The 1988 Sugar Bowl was the 54th edition to the annual game. It featured the fourth ranked Syracuse Orangemen, and the sixth ranked Auburn Tigers. The Syracuse Orange entered the game unbeaten for the first time since winning the national championship in 1959. The game was a defensive battle, and ended in a 16–16 tie, helping Syracuse cap an unbeaten season. Don McPherson was given game's Most Outstanding Offensive Player award, going 11-of-21 for 140 yards and one touchdown. He was sacked five times by the Auburn defense.
Auburn cracked the scoreboard first, following a 17-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jeff Burger to wide receiver Lawyer Tillman, catapulting Auburn to a 7–0 lead. Tillman would finish the game with 6 receptions for 125 yards. In the second quarter, Syracuse tied the game on a 12-yard touchdown pass form All-American quarterback Don McPherson to wideout Deval Glover. Auburn added a 40-yard field goal from Win Lyle to take a 10–7 lead at halftime.
In the third quarter, Tim Vesling kicked a 27-yard field goal to tie the game at 10. In the fourth quarter Win Lyle's second field goal was good from 41 yards, giving Auburn a 13–10 lead. But two field goals by Tim Vesling gave Syracuse a 16–13 lead. With 1 second remaining, Win Lyle kicked the 30-yard field goal for Auburn to have the game end in a 16–16 tie.
Syracuse fans were outraged by Auburn's decision to tie the game, while Auburn fans found the choice uncontroversial. In protest of the decision by Auburn to tie the game, a Syracuse radio station mailed Auburn coach Pat Dye 2,000 ugly ties, which Dye autographed and auctioned off, raising $30,000 for the Auburn general scholarship fund.