This post is part of a week-long series sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
I attended Syracuse between 1996 and 2000. In that time I was able to watch four Syracuse football teams up close and personal.
I came to SU as a former Notre Dame fan. I worshipped the Irish as a kid but had come down off of them by the time I was 17. It was fortuitous timing, I suppose. I was going to Syracuse where the Orangemen were coming off a 9-3 year that culminated in a Gator Bowl victory. The '96 squad was supposed to be even better. I was instantly hooked the moment I stepped inside the Dome for the first time. Unfortunately, it was also the first time I saw Syracuse lose, a 27-10 defeat to North Carolina. SU started the year 0-2 before rattling off eight-straight. After the inevitable loss to Miami, SU finished the year with one more win before heading off to the Liberty Bowl.
It was a solid season and certainly the kind of year SU fans would kill for today. But back then, I wanted more. 1997 provided me with a fun opportunity right off the bat. The Orange and the Badgers of Wisconsin battled in the "Old" Meadowlands in the Kickoff Classic. I remember the game less for the 34-0 drubbing SU handed down and more for the parking lot revelry that occurred beforehand.
Excitement was high for Orange fans heading back to the Dome and so it was more than just a little disappoint when that talented team dropped their next three games, to NC State, Oklahoma and Virginia Tech respectively. Once again SU fought back to become relevant and ended the year with a 8-4 record and Big East title. I was home in New Jersey hosting a New Year's party when the Orange got out-matched by Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. A bummer of an ending to a topsy-turvy season. That was okay though, 1998 was going to be our year. The year we finally make The Leap and compete for the national title.
1998. The team that I remember most from my time at Syracuse. Unfortunately they weren't the best Syracuse team to ever take the field, nor did they live up to their mighty expectations. But there is no doubt that Donovan's Boys left it all on the field that year, rankings and records be damned.
The Tennessee game. Winning at Michigan. Putting up 70 (SEVENTY!) on Rutgers. Losing on Thursday night to Torry Holt and NC State. Dominating wins against Cincy, BC, Temple and Pitt back when we didn't expect anything less. The crushing loss to West Virginia. The epic Virginia Tech game, the greatest game I've ever seen live. The surreal 66-13 blowout of Miami.
Syracuse finished the regular season with a 9-3 record and the outright Big East title. I followed the team to Miami for their showdown with the mighty Florida Gators. We watched the Cardinals upset the Cowboys in the NFL playoffs from under the orange tent in the parking lot and dare to think what it might mean for the Orange Bowl. We were brought back to Earth quickly by the Gators 31-10 beating.
The Orange finished 9-4 in 1998 (and a couple days into '99). There have been better records. Better bowl games. Better champions. Better Syracuse football teams. But the 1998 Syracuse Orange are the team that always comes to mind when I think of SU. Not all of the memories are good but, then again, that's part of being a Syracuse football fan. A Syracuse sports fan, really. You take the good with the bad and just hope that the good outweighs the bad in any particular season.
How bout you? Which one is your favorite Syracuse football team?