SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It was an odd scene here on Saturday as the game clock wound down on West Virginia's 55-14 win over the much-maligned Syracuse Orange. What was left of the announced attendance of 33,345 was standing and cheering, sharing high fives and hugs, but not for the host Orange. Instead, it was the corner of the Carrier Dome decked out in Blue and Gold that was left to celebrate another big win for the Mountaineers.
The scene stood as a stark contrast to what took place in this building just 10 years ago this month, when Marc Bulger and the Mountaineers came to Western New York with hopes of an upset only to see Donovan McNabb, Quinton Spotwood, and the rest of the then-Orangemen roll to a 40-10 win over West Virginia in front of a national television audience as Mountaineer fans headed for the exits en masse before the final gun sounded.
On that night, Syracuse football could do no wrong. With each big hit by the Cuse defense, or big play by McNabb and the offense, the roof of the dome rattled as a result of the deafening noise coming from below as 50,000 fans cheered on their team.
Saturday? Not even close. At times in the first half, the Carrier Dome was so quiet you could hear Mountaineer head coach Rich Rodriguez yelling instructions to his team all the way across the field in the press box. The only time Syracuse fans – of which there were not even close to the announced 35,000 and change – made any noise was when booing the home team off the field after another faulty possession.
Chants of "Let's Go…Mountaineers" drowned out any semblance of positive encouragement for the Orange, and most of the time, Cuse fans did nothing more than sit on their hands, hoping for the clock to keep ticking towards the end of yet another hapless performance by their team. If these times are not the low point in the 118-year history of Syracuse football, then somebody tell me what is?
On one hand, you feel bad for the players. They are trying their best, without much success, but still have no choice but to keep showing up week after week. On the other hand, the program is a complete mess. Saturday alone saw mental lapses on both sides of the ball, by players and coaches alike. In the first quarter, Syracuse had a chance to answer a Mountaineer score for the second consecutive possession, but head coach Greg Robinson called for a fake field goal. In theory, it may have been a gutsy call, but in reality, it didn't fool anyone in white.
Of course, Syracuse fans and media will point to Robinson's most recent brain fart as yet another reason why the former Texas defensive coordinator should not return for a fourth season at the helm of their football program next year. And, really, who can blame them? Coach Paul Pasqualoni was run out of town following a co-Big East title in 2004, and big things were expected from Robinson. Since that time, the Orange have won six – count them, six – football games. In recent weeks, Robinson has become increasingly short with the media, and Saturday's post-game press conference was no different. When asked by a local reporter to talk about West Virginia's offensive weapons, Robinson offered the following tirade:
"(WVU) won a ton of football games last year, and you were all at media day at the Big East and you were all talking about how good they were," Robinson barked. " Why would you ask me? You know what you think. You think (Steve Slaton) is a heck of a player. You think (Patrick White) is a heck of a player. The fullback had broken 67 facemasks; I heard about it!"
He then went on to elaborate (or exaggerate as the case may be) on positive things he saw from his team on Saturday. Robinson has always seemed a bit out of touch with reality, and harping on the positives after a game in which his team gave up more points at home than ever before in 118 years of Syracuse football seems to fit that billing. Everywhere else in the dome, the only positive vibes came from talk of the upcoming basketball season, which will undoubtedly see crowds much larger than the paltry attendance on Saturday.
In the top corner of the building, a big sign hangs that reads "ORANGE PRIDE". Ironically, it stood solitary on Saturday with nary an Orange fan within a stone's throw. Pride is not something that is apparent on the faces of players, fans, and even coaches of this once-great program. Instead, empty bleachers, boo-birds, and an air of frustration engulf a building once considered to be the toughest road atmosphere in college football.
One day, a Syracuse football game may be a meaningful event once again in Western New York, just as it was on that October night 10 years ago. For now, though, scenes such as Saturday's are the norm in this formerly football-crazy community.