By Jeff Shearer
NEW ORELANS. - Everybody was mad at the end of the 1988 Sugar Bowl.
Syracuse was mad at Auburn for kicking a game-tying field goal.
Auburn’s players were mad at Coach Pat Dye for not going for the win.
And Dye was angered at the officials for not calling what he perceived to be obvious, repeated holding of Auburn’s star receiver Lawyer Tillman.
Dye and Syracuse coach Dick MacPherson eventually became friends. But not on New Year’s Night in 1988, when Win Lyle’s 30-yard field goal with one second left made it 16-16, the only tie in the 82-year history of the Sugar Bowl.
“I told him, ‘If you hadn’t gotten on the officials like you did, and I felt like we were getting a fair shake out there on the field, I would have never kicked that field goal,’” Dye recalled of his conversation with MacPherson.
“‘The reason I kicked the field goal is because you were raising hell with the officials the whole ballgame.’ And on the last drive, they were holding our wide receivers, and the officials would not call it. And they literally tore Lawyer Tillman’s jersey off of him. And I was doing all I could do to get the attention of the officials on the sideline, but they weren’t going to call a penalty against Syracuse at that point in time in the game and the seconds were ticking down on the clock.
“And we got down to the 14-yard-line. We threw it in the end zone three times and every time we threw it down there, they wouldn’t let Lawyer Tillman get off the line of scrimmage because they were holding him. But we drove the ball 60 yards to get it down there in a minute and half or two minutes. We didn’t have much time on the clock,” Dye said.
One can only imagine what kind of stats Tillman might have produced had he not attracted that extra attention from Syracuse defenders. He still had six catches for 125 yards and Auburn’s lone touchdown.
“There was a lot of holding going on,” Tillman said, nearly thirty years later. “And it wasn’t getting a lot of calls. But you can only cry to the officials so many times. If he’s not going to call them, you just try to do what you can to get by those holds and make the plays the best you can.”
Tillman would not get a chance on fourth down from the Syracuse 13 with Auburn trailing 16-13.
“When it got down to the end, I said, ‘I’m just not going to let this football team lose this game the way we’re losing it,’” Dye remembered. “And I told Win Lyle, ‘Go in and kick it.’ And he went in and kicked it. And it ended up in a 16-16 tie.”
“A lot of the players really wanted to go for it,” Tillman said. “But it’s the coach’s decision to make that call. I think we could have pulled it off, but the coaches said, ‘Let’s tie it.’ And that’s what we did. We didn’t lose it, we didn’t win it, but some great memories.”
“Well, I didn’t want a tie,” Dye said. “My players got mad with me. And I told them, I said, ‘Look, you played too hard, and I didn’t feel like we were getting the calls that we needed coming down at the end of the game. If I thought we had a fair chance of getting our receiver off the line of scrimmage without them holding him, then I would have tried to score.”
Auburn, ranked No. 6, ended with a 9-1-2 record, while No. 4 Syracuse finished 11-0-1.
“Probably shouldn’t make a decision like that when you’re mad and I was plenty mad on the sideline,” Dye said.
Outraged Syracuse fans, at the urging of a local radio station, expressed their displeasure by sending the Auburn coach the oldest ties they could find in their closets. About 2,000 of them.
“The Syracuse people were kind enough to send us old ties, a box full of them. And I said, ‘That was a nice gesture,’” Dye recalled.
“We kind of advertised it around and I took those old ties – with grease spots on them - they were some ugly ties, now, I’m telling you. I said I’ll take these ties, and put Auburn-Syracuse, and the score, 16-16, and sign it, and sell them for $100 apiece. Well, I sold 300 of them and we raised $30,000 for scholarships.”
The donation to Auburn’s general scholarship fund became part of the Tigers’ Sugar Bowl lore. What’s not so well known is what happened to the rest of Syracuse’s sartorial contribution.
“I took what was left and gave them to an old lady,” Dye said. “She made quilts out of them.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer