Great anticipation, big celebration, but the football in between …

A lively late August feeling filled the Syracuse air Friday night around the Carrier Dome as fans filled the streets on the hill, counting down the minutes until the Orange would open the 2014 season against the Villanova Wildcats.

Bikers picked their own tailgating spot.

Bikers picked their own tailgating spot.

A bunch of bikers had selected half a lot halfway down the hill to park their motorcycles in a row. They tailgated in their leather. On the other side of the lot, other tailgaters tossed beanbags and ate off portable tables, grilling food. In the middle, they mingled.

Pose with us, please?

Pose with us, please?

Two blocks up the hill in front of the University Sheraton, the traditional public tailgate party featured the long table of grilled favorites. My dear wife Karen and I each selected a hotdog, and we shared a container of cut-up fresh fruit.

We found two open chairs at one of the clothed tables and ate quickly. These Friday night games leave zero time for pregame yee-hah. Park, walk, eat, game time. I did notice the two official hosts whose job apparently included photo ops.

Outside the Carrier Dome, as opening game 2014 approaches.

Outside the Carrier Dome, as opening game 2014 approaches.

As we rounded the corner and saw the full expanse of the Carrier Dome, we noticed the long line of fans waiting to be wanded and let in the gates.

We don’t stand with this throng, although it is the entry closest to our seats. We’ve discovered a gate that always has a line at most a third as large as this one. It’s good for this to be our sixth year with season tickets.

Ride, Otto, ride.

Ride, Otto, ride.

This season’s pregame schtick included a new wrinkle.

Otto the Orange, the fuzzy team mascot, was escorted back onto the field before the team’s big burst out of the tunnel, on a big motorcyle.

Cheerleaders, banners, players = pomp.

Cheerleaders, banners, players = pomp.

And then an extremely loud train whistle explodes — The Express nickname, thank you late, great, Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis — the cheerleading squad races out with huge banners spelling out Scuse, and the team bursts out through a cloud of smoke.

Yes. Let’s start this season.

Oh. This happens every game.

Nope, not again.

Nope, not again.

Wait. This doesn’t happen.

Above is one of what seemed to be 100 plays inside the 5-yard line that Syracuse failed to score a touchdown in a wild and stuporous game.

One good thing happened. Syracuse is now 1-0, beating Villanova 27-26 in double overtime.

But the Wildcats, a team from the one-level-down FCS — Football Championship Subdivision compared to Syracuse’s big boy Football Bowl Subdivision — truly outplayed the Orange but lost because their kicker, Chris Gough, missed a chip-in 25-yard field goal in the shadow of the goal post with the game tied in the final seconds of regulation.

In the first half, Syracuse’s starting quarterback, Terrel Hunt, was quite ceremoniously ejected from the game because he punched a Villanova player while lying on the field after getting tackled. The announced crowd of 41,000-plus — lies, damn lies and statistics as they say, because Karen and I were joined by thousands less than that to my eyes — booed loudly to that word. But I saw the replay at home. Yup, he punched the kid. Dumb, even in the heat of battle. Starting quarterbacks have to know better than that.

Villanova quarterback John Robertson was better anyhow, and his main receiver Gary Underwood, whose name sounded like a famous country music singer every time it came over the Carrier Dome PA, outshined all of the Orange guys combined.

The Wildcats had a fast returner, Poppy Livers, who took a punt back 67 yards for a touchdown, too.

Syracuse’s running back Prince-Tyson Gulley broke one long run early in the first quarter.

And the Orange looked like their natural talent would let them escape, but Villanova hung in, played harder, played smarter, and suddenly the Wildcats were the team with the better body language on every single play.

But crazy things continued to happen from that missed field goal on, from Syracuse bursting to the goal line and then not scoring to punter Riley Dixon throwing a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kendall Moore on a fake field goal in the second OT.

Villanova, of course, romped back with a touchdown pass from Robertson to Underwood immediately thereafter. But Wildcats coach Andy Talley decided to go for the two-point conversion and the victory, and with the way Robertson had played all game, smart man, I say.

We won! The Syracuse Orange celebrates.

We won! The Syracuse Orange celebrates.

But the Orange defense, for what seemed like the first time all night, hitched it up and stopped the dude.

The entire team celebrated the victory by spilling out on the middle of the field with joy.

As well the players should.

Yay,

Yay,

The fans sounded pretty loud, too, though it had been one long, up and down night.

Now the pondering begins. How bad can Syracuse really be? How good might Syracuse still be?

The Orange does not play next weekend.

That is a really good thing. Coach Scott Shafer has a lot of coaching to do with his young men before taking them to play Central Michigan for the second game of 2014. Improvement must be made. The Chippewas are a FBS team.

What’s your favorite way to tailgate before a big event? Do you like to play parking lot games, and which ones are your favorites? Which random folks have your called over for photo ops?

28 thoughts on “Great anticipation, big celebration, but the football in between …

  1. I forget….am I supposed to cheer for Syracuse???? You know I can’t ever go against the Buckeyes. But other than that I’ll cheer vicariously through you for whichever team you deem worthy of my cheering. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • I had a fun morning recapping the night before, so thank you, Beth. This has become my very favorite type of post, take a batch of pictures, and chronologically use them to tell the story of an event, people-wise with a smidgen of old-MB news value thrown in for good measure. And thank you for noticing the care I took in writing the title, of course. ))

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  2. Loved the pictures and the prose, Mark. I am going to answer your last question, with a little bit of rewriting: Which random folks have I called over for blog-reading ops? You (because you missed yesterday’s post).

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  3. WE just got our football team back after years without one. We can’t seem to generate enough interest to support a team, even though we have a draw population of well over 1 million within 50 miles of town.This is basically a government town and is quite conservative.Our Redblacks are the latest in a long line of attempts to establish professional football here. As a result, believe it or not, I’ve never been to a football game. ๐Ÿ˜€

    I do enjoy reading football stories (as long as they are about the people or team spirit and not the rules). The whole tailgating thing sounds like fun and a great way to meet people. Great post Mark Thank You.

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    • I like writing about the people and the spirit across the lines of life, Paul. Watching the event, I adore football my whole life. I hope you get to go see a Redblacks game. It is quite an enticing game if you can get to the point of following along. And, that is quite and interesting team nickname. You will have to fill us in on the origin. Go Redblacks!

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  4. Mark, A comprehensive recap of the game–I don’t attend nor watch them on TV as I don’t follow football at all; I’m a basketball girl only. Nice job, excellent pix, too! Go SU! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • I am glad to be your fill-in-the-story-line guy for football, Ermi. I actually am more a football fan than basketball, my whole life, in the college and, far more, in the pro game. It comes from growing up on Long Island, I think. Anyway, go SU! Have a great Labor Day weekend, neighbor.

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    • We had a wild time, Mimi, like a roller coaster ride! The downs were pretty low during the game, let me tell you, but the very short pregame after work and watching them pull out the win were great ups.

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