How Oklahoma A&M and St. Mary's Met in the 1980 Sugar BowlA letter from Wallace Wade to Fred Digby after Duke-Alabama cut short the tale of his Sugar Bowl listening while in the war. Wade wrote he was involved in military operations on January 1, 1945.
Undefeated Alabama was the southern choice of all the major bowls. Little St. Mary's was embarrassing the giants of California. Army was the best team in the country, and there was talk of the Cadet's breaking their bowl ban for a holiday in Pasadena or New Orleans.
Army favored a Rose Bowl invitation but was reluctant to decide before the Navy game. The Sugar Bowl pressured Pasadena to extend an early bid. The Sugar Bowl told Alabama to make up its mind or forget a New Orleans trip. Pasadena, with no answer from Army in the offering, was afraid to come up empty with both the Cadets and the Tide.
Frank Leahy told Fred Digby, "...I have no interest in St. Mary's nor is Jim Phelan more than an acquaintance; but if the Sugar Bowlers invite the Gaels for their game, I am sure they'll give the fans a show such as they've never seen. I'll be right here for it, too."
St. Mary's and Oklahoma A&M were extended Sugar Bowl invitations the following day. Both accepted. The undefeated Aggies, Missouri Valley Conference champions, were the nation's best ground offensive team, averaging 287.7 yards a game. St. Mary's, a tiny (enrollment under 300) Christian Brothers school in northern California, ran a sleight-of-hand offense and averaged 170 yards passing. A&M's Bob Fenimore, in the era of Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard, was the nation's leading rusher (1,641 yards), followed by none other than Hawaiian Hurricane Herman Wedemeyer (1,428 yards) of St. Mary's. Bothe were first team All-Americans. Oklahoma A&M finished fifth and St. Mary's seventh in the final Associated Press poll, giving New Orleans the only major bowl match-up of Top 10 teams.
Ticket demand was incredible. Seventy-five thousand fans, the highest Sugar Bowl attendance in its 12 games, were cramped into Tulane Stadium. The governor of Oklahoma strolled into Sugar Bowl headquarters a couple of days before the game, spotted President Sam Corenswet and other bowl committeemen, walked over and said, "Gentlemen, I'm a man of few words. I want tickets." Corenswet replied, "We're men of few words, too, governor. We haven't got any."
Recap excerpted from the book "Sugar Bowl Classic: A History" by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.