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Once a bowl attraction is set, officials always go into a late-season sweat over the won-lost records of the teams.
"I watched the Alabama-Auburn game on TV on Thanksgiving Day," said Ernie Seiler, executive vice-president of the Orange Bowl. "When Auburn was leading 7-6 at the half, I also heard Texas and Texas A&M were tied 7-7. It sure was a long half time. Then I heard Texas was only ahead 13-7 and I thought, 'My God, a touchdown can beat us.' You get a lot of ulcers when you have two teams like that."
There was a time when the Sugar Bowl ranked second only to the Rose Bowl in prestige. It began to slip several years ago as the Cotton and Orange bowls became better promotions and offered as much, if not more, money to the visiting teams. Also the bowl suffered because of New Orleans' racial ban. For the past eight years the Sugar Bowl has had all-southern pairings, five times being forced to accept the Southwest Conference runner-up as one of its attractions and only three times over that span managing to obtain the Southeastern Conference champion.
New Orleans can now report cheerfully that its racial ban no longer is in effect. And NBC is delighted with this year's game—LSU against Syracuse. Neither team is a champion of its area, but the intersectional flavor is there, and this means more viewers on TV than the Sugar Bowl has had recently. Sponsors of the New Orleans game certainly tried to arrange as attractive a match as the Orange and Cotton had but without luck. In succession, after Notre Dame, they sought Alabama, Texas and Nebraska. The last blow they suffered was Nebraska's decision to meet Arkansas in Dallas, a game that will make more sense than most, since it will be a battle of conference champions, the Southwest against the Big Eight.
Striving to please the network, the Sugar Bowl then took Syracuse and prepared a release to be issued to the press after the Syracuse-West Virginia game. A fine forethought, but unfortunately the release credited Syracuse with an 8-2 record, which it would have had if only it had beaten West Virginia.
Obviously, the larger, older, more established bowls get first choice of the best available teams. They not only pay more money, they offer more prestige and, in such cases as Miami and New Orleans, provide a more exotic range of entertainment for the fans who will follow the teams. Games such as the Gator Bowl, the Bluebonnet, the Sun and the Liberty (which has now become an unusual indoor affair for Atlantic City's Convention Hall) are obligated to await the leftovers.
Sometimes the leftovers are pretty good. The Gator Bowl, for example, has never suffered. It has benefited from such fine meetings as Tennessee- Texas A&M, Arkansas- Georgia Tech and Florida-Penn State at times when those teams were among the country's best. Neither has the Bluebonnet Bowl, which is played in the best physical plant of them all, the handsome, comfortable, 70,000-seat Rice Stadium. The Bluebonnet has enjoyed Texas-Alabama, Missouri- Georgia Tech and Baylor-LSU when those teams were almost as hot as the ones which nosed them out for the championships in their conferences.
After a lot of infighting for teams this season the Gator Bowl landed on all fours. George Olsen, executive director of the Gator, kept Penn State, Georgia Tech and Georgia dangling, then quietly and skillfully enticed big-name Oklahoma to Jacksonville to meet little-name Florida State, a school which gives the Gator almost a true home team.
The Bluebonnet usually is interested in the Southwest runner-up, and since Chairman Lou Hassell is a close friend of Coaches Bryant and Royal, Houston was actually the second choice of both Texas and Alabama. But the Bluebonnet missed those. It may have a fine game anyhow, which should delight the 15,000 school kids who get in free, courtesy of a charity-minded businessmen's club. Tulsa and Ole Miss, a couple of cautionless, offense-minded teams, will play. Even in a bad year Mississippi looks good, and Tulsa's Jerry Rhome gives the Bluebonnet the U.S. passing champion for the second straight year (it was Baylor's Don Trull in 1963). Both schools are within 600 miles of Houston—driving distance—and the loyal followers are expected to pour in. "When Tulsa was announced," said Art Mahoney, sales manager of Houston's Sheraton-Lincoln Hotel, "we had 35 immediate reservations from Tulsa people, plus a cocktail party for 100 booked for the night before the game."
With all of the eight major bowls on national television, the financial rewards are quite decent, to understate the case. The take-home pay ranges from the $207,000 that Alabama and Texas each will receive from Miami to the $50,000 that West Virginia and Utah will get from the Liberty. The amount with which the schools actually can leave town is something else. The cost of taking a team and band to a postseason game naturally depends on how much travel is involved, the length of the stay, the locale, what sort of rates are provided and how many wives and friends can stow away.