NEW ORLEANS — What's different about the Sugar Bowl?
Well, for one thing, it isn't really made of sugar.
There no doubt will be some sweet people at the Syracuse-Auburn game today, but they aren't made of sugar, either.
The Sugar is the bowl that has made a New Year's Day home for the Heisman Trophy candidate who might well have won it if anyone had heard of him four months ago.
He is Don McPherson, the Syracuse quarterback who finished second in the voting to Tim Brown, the Notre Dame player who started fast and finished slow.
McPherson started fast, too, but he also finished fast. But who would vote for a Syracuse player?
A Syracuse back named Jim Brown never won the Heisman, and Brown was the player of the decade.
To get the kind of early-season fame that successful Heisman candidates need, McPherson would have had to play quarterback standing on his head while throwing with his left foot.
Anyhow, welcome to the Sugar Bowl--the old winter home of Bear Bryant--where, this year, most of the attention has been on the Syracuse Orangemen because they're 11-0.
The Auburn Tigers figure to win the game, however, since they appear to have the better team.
Auburn's 9-1-1 record includes a couple of blemishes that would most likely have been there if Syracuse, or anyone else, had played the Tigers' schedule.
After tying Tennessee, 20-20, Auburn was a 34-6 loser to Florida State, perhaps the best team in college football.
Syracuse was beating Miami of Ohio about the time that Tennessee tied Auburn. And later, Syracuse was beating Colgate and Navy about the time that Auburn went up in the Florida State explosion.
If competition teaches, the Tigers, as Southeastern Conference champions, are better taught than any Eastern team.
Still, the magic of this game rests on something else. You just never know how good an undefeated team really is, especially one led by a quarterback as charismatic as McPherson.
The Auburn forces tell us that their quarterback, Jeff Burger, is even better. And he may be.
The way Auburn's alumni and administration fought to keep reinstating him this season after his many transgressions should be sobering to Syracuse.
Auburn Coach Pat Dye has seen to it that Burger maintained a low profile here, but earlier this season, back home, Burger went from one scrape to another, the most serious a plagiarism rap followed by a recommendation for suspension by the faculty's academic honesty committee. Goes to show what a faculty knows.
The rap at least reduced Burger's chances of ever running for President.
Earlier, Burger got into a fight over a bottle of ketchup with two guys waving a knife and a jack handle, respectively. A jack handle isn't much help against a pistol, of course, but unfortunately, Burger's pistol wasn't readily available. It was under the front seat of his car.
The police didn't much like that when they found it. They busted him for carrying a concealed weapon.
The harried quarterback also took an illegal plane ride with a booster, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Assn., and, in time, his own school paper called him a troublemaker. The alumni and administration calmly ignored all that, too, insisting that Burger was entitled to a college education.
If he ever graduates, Auburn should rename the school after him. It has a meaty ring, anyway--Burger University.
There have been no complaints about Burger's quarterbacking, though. He throws the ball so effectively that Dye, surprisingly, changed to a pro-style offense this season after years and years of running the ball with Bo Jackson, Joe Cribbs, William Andrews, James Brooks, Lionel James and Brent Fullwood, all the way back to Joe Childress and Tucker Frederickson, among others.
Only one Auburn player, fullback Reggie Ware, carried the ball as often as 100 times in 1987. Burger himself is minus-180 yards rushing, net.
Thus, offensively, the match-up is Auburn's passing team vs. the Syracuse option team.
Both teams defend pretty well, as bowl clubs usually do, but Syracuse needs 6-foot 1-inch nose tackle Ted Gregory to slow Auburn. However, Gregory has missed the last four games after undergoing athroscopic knee surgery in November.
Some of the players to watch are Auburn's tailback, Stacy Danley, and tight end, Walter Reeves, and Syracuse wide receiver Tommy Kane.
"We'll have to keep the ball and drive it to keep their big-play offense off the field," Auburn tackle Jim Thompson said.
Strategically, that's about the size of it--going in.
The two big games of the weekend in New Orleans, the Sugar Bowl and a National Football League wild-card game Sunday, are both 72,000 sellouts in the biggest private room ever built--the $167 million Superdome.
Sitting on 13 acres of downtown New Orleans, the room is covered by a 10-acre dome--the world's largest roof in one steel span.