Over the past several years as a participant in TNIAAM, I have greatly enjoyed the emergence of certain cult figures within our family of fans. Athletes who through a unique set of characteristics have endeared us to them in a special way. We've witnessed the Mookpocalypse, delighted in retweets from Dion, and cried right along with that cute kid over Scoop.
It's hard for me to pinpoint exactly why we've taken to him in the way we have, but my best guess is that he exhibits all of the characteristics (extreme toughness, strength, competitiveness) that seemed to be completely absent during our darkest period back from 2005-2008. He's what we want Syracuse to represent. Regardless of the reasons, he's deserving of our adoration.
But for those like me who followed this team prior to the internet age, there were others who came before him who shared those characteristics. Those that brought the pain inside the Loud House, and also had a cultish following that would have rivaled that of #21 if only social media wasn't restricted to newspaper, telephones, and mail...the kind that involved paper.
So, as we take a break during the bye week, let's explore some of the defensive giants of seasons past who were more than hashtag-worthy:
#10 Markus Paul (Free Safety, 1984-1987; First-team All-American 1987)
When you are at home pulling one of those EA Sports College Football dynasty marathons and you are in the player editor, you like to get creative with the equipment on your star Syracuse players, don't you? Yeah, you know you do! So you get to your All-American safety, and rather than leave him with the standard open cage mask, gloves and some wrist bands, you decide to give him the full-Thunderdome treatment. Full-cage facemask? check, neck roll? Check. Arm guards? Absolutely!
Ladies and gentlemen, you have just created Markus Paul.
We've had some great defensive backs over the past 30 years, but none to my recollection could deliver a hit as well as Markus. Just take a look at the 0:35 second mark in this video and you'll get an appreciation for the kind of contact Markus would deliver just about every time a receiver dared to reach out for a pass in his territory.
Syracuse Football 1987 (via MrBigFeet13)
There are two things that stand out for me in that video that are pure Markus. First, the violence of the hit. Second, the reaction that he gives the receiver as he lays prostrate on the ground, with his spleen relocated to where his chin strap used to be. There was none of this Deion Sanders/Ray Lewis nonsense. No, he looks right into the opponent's soul, like a real man, and gives a simple shake of the head as if to say "no you don't". He then gets back to work. Folks, that's how we did badass in the '80s!!!
#93 Ted Gregory (Defensive Tackle, 1984-1987. All-American, 1987)
A teammate of Paul and fellow All-American in 1987, Gregory was the closest thing college football has ever seen to the Tazmanian Devil. He was a Nose Tackle who was listed at 6'1", 250lbs, but in reality, Gregory was 6'0" and likely played at 220. Think about that for a second...a NOSE TACKLE playing at 6'0"/220. No, wait a sec., let me re-state that. A FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICAN NOSE TACKLE playing at 6'0"/220. What kind of creature from hell does that???
This guy was an absolute terror and the heart of Syracuse's run defense. As quick as he was ferocious, I honestly think Ted played most of his career in the offside position, because it seemed that he started every play in the offense's backfield. He once stopped a reverse by tackling both the quarterback and receiver on the play...at the same time! I kid you not. Sadly, due to injuries and the NFL's formulaic style of talent evaluation, Gregory's career never got started in the pros. But during his time on The Hill, he was unquestionably one of the most enjoyable players we've ever seen suit up for the Orange.
#20 Donovin Darius (Free Safety, 1994-1997; All-American 1997)
Like Markus Paul, Darius was an All-American Free Safety for the Orange who could absolutely administer big hit after big hit. He also plainly and simply looked like a badass. I want to find a photo to do this comment justice, but just trust me...The Ancient Greeks used to pound marble to represent mankind in this guy's image!
What made Donovin unique, at least in my opinion, was his feel for the game and his ability to get to where the ball was, no matter what. His stats were ridiculous. Just look at his numbers during his Senior season:
Games: 12; Tackles: 159; Assists: 101; Total: 260; Int: 6
Again, ridiculous! In an average game, there are roughly 65 offensive plays. So basically, Donovin was in on 22 tackles per game, or a whopping 1/3rd of all offensive plays! Kids, that's an incredible nose for the football. And, by definition, that's absolutely #SHAMARKO-esque.
#54 Dwight Freeney (Defensive End, 1998-2001; All-American 2001)
Okay, so Dwight was on campus during the internet age, but on a technicality he is on the list as he was pre-TNIAAM. Do I need to even support his inclusion on this list? The Godfather of modern defensive ends, Freeney finished his Syracuse career with 34 sacks, including an almost impossible streak of 17 games-in-a-row with at least one sack.
A truly-elite Defensive Lineman, Freeney had the rare combination of power and speed that made him (even in his college days) virtually impossible to stop. I mean, pity the poor college left tackle who had to try and stop a player who absolutely had the strength to bull rush, but could also run a 4.40 40-yard dash. Oh, did I mention he had a vertical leap of 40-inches as well???