They stopped last Saturday’s football game between the first and second quarter to wheel a guy around the Carrier Dome field in a Pope Mobile.
Well, a fancy cart, anyway. But for what he did to bring the Syracuse University football program back in the 1980s, Dick MacPherson could have been welcomed like the Pontiff.
Coach Mac, as he was known in this Salt City, was the man leading the Orange program when I moved to Syracuse from Maryland to become the assistant sports editor of the big daily in August, 1983. One of my duties was writing columns. And so that sharing of thoughts and observations took me to witness Coach Mac doing his job, in good times and bad.
I remember a tough loss at rival Boston College, when his face was as white as the sink in the locker room he stood next to as he talked to the small handful of us who’d traveled from Syracuse. And I remember the joy in in the startling upset of No. 1 Nebraska in the Carrier Dome, followed seasons later by the satisfaction from the thorough thumping of Joe Paterno and Penn State here, too, and an 11-0-1 campaign nonetheless blemished by a deadlock in a bowl game when the Auburn coach with a last name that rhymed with tie ordered his field-goal kicker to knot it in the final seconds instead of going for the win. Frustration, there.
Mac rode the Orange wave like a wise general, full of witty sayings and winks and wisdom.
Yeah, he heard when I was promoted to sports editor. The first time he saw me thereafter, he slapped my back and congratulated me for becoming “the big guy.” When I quickly replied, “That’s OK, I’ll still talk to you, Coach Mac,” he laughed out loud.
When the news broke that he was leaving Syracuse to become head coach for the New England Patriots, there were plenty of folks aghast in these parts. How could he leave the college program he’d built back to glory, leading to a record of 66-46-1 from 1981 to 1990? Really, though, how could he not, this salty guy who was a native of Maine, going to lead an NFL team that was the pride of his home region.
As happens sometimes in The League, that did not end well. The Patriots went 8-24 in his two seasons there. But Coach Mac had his college home to lean upon, a bar with his name on it in The Hotel Syracuse, radio games to announce as the color man, backs to slap and babies to kiss.
At 85 years old, Dick MacPherson deserved this tribute in the Carrier Dome. One of his grandsons had, Macky, had started at center for the Orange for four years this decade. Another, Cameron, is on the squad now as a tight end.
A big crowd gathered at midfield, former players for Coach Mac and university dignitaries and such, before he was driven for his victory lap. They made sure he knew how much he’s still loved.
Current coach Scott Shafer ran over to shake his hand, leaving the sideline huddle with his players, locked in a battle with ACC foe Wake Forest, to tell Mac, “Hey, Coach, we’re going to win this damn game for you,” story on syracuse.com by Stephen Bailey Coach Mac apologized to him for delaying the game. “I’m sorry if I’m getting in the way,” was the direct quote.
Not so, Coach Mac. Not by a long shot.
As the Mac Mobile rode past my section, I squeezed off pictures with my iPhone 6 as I stood, between loud claps and waving of my other hand.
Good to see you again, Coach Mac. You made this city one helluva place for a good stretch.
Oh, yeah. Shafer’s kids backed up his words, beating Wake Forest 30-17. Today they tangle with Central Michigan. If things go right, it could be a battle of undefeateds a week from today when LSU from the SEC comes to the Carrier Dome. Yeah, people filled the joint back in 1984 when Nebraska visited the underdog Orange of Coach Mac …
Have you seen a fitting tribute lately, and if so, for who, and how was it handled? What’s the biggest sports upset you witnessed? Has somebody surprised you by taking an out-of-town job, and if so, who, where and how did it turn out?