Ed started in TV in 1977 as first sports intern at WVUE Channel 8. He became Sports Director at KPLC TV Channel 7 in Lake Charles in 1980. In 1982 he was hired as sports reporter…

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