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FB : Proud past: Joining ACC rekindles old rivalries for previously dominant Syracuse

first_imgDonovan McNabb gave the Syracuse faithful one final salute. He hiked up the first level of stairs in the Carrier Dome and stood on the flat handicapped concourse, appreciating the 49,521 fans that packed the stadium on Nov. 28, 1998.The gesture was a courtesy, not necessary after the display he put on in his final home game. With a Big East championship and Orange Bowl berth on the line, he ran for three touchdowns and threw for two more in a 66-13 thrashing of Miami (Fla.).‘When they announced the seniors, and just tears came from your eyes because you knew that all the effort that the guys put forth throughout the summers and during the springs of just trying to establish a name and establish an identity for themselves at Syracuse University,’ McNabb said.Syracuse won the conference outright, finishing at 6-1, a game ahead of Miami, Virginia Tech and West Virginia — two of which SU beat in 1998. The Miami game was the stamp on the McNabb era, a four-year span when Syracuse went 23-5 in the Big East at a time when the Big East was a conference held in high regards. Syracuse competed with the likes of the Hurricanes and Hokies and had a Northeast rivalry with Boston College throughout the 1990s as well.And when Syracuse announced its move from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference on Sept. 18, it meant those rivalries would be rekindled.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text‘I think it’s great. If you look at the history of Syracuse football, Maryland and BostonCollege were staples,’ SU Athletic Director Daryl Gross said. ‘And then, like you said, Virginia Tech and Miami, those are going to be fun, too.’From the first year of full league play in the Big East in 1993 to the defections of perennial college football powers Miami and Virginia Tech in 2003, four teams won a conference title. Five for Miami. Three for Virginia Tech. One for West Virginia.And two for Syracuse, which, before its down years of the past decade, was a team that could compete with any school in the nation.***Syracuse went toe-to-toe with the future national champion. The Orangemen fought off the ropes, scoring 20 points in the fourth quarter to go up by two against Tennessee.Volunteers kicker Jeff Hall nailed a 27-yard field goal as time expired to give Tennessee, the 1998 national champ, a 34-33 win in the season opener in the Carrier Dome, but the win didn’t deter SU’s season.Syracuse went to Michigan Stadium the next week and jumped out to a 31-point lead in a 38-28 win over the then-No. 13 Wolverines, kick-starting a season that culminated in the Orange Bowl.‘They may beg to differ on the basketball side, but it was a football school,’ McNabb said. ‘When football season came around, our student section was filled every week, people on campus throwing Frisbees, they’re out there partying on Fridays, Saturday mornings they had their tailgate.‘It was an atmosphere that you look out on TV now, where we didn’t need (College) GameDay or ESPN there. We already had our GameDay, our fans are fired up and ready to go.’From 1996-99, the smallest home crowd at the Carrier Dome was 42,246 — for a game against Tulane. The lowest attendance of those four years is higher than the best attendance SU has received in its four home games in 2011.Syracuse’s days as a ‘football school’ are long gone, with the basketball team’s consistent performances and the rock-bottom seasons for the football program under Greg Robinson. But the move to the ACC, combined with the resurrection of the SU tradition under third-year head coach Doug Marrone, has some former SU players believing the glory days for Syracuse football could return.Mark Baniewicz, an Orange offensive lineman from 1996-99, felt jubilation when he heard the news that Syracuse escaped a conference on its deathbed.‘They tried to make a big deal about where the Big East conference was heading, but let’s be honest — it’s dying,’ Baniewicz said.He said the ACC was the right move, in part because it rekindles old rivalries that should put fans in the seats.‘Virginia Tech, BC and Miami were always the three red-letter games,’ Baniewicz said.The Carrier Dome used to get so loud that Baniewicz said he couldn’t have a conversation with the person standing next to him. When Syracuse played Virginia Tech in 1998, the fans stormed the field following McNabb’s last-second touchdown pass to Stephen Brominski to give the Orangemen a 28-26 win.Chris Rippon remembers that game fondly as well. Rippon held multiple defensive coaching positions with SU from 1993-2004, including working as Syracuse’s defensive coordinator from 1999-2003. On the Hokies’ drive prior to SU’s game-winning touchdown, he couldn’t communicate with the coaches in the booth because it was so loud.But Rippon, currently the defensive coordinator at Marshall, is slightly more skeptical than Baniewicz. Those were the 1990s. Syracuse football whiffed in the 2000s, and the rivalries may be too far removed to bring the days of almost 50,000 people back to the Dome.