The Sugar Bowl is undoubtedly a New Year’s Day tradition. Much like other January bowls, it dates back to the 1930s.
One of the schools synonymous with the Sugar Bowl is LSU. They’ve appeared in 13 of them, second only to Alabama, with a 6-7 record.
LSU has played in some memorable games, but it might be hard to top the one the Tigers competed in 50 years ago when they faced seventh-ranked Wyoming. That Sugar Bowl became a classic.
While the two teams prepared for the game, a third deserving team was denied the opportunity.
This program hoped they would’ve had a chance to compete in a Sugar Bowl. That would be Army!
The 1967 Army team was a solid team, led by second-year head coach Tom Cahill. Army boasted a dangerous running attack led by Charlie Jarvis and their defense was tough, allowing less than 10 points per game.
They had one loss for most of the season and strongly considered a bowl game opportunity, something the Cadets hadn’t done before.
Both Navy and Air Force participated before in bowl games, but not Army. Now, they had a chance to be the third service academy to go to a bowl game.
Following a shutout win over Utah, it appeared likely that the Sugar Bowl committee would offer a bid to Army. That would all change soon.
Just days before Army’s game against Pitt, the Pentagon announced they would not allow Army to participate in any postseason games.
Stanley Resor, Secretary of the Army, ruled against the Cadets participating in any bowl games, including the Sugar Bowl.
The Pentagon offered a number of reasons why they wouldn’t allow Army to participate in the bowl game. The move, the spokesman said would “…emphasize football to an extent not consistent with the basic mission of the academy, which is to produce career Army officers.”
The Pentagon reportedly didn’t like the idea of extending the season another month just to play one more game.
The Vietnam War reportedly played a role in Resor’s decision, according to the spokesman. The war had started to reach its peak. Just a few weeks after the Sugar Bowl, the Tet Offensive began.
It’s worth pointing out that in the days prior, athletic director Col. Jerry Capka said there was no policy banning Army from participating in bowl games.
Army had its fair share of chances to participate in bowl games, especially during the Red Blaik days. However, Blaik told the New York Times that the team faced a demanding schedule and participating in a bowl game would mean giving up their Christmas break.
But it’s clear there was a lot of interest in ’67 for Army to compete in the Sugar Bowl. One person with such interest was Congressman Edward Hebert of Louisiana. Hebert, who was also on the House Armed Services Committee, called the move a “body blow to the morale” for the team. He took issue with the reasoning from the Pentagon and said he’d go to the President to try to remedy the situation.
As unhappy as Hebert was about the move, some cadets at West Point were less so. The team reportedly found out the Wednesday before the game. Meanwhile, word leaked out on the West Point campus the next morning before the Pitt game, even though the Pentagon didn’t announce the move until later that afternoon.
Cadets went into the mess hall that morning and took a few sugar bowls, 324 to be exact. They later, according to the Associated Press, placed a mound of sugar on some plates and left a sign that said “No Sugar Bowl for the Army team; no sugar bowls for the corps.”
The Public Information Officer later downplayed the move to the AP, calling it a prank. It’s clear that the move had an effect on Army for the rest of the season.
Army did get the win over Pitt by a 21-12 score. It should’ve been by a bigger margin considering that Pitt won just one game all season. In the season finale against rival Navy, the Midshipman snapped a three-game winless streak to defeat Army 19-14.
Cahill later told the New York Times that the team and staff were hurt by the Pentagon’s move, adding that it hurt the program. Army went 7-3 in 1968, but struggled the next two seasons, going 4-5-1 in ’69 and 1-9-1 in ’70.
The Cadets had two straight 6-4 seasons, before going 0-10 in 1973. In Cahill’s final game as coach, Army lost a blowout to Navy. He would later be dismissed as coach.
During his tenure, Cahill’s Army teams won five times versus Navy. Nonetheless, the Academy cited Army football’s image as a reason for his firing, suggesting that the team’s struggle was hurting the academy. Cahill thought it was the other way around.
Army wouldn’t play in its first bowl game until 1984 when they defeated Michigan State in the Cherry Bowl.
With more than 72,000 in attendance at Tulane Stadium, both LSU and Wyoming took to the field and participated in a classic.
Down 13-7 in the fourth quarter, Nelson Stokley threw two touchdown passes to Tommy Morel to give LSU the victory over Wyoming 20-13. The loss for Wyoming ruined their undefeated season.
It’s hard not to imagine Cahill and the players and staff sitting back at West Point, or wherever they were staying for break, watching the game on TV.
There’s no telling how much of a difference it would’ve made had Army participated in the Sugar Bowl. Would it have made a difference in terms of the Army’s image during the Vietnam War? There is no way to truly know.
Army is in a much different position than it was 50 years ago. The Cadets, now known as the Black Knights, recently defeated San Diego State in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Maybe one day we can see Army play in a major New Year’s Day bowl game.