In this column, I’m going to take you back 35 years to reminisce about an extremely special Syracuse football team.
Picture this. It’s 1987. Dirty Dancing is making people want to vacation in the Catskills. The beautiful and talented Whitney Houston just “wants to dance with somebody” and you probably listened to it on a cassette tape or taped it off the radio.
Micro Machines, GI Joe and Omnibot were at the top of kids’ Christmas lists. And the Syracuse Orangemen were undefeated and ended the season with a tie in the Sugar Bowl (dang you Auburn).
Don’t get me wrong, I was 15 at the time and I watched it before this. I remember being a young kid who loved both basketball and football, especially the story of the 44s and seeing it on the field.
But I think something clicked in me that season with them on the brink of a championship that unfortunately they may not have ever had a chance to win, but I was enamored and hooked.
Taking a look at the current Syracuse football team as compared to that magnificent 1987 squad.
To this day, if you put a gun to my head and ask me who my favorite Syracuse football player I ever watched play is, I’m likely to say Don McPherson. I probably would have even become a Philadelphia Eagles fan if things had worked out better there (kind of like some younger fans likely are due to Donovan McNabb being successful in both places at a time that resonated with them).
But I’m proud to say that Don’s off-the-field work with mentoring young men and advocacy work with sexual abuse survivors makes my choice even stronger.
Now back to 1987. Syracuse that season only played one ranked team in Penn State so some may say that it was easier then. They’d also say that an “easier schedule” is probably why even if they beat Auburn, short of complete dominance, they were not going to be given the championship.
And it probably didn’t help barely sneaking by a 6-6 West Virginia team, 32-31, but I’d contend sometimes the ability to win even the close games proves your strength and the ability to find ways to win.
And for those talking about attendance in 2022, I’ve looked at multiple sources and seen stats that some of you might appreciate. Did you know that the first two home games that season averaged around 34,000?
But once they were ranked, those numbers jumped to nearly 50,000 including actually breaking the 50 thousand mark against the ranked Nittany Lions. But I’d also remind people that it was a different time with many Syracuse football fans living elsewhere these days due to other life events and the economy in the area isn’t exactly like it was back then with Carrier and others booming. Can we still get 50K in the Dome? Time will tell.
One last thing I’d like to discuss is the coaching side. The late great former head football coach Dick MacPherson is one of my all-time favorite coaches in the history of the program. He’s loved and often remembered fondly due to this season especially.
And as much he is beloved, I’d like to remind everyone, and the stats here back it up, Coach Mac struggled too at times. In 10 seasons, Coach had 3 losing seasons including 5-6 during the 1986 season (sound familiar). And while one could point out that Coach Babers has had more losing seasons, he also had a 10-3 season, 2 seasons where he was only one game away from a bowl game and now has made adjustments because they couldn’t get over that hump and has this team on the same pace as the 1987 team.
Sometimes a legacy isn’t always just good or just bad…most times it’s human nature that struggles and changes are part of it (including losing a QB of the stature of Dungey and coaching shifts left and right over his tenure).
So can Syracuse repeat the 1987 season in 2022? One could look above at the comparisons and see the possibilities though it won’t be easy with the most difficult portion of the schedule left.
But I do think this team is special with potential when you look at Sean Tucker, Garrett Shrader and the defensive unit adopting a MOB mentality? I’m excited to root for this team and this program just like I was in 1987, and it’s not just because I got to meet Coach Babers, but I believe in them.