Young football fans probably think that Syracuse has always been a doormat. But, the Orange was one a college football powerhouse and they had outstanding Running Backs. They last won a national title in 1959 with the help of Heisman Trophy winning Running Back Ernie Davis. Before him, they had maybe the greatest of all time in legendary Jim Brown.
Floyd Little, Jim Nance and Larry Csonka were also Syracuse greats. Ernie Davis might have been up there with the all time NFL greats if not for Leukemia.
Those times and traditions may have faded away, but the 1987 Syracuse Orangemen were right up there with other greats. Political correctness had the Orangemen becoming just plain Orange, but back in 1987 they still played as the Orangemen.
The Oklahoma Sooners were crowned national champs in the 1985 season and they began the 1986 season ranked 1st. They finished 11-1 and Penn State upset the mighty Miami Hurricanes for the
The Sooners were a popular pick back in those years and they began the 1987 season ranked 1st again. Florida State was 7-4-1 in 1986, but 1987 would begin a whole new world for the Seminoles. It was the very first season of their Dynasty years which finally ended after the 2000 season. Florida State spent 14 seasons ranked in the top 4 in the nation. Dynasty
The heroes of this post finished the 1986 season with a losing mark at 5-6 and they began the 1987 season unranked.
Dick MacPherson replaced the ineffective Frank Maloney as head coach at Syracuse after the 1980 season and he had a fight on his hands. After a 4-6-1 first season, the team dropped to 2-9 in 1982. But, then MacPherson started to get the program together. It was not marvelous, but 6-5 record in 1983 and 1984 were improvements over 2-9.
In 1985, the team finished the regular season with a 7-4 record before losing their bowl game. With great hope and anticipation, the Orange dropped to a very disappointing 5-6 record in 1986.
1987 was an entirely different story.
The problem for the Orange was 1987 was a year with a lot of good teams led by the Miami Hurricanes, Oklahoma Sooners and the Florida State Seminoles. This season was also when the Miami versus Florida State games really started to take off. Going for the win
These two teams were so loaded that around 60 players from their combined rosters went on to play in the NFL. We are talking about Michael Irvin and Deion Saunders kind of talent, Hall of Fame kind of players.
Miami held on to defeat Florida State, 26-25 when Bobby Bowden elected to go for the win and the 2 point conversion. This was one of college football’s all time great games. It also didn’t hurt Florida State’s ranking all that much.
Syracuse was led by senior Quarterback Don McPherson, Running Back Robert Drummond and Fullback Darryl Moose Johnston.
Behind these guys, the Orange blew through Maryland, Rutgers and Miami of Ohio. Then, they beat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, but that was in Frank Beamer’s first season with the Hokies and they
The following game, Syracuse beat Missouri of the Big 8 Conference and then for the first time all season they entered the Polls. Number 13 Syracuse took it on the road to State College, Pennsylvania to take on the 10th ranked Nittany Lions.
McPherson and his teammates easily beat Penn State, 48-21.
With that big win, the Orange dropped into the top 10 in the Polls at number 9.
Non major school Colgate was next and Syracuse made an example out of them with a 52-6 pounding as they moved to 7-0 on the season.
Pittsburgh was no problem as the Syracuse Orangemen rolled on, 24-10. Navy was taken care of with a 34-10 win.
Beating Boston College was no problem for them, either, with a convincing 45-17 win as Syracuse moved to 10-0 on the season. All they had left on their regular season schedule was a 6-4 West Virginia team, but the Mountaineers could be a dangerous foe for the Orange, or Orangemen. They has already accepted an invitation to play Auburn in the Sugar Bowl and maybe they were a little over confident going into the West Virginia game.
The Syracuse versus West Virginia in the Carrier Dome turned into an incredible game with an unbeaten regular season on the line for the Orange. A better bowl game was the motive for the Mountaineers and just plain old pride and the thrill of victory.
West Virginia scored a Touchdown late in the 4th quarter to take a 31-24 lead. Syracuse drove down the field with time running out on them. With 41 seconds left in the game, Cuse Quarterback Don McPherson took a time out to go to the sideline and talk to head coach Dick MacPherson. It was 1st and 10 for the Orangemen at the West Virginia 25 yard line.
McPherson dropped back to throw and he calmly hit Tight End Pat Kelly for a gain of about 9 yards to the West Virginia 16 yard line. The clock continued to run and the Orange needed to save their time outs for the end. Case hurried to the line to get off another play to either gain a first down, a Touchdown, or to stop the clock. The Mountaineer Defensive Line was having nothing of it and they chased McPherson out of the pocket. With nobody really open, McPherson scrambled and threw an incompletion which at least stopped the clock.
West Virginia Defensive Outside Linebacker Robert Pickett had been one of the defenders chasing McPherson and he was down on the turf rolling around from an injury. This gave both teams something of an extra time out. So many teams fake injuries today for just that reason and Pickett
may have been faking as well.
It was 3rd and 1 to go for the Orange at the Mountaineer 16 yard line and 15 seconds remaining on the clock. Naturally, the Orange wanted to go into the Sugar Bowl undefeated and there was a lot of stress in the building.
Back in those years, the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York was a great place to play. The stadium was loud and rowdy with the fans really into the game. The facility was packed and it was loud. Fun place to play a game and hopefully it will be similar in the years to come with Dino Babers running the show.
Don McPherson, a more than legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, had thrown 4 Interceptions already in the this game. Now, he had to hold it together and complete at least 1 more pass, hopefully
for a Touchdown and with time running out. There was more than just a little pressure on McPherson and his offensive teammates on this day.
On the very next play, McPherson hit Tight End Pat Kelly for the score. There was a flag down on the play and the rowdy fans were confused. Was it a Touchdown, or would it be called back?
The flag was on West Virginia and it was a score for the Orange.
The problem for the Orangemen is that they were unbeaten and they wanted to stay that way. This was before Overtime became part of the college game. Syracuse could go for 2 and the win, or a possible humiliating loss. Or, they could settle for the tie since they already had the Sugar Bowl game to finish the season.
Head coach Dick MacPherson didn’t even hesitate. He wanted to try and win the national championship. There would be no tie.
The Orangemen ran the option left with MacPherson tossing the ball to Michael Owens who took it across for a 2 point conversion and the win at 32-31. How fitting for Syracuse that Michael Owens wore number 44, the number that is now retired and once worn by Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and so many other legends.
The Polls had Syracuse ranked 4th after this game and their record stood at 11-0.
The Sugar Bowl was something of a letdown with Syracuse and Auburn settling for a 16-16 tie.
The Miami Hurricanes won the national title in 1987 with Syracuse finishing 4th.
Quarterback Don McPherson and Defensive Lineman Ted Gregory were consensus All Americans, with McPherson also finishing as runner-up in the Heisman race.
The Syracuse Orangemen followed the 11-0-1 record in 1987 with a 10-2 record in 1988. Todd Philcox replaced McPherson at Quarterback and the Orangemen lost to Ohio State and to the 4th ranked West Virginia Mountaineers. A few years later, coach Dick MacPherson left to take the head job with the New England Patriots.
Syracuse gradually declined after this season and now the hope is on Dino Babers to bring them back.