If Donald Rumsfeld had been a Syracuse AD, he might have said...
"As you know, you go to war against the rival you have. They're not the rival you might want or wish to have at a later time."
That might be the way Syracuse looks at West Virginia. In a perfect world, we'd love to tell you Penn State is our natural rival. For a time, they were. Before them, it was Colgate if you can believe it. But since the 60's, it's fair to say that West Virginia has been the closest thing we have to a true rival in football.
Like Pittsburgh, we've played West Virginia every season since 1955. Unlike Pittsburgh though, there's an itch that the Mountaineers cause in us that we just have to scratch. We want to beat Pittsburgh. We NEED to beat West Virginia.
Sure, some other teams have come and gone...Miami and Virginia Tech fit the bill a little while. But no series has been as heated, debated and filled with memorable moments like Syracuse-West Virginia. Some examples...
1959 - Behind All-American and one-day Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis, SU poured on 30 points in the first half en route to a 44-0 victory. So dominating were the soon-to-be national champion Orange that during halftime, West Virginia coach Art Lewis told his team to just try and not get hurt in the second half.
1963 - Despite getting only six first downs and 161 yards of offense, the Mountaineers hung with the Orange all day. They scored a touchdown late to make the score 15-13. Going for two in the final minutes, WVU QB Jerry Yost’s pass fell incomplete and Syracuse hung on for the victory. It was just one of many times two-point conversions would play a pivotal role in the series.
1964 - The San Francisco 49ers famously shipped their equipment to the site of the Super Bowl in 1990 before playing the Giants in the NFC Championship. They lost and it’s become a notable lesson in cockiness. A not-so-well known version of that story played out in 1964. The 7-2 Orange had already accepted a bid to play LSU in the Sugar Bowl before they played West Virginia in the final game of the season. In the press release promoting the bowl bid, the Orange noted that they had already defeated West Virginia. Big karmic mistake. The Mountaineers won the game 28-27 on a 50-yard TD pass in the 4th quarter.
1965 - How dominant was the Syracuse rushing attack in their 41-19 win? Floyd Little rushed for 195 yards on the day…and he was the team’s second leading runner. Larry Csonka ran all over the Mountaineers for 216 yards, which still stands as the best performance by a Cuse back against WVU.
1967 - Then-West Virginia offensive coordinator Bobby Bowden later said of the Syracuse team that brutalized his Mountaineers in a 23-6 game, "I believe it was (Larry) Csonka’s last year and they just beat us to death. They knocked our quarterback out, we had running backs knocked out with broken jaws. That was the meanest bunch of guys we ever saw…We couldn’t leave afterward until they let all of our injured guys out of the hospital. We joked about that game for years … said we didn’t leave town, we were evacuated."
1975 - Syracuse stormed to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter before West Virginia methodically began working their way back into the game. Thanks to QB Dan Kendra and WR Tommy Bowden, West Virginia cut the Orange lead to 20-19 in the final seconds. Head coach Bobby Bowden went for the two-point conversion but the refs called RB Ron Lee down just short of the goal line. Lee swore that he crossed the goal line. Alas…
1981 - The first meeting in the Carrier Dome saw the heavily-favored 8-2 Mountaineers match-up against the 3-6-1 Syracuse Orange. In what was supposed to be a West Virginia cakewalk, SU RB Joe Morris ran all over West Virginia with 168 yards and two touchdowns as SU upset WVU 27-24 on national television.
1987 - Heading into the game, Syracuse was 10-0 and had just accepted an invitation to the Sugar Bowl. Late in the game, they were making Sugar Bowl officials nervous that they had selected the wrong team, as West Virginia led 31-24. On the last drive of an amazing 22-point 4th quarter, Don McPherson's drove the Orange down the field and found Pat Kelly in the endzone on a 17-yard TD pass with 10 seconds left. Instead of playing for the tie, Coach Dick MacPherson went for two and Michael Owens' two-point conversion run gave SU the win and their first undefeated regular season since 1959. (We all know what happened in the Sugar Bowl afterwards…)
1988 - The Orangemen were 9–1, while the Mountaineers were 10–0. Highlighted by a 49-yard interception by Willie, the Mountaineers won 31–9 and took a famous lap around the stadium in front of the 65,000 fans in Morgantown. They went on to play for the national title in the Fiesta Bowl, losing to Notre Dame.
1992 - With 3:39 left to play and Syracuse trailing 17-13, Cuse QB Marvin Graves wasn’t too pleased with the way he was tackled as he ran out of bounds. Graves lost his cool and fired the ball at West Virginia’s Tommy Orr. Benches cleared, players began grabbing and punching and a full-out brawl ensued. Officials threw out three West Virginia players and one Syracuse player. SU drove down the field and scored the winning touchdown to take the game 20-17. The outcome was heavily criticized by WVU coaches and fans, who felt SU has stolen the game thanks to the unfair ejections and a questionable pass interference call. Oh well.
When Ben Schwartzwalder died in 1993, the former West Virginia football captain and legendary Syracuse coach was honored with the creation of the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy. The winner of the West Virginia and Syracuse football game gets to keep the trophy and hold it high as a symbol of victory in this rivalry. It only added to what was already a rich tradition and rivalry, which was about to get even more heated.
1993 - This was the first game in which the winning team would receive the Schwartzwalder Trophy. It was also the re-match from the previous year’s brawl in which the Mountaineers felt robbed. West Virginia won 43-0. Oof. It could have been 50-0 but West Virginia took a knee right at the goal line as time expired.
2000 - By all accounts, West Virginia had this game won. With less than three minutes to go they had the lead and the ball. Then Mountaineer QB threw an interception, giving the Orange one last chance. R.J. Anderson’s TD pass to Malik Campbell with :10 left on the clock clinched a 31-27 win for the Orange. Longtime West Virginia coach Don Nehlen announced his retirement afterwards. Coincidence???
The all-time series is currently 30-26 in favor of
West Virginia Syracuse (dummy). The Mountaineers are also in the midst of a 7-game winning streak, the longest in the history of the series. Feels like it's time to remind the football Gods why this is one of the great match-ups in college football and, for better or worse, Syracuse's best rivalry.