|1997 Nokia Sugar Bowl|
|National Championship Game|
|Date||January 2, 1997|
|Location||New Orleans, Louisiana|
|MVP||Danny Wuerffel (QB, Florida)|
|Favorite||Florida by 3.5 points (54.5) |
|Referee||Randy Christal (Big 12)|
|United States TV coverage|
|Announcers||Keith Jackson (play-by-play)|
Bob Griese (analyst)
Lynn Swann (sideline)
The 1997 Nokia Sugar Bowl was the 63rd edition to the annual Sugar Bowl game and served as the Bowl Alliance's designated national championship game for the 1996 season. It matched No. 1 Florida State of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) against No. 3 Florida of the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Florida defeated Florida State in convincing fashion, with a final score of 52–20, and with the victory earned its first-ever consensus national championship. This was the only National Championship game to feature two teams from the same state.
The game was a bowl rematch of a regular season game, as Florida State had defeated Florida, 24–21, in a game played in Tallahassee on November 30.
Third-ranked Florida was invited to the designated national championship game because the Pac-10 champion was contractually obligated to play in the Rose Bowl Game, and unavailable to participate in the Bowl Alliance. As a result, second-ranked Arizona State, the Pac-10 champion, played the Big Ten champion, fourth-ranked Ohio State, in the 1997 Rose Bowl. When Ohio State defeated Arizona State in the Rose Bowl on January 1, the Sugar Bowl winner was all but assured of being named the consensus national champion.
Main article: 1996 Florida Gators football team
The Gators were led by their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Danny Wuerffel. They completed their regular season schedule with a 10–1 record, then defeated No. 11 Alabama in the 1996 SEC Championship Game.
Main article: 1996 Florida State Seminoles football team
Top-ranked Florida State entered the bowl with an undefeated 11–0 record, led by quarterback Thad Busby and running back Warrick Dunn.
After a halftime score of 24–17 in favor of Florida, Florida State closed to 24–20 with a third quarter field goal. Florida then outscored Florida State 28–0 for the remainder of the game, for a 52–20 final. Gator quarterback Danny Wuerffel threw three touchdown passes to Ike Hilliard in the game, and ran for another score. Wuerffel became the second Heisman Trophy winner in four years to win a national championship, following Charlie Ward of the 1993 Florida State team.