The SU-West Virginia gridiron rivalry may have ended following the Orange’s fabulous Friday-night fracas
By Chris McManus
My next-door neighbor growing up went to college at West Virginia. I went to Syracuse University. We’re the same age and still good friends. We made a few road trips to see the Orange and the Mountaineers during our time at school. The night of Friday, Oct. 21, was the first Syracuse football victory we’ve ever seen in person together, and he couldn’t believe it until the Orange scored its seventh touchdown with five minutes left. A Carrier Dome game where West Virginia was supposed to steamroll Syracuse and put them out of the mix for a Big East title ended in a 49-23 upset, and a great night for business on Marshall Street.
Most of Friday night was hard to believe. Syracuse was two-touchdown underdogs, and the fans I talked to before the game were just hoping they would have a reason to stay for four quarters. In its last game on Oct. 8, the SU defense made Tulane look like the New Orleans Saints in the Louisiana Superdome, but two weeks later they dominated the fourth-rated offense in the country. And one year after throwing for just 63 yards in Morgantown, Ryan Nassib carved up a shell-shocked West Virginia team for 230 yards and four touchdowns.
Then there was the Carrier Dome. My buddy has seen every meeting between the two teams for the last six years, and he hardly recognized the building on Friday night. It was full. It was loud. It was relentless. The Syracuse fans brought it hard, even for the only game with no students section. (It was parents’ weekend at SU.)
I’ve been to all but one game in the last six years, and that was the first Carrier Dome crowd that changed the game for four quarters since Coach Paul Pasqualoni was on the sidelines. The fans were proactive. There was energy. It was an event.
For at least one night, Central New York turned back the clock about 15 years.
So the Orange won two in a row over the Mountaineers after losing the previous eight. They did it in shocking fashion.
It was a strange night, but the bigger picture is probably even stranger than what took place on Friday.
These two teams have played every single season since 1955. Ben Schwartzwalder, the only Syracuse coach to win a national championship, played his college ball at West Virginia. The rivalry is featured prominently in the 2008 movie The Express, and was traditionally a game to decide the best team in the East.
The ties are endless, but it hadn’t been much of a rivalry for the past decade due to West Virginia’s dominance. Because the Orange went into hostile territory to ruin West Virginia’s season last year, this was the first time in a long time that the Mountaineers had any reason to hate Syracuse. The dormant rivalry is now awake, and you could feel it in the Dome.
But with Syracuse on its way out of the Big East Conference and rumors swirling about West Virginia and the Big 12, the rivalry was renewed just in time for it to end. There’s a chance that Friday night was the last meeting for a long time. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt really small leaving the Dome knowing that history more than twice my age might have just ended before my eyes.
For the younger fans, this is the only game that connects Doug Marrone to Ben Schwartzwalder. For the older fans, at least the Orange restored order before the series ended.
Chris McManus is a 2010 graduate of Syracuse University. He is the program director at ESPN Radio 97.7 and 100.1, where he hosts Upon Further Review weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. The radio show is also simulcast on WSYR digital channel 9.2, or Channel 890 on Time Warner Cable.