Rivalry with Syracuse one-sided but memorable
A rivalry suggests both teams have a pretty good chance of winning, but if you look at the history of Penn State football, that has never been the case with most of its old Eastern cohorts.
The Nittany Lions pretty much destroyed them all. They’re 38-2-1 all-time against Maryland and 20-4 against Boston College. They’ve gone 34-2 against West Virginia since 1956, including winning 27 in a row at one point. It’s much closer vs. Pitt — 52-43-4 — but we’re excluding that rivalry here.
As for national rivals, Alabama and Notre Dame bring back a lot of fun memories. But I let Neil, who’s been around for most of the great battles, handle those.
As a lifelong Syracuse basketball fan, it’s a natural for me to pick the PSU-Cuse rivalry as my favorite. It’s the one I know the most about, and I’m certain in saying this: It hasn’t been much of a rivalry for a long time.
Penn State leads the all-time series, 43-23-5, but the Lions are 21-2 against the Orange(men) since 1971.
There are, however, two games that stand out to me.
I became a Syracuse hoops fan at 11 years old, when Pearl Washington hit a half-court shot against Boston College in 1984. Loving the basketball team so much, I also followed the football program closely and was a big fan, as well, for many years.
So, when 1987 rolled around and quarterback Don McPherson and coach Dick MacPherson had the Cuse rolling, it was a game against No. 10 Penn State on Oct. 17 — my birthday — that validated the Orangemen as a legitimate contender.
McPherson threw an 80-yard TD pass on the first play from scrimmage to Rob Moore, igniting a rout in which Syracuse led 41-0 before winning, 48-21.
Joe Paterno went to the Syracuse locker room after the game and told the players, ”You’re a great team, and this was a great victory. Keep the national championship in the East.”
That was the Cuse’s first win over PSU since 1970, and it followed up the next year with a 24-10 win at Beaver Stadium.
The series went on hiatus after 1990 but resumed in 2008, when PSU visited Syracuse. That was a memorable trip, and not just because the Carrier Dome, which believe it or not didn’t have air conditioning, was burning up (I can still hear Neil complaining about it).
Syracuse honored legendary running back Ernie Davis that day, with the movie of his life story, “The Express,” premiering. Another Syracuse legend, Jim Brown, was in town that week but didn’t attend the game against Penn State.
The Lions destroyed the Orange in the game, 55-13, but it was so memorable because of the great college football history on display.
Penn State also won at home in 2009 (28-7), the last time Paterno faced Syracuse, and at The Meadowlands in 2013 (23-17). That was the last time the two teams played, and probably will be for a long time.
Syracuse’s program has been in shambles for a while, which is a shame for a school with such a rich tradition. And despite what Neil believes, that has nothing to do with the Cuse’s decision not to join Paterno’s proposed Eastern conference in the early 1980s.
Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM.