Syracuse honors legendary coach MacPherson with a win against Wake Forest

Don McPherson finished second in Heisman voting
MacPherson lead the Orange to the 1988 Sugar Bowl

It was a win for Coach Mac Saturday.

While legendary coach Dick MacPherson watched from the Carrier Dome press box Saturday afternoon, the Syracuse Orange rallied in an impressive fashion for a 30-17 victory over Wake Forest.

The game was the signature event on the day Syracuse community honored the man who put Orange football back on the main stage some 30 years ago. There was a ceremony between the first and second quarters to recognize Coach Mac and his family.

“We had to win this game for Coach Mac,” Coach Scott Shafer declared in the post game press conference. “That was our number one priority.”

Although Wake Forest came out on top of nearly every statistical category, the Orange, behind frosh quarterback Eric Dungey and an opportunity-driven defense, made the Hall of Fame coach proud.

Syracuse starts the season at 2-0 for the second consecutive year while the Demon Deacons drop to 1-1.

In his decade of directing the Syracuse program, Coach Mac racked up 66 victories and five trips to the postseason. In his fourth year at the helm, the community took notice when the Orange defeated then-No. 1 Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Carrier Dome. Soon, Syracuse was a prominent participant in the post season, which certainly didn’t include the vast number of Bowl Games as there are now.

Don McPherson finished second in Heisman voting

A few years later, in 1987, was Coach Mac’s moment when he and quarterback Don McPherson, that year’s Heisman Trophy runner up, took the program on a ride that no one will ever forget. That year, the duo catapulted the program into the national spotlight by guiding the Orange to an undefeated record, punctuated by a thrilling last second come-from-behind victory over West Virginia in a filled-to-capacity Carrier Dome.

» Related: Syracuse rallies in second half for win

Syracuse, which accepted an invitation to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans before the West Virginia game, finished the year ranked No. 4 in the land at 11-0-1, when Auburn and SU tied 16-16 on New Year’s Day 1988. He was recognized as the National Coach of the Year for his efforts.

“We were so much better because of Coach Mac,” admitted Don McPherson, who was one of many former players to return to the Dome and pay tribute to their coach Saturday afternoon. “We were good and so confident in what we could accomplish on the field.”

McPherson, the All-America quarterback, broke SU record after record-22 in all- during that dream season, and earned several post season awards, including the Davey O’Brien and Johnny Unitas awards as the nation’s top signal caller, in addition to the Heisman Trophy recognition. The defense was led by All American nose guard Ted Gregory, who was a finalist for the Lombardi Award, which recognizes the most outstanding lineman or linebacker.

But why was 1987 so special for the SU program and the SU community? McPherson said it was Coach Mac’s mindset and practice policies that structured the team’s character.

Syracuse defeated West Virginia in dramatic fashion

“Our practices were like clockwork,” McPherson recalled. “We were amazing in practice so game day was kind of easy.”

He added, “It was all Mac’s doing.”

When Coach Mac arrived on the Hill in 1981, the second year of the Carrier Dome, and until he left in 1991 for the NFL’s New England Patriots head job, the SU football program went to five bowl games, including that Sugar Bowl tie. When his assistant Paul Pasqualoni took over in 1991, SU went on to nine more bowls in 14 years. It was largely because of what Coach Dick MacPherson started.

McPherson was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. Fittingly, Coach Mac was inducted the next year.

“He means the world to Syracuse,” current coach Scott Shafer said. “I told him we were going to win the game for him.”
SU now sits at 2-0.

Shafer added, “It was great to get the victory.”

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About John Zych 28 Articles
John is an active freelance writer, photographer and editor. His credits include being an official photographer at the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central New York Ms. Orange Fan Luncheon and regularly contributing to SU and Eagle Newspapers. Prior to that, he was the managing Editor and journalist for several community newspaper groups from 1985-1997 including the Oneida Dispatch, Eagle Newspapers and Taconic Media (Millbrook, NY).