‘Syracuse has got phenomenal tradition, and Doug (Marrone) is trying to resurrect that,’ Rippon said. ‘I just don’t know what the mark is in the Northeast anymore, if that culture has moved on and gotten older.’***Nervous doesn’t describe McNabb’s feelings about his alma mater going up against schools like Virginia Tech, Clemson and Florida State. But he’s a little wary.‘I’m kind of, I wouldn’t say too much worried, but you’re kind of on your toes now,’ he said. ‘It’s kind of like really, do we have the recruits, do we have the athletes that can compete week in and week out in the ACC?’Recent history would say no. Syracuse snapped a seven-game losing streak to ACC teams with its season-opening victory over Wake Forest this year. And since McNabb graduated, Syracuse has lost at least five games in 11 of the last 12 seasons.But McNabb is also confident in what the Orange can become down the line.‘If Boston College and West Virginia and Miami can do it, I believe that we can,’ McNabb said. ‘It may take a couple years.’Syracuse lost 17-10 to Miami in the last Big East meeting between the two schools on Nov. 15, 2003. In SU’s second-to-last meeting with Virginia Tech, SU beat the Hokies in three overtimes. At the time of the last big conference shake-up, Syracuse wasn’t that far off from those schools.‘I think when you respect a program, it kind of brings out the best in you,’ Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer said in the ACC coaches’ teleconference Oct. 5. ‘And we have always respected Miami. We have always respected Syracuse.’***Syracuse was beating Miami as soon as the Hurricanes’ airplane touched down.Andre King said most of the Hurricanes players had never seen snow before. King, a sophomore wide receiver on that 1998 Hurricanes squad, was on his first trip to the Carrier Dome.King led Miami in receiving on that day, catching three balls for 34 yards — a measly total when Syracuse was scoring 66 points. The Hurricanes’ top two receivers for the season, future NFL stars Reggie Wayne and Santana Moss, both went without a catch.‘Good competition, man. The Dome was always loud,’ King said. ‘I mean, the Dome seemed like the fans were right in your back pocket because it was so small and loud, but those games were good.’Syracuse completely dismantled a Miami team full of NFL stars. Wayne, Moss, Edgerrin James, Bubba Franks, Ed Reed, Dan Morgan and Damione Lewis were all starters in that game who went on to become first-round NFL draft picks.King said then-Miami receivers coach Curtis Johnson made King, Wayne, Moss and the other receivers stay on the field during Syracuse’s celebration following the game. The Orangemen set an example for Miami to watch.They were a model for a Hurricanes team that won the national championship in 2001.‘They were rolling oranges on the ground and saying they were getting ready to go to the Orange Bowl (which is played) on our field, that was painful to watch,’ King said. ‘… He made us go back out there and watch them celebrate, just so we can see how that felt and how we wanted to be there in the future.’That rivalry will return when Syracuse joins the ACC, a conference that will now have five former Big East schools among its 14 members. King said he’s excited for Miami and Syracuse to play again, although it’s hard to expect the hype to be there.There will be ways to bring it back, though. King expects Syracuse-Miami reruns on ESPN Classic to develop hype for the matchup and to remind people that, yes, it was a heated rivalry.Whether or not Syracuse will be at a level to compete with Miami and Virginia Tech the way it used to remains to be seen. But it will add a new, old element to Syracuse football once the Hurricanes and Hokies come back to the Carrier Dome.‘When you knew you were getting up for Miami week, everyone knew,’ McNabb said. ‘It was big on campus. You talk about tailgating and you talk about pep rallies, and it was one for us throughout my career, it was almost like the Big East championship.’mcooperj@syr.edu—Sports Editor Michael Cohen and Asst. News Editor Jon Harris contributed reporting to this article.   Published on October 10, 2011 at 12:00 pm Contact Mark: mcooperj@syr.edu | @mark_cooperjr Commentscenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more

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