Orange Watch: A somber 2020 for the Syracuse football family

Floyd Little in January when he was honored at the Gator Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice, USA TODAY Sports

Item: The recent sudden death of Markus Paul (1985-88) at the too young age of 54, the word that all-time great Floyd Little (1964-66) has entered hospice care in his battle with cancer, along with the October passing of our classmate Terry O’Leary (1976-78) from cancer, a starter in the defensive secondary on two Frank Maloney-coached teams (sadly Maloney himself died this past March at age 79) and who hailed from near-by Baldwinsville, has added more grief to Orange Nation in an already rough 2020.

The downcast news this fall concerning three former Syracuse football players from three distinct eras, at least allows us to share fond memories from the past.

You simply could not find a nicer human being than Markus Paul. He was a joy to cover during his SU career helping Dick MacPherson resurrect the program and compete for the 1987 national title. Paul served as co-captain of the 1988 team with Daryl Johnston, making quite an illustrious duo of eventual NFL draft selections, Paul in the fourth round to Chicago, Johnston in round two to Dallas. The Kissimmee, Florida native ended up playing in 71 NFL games, all but one with the Bears.

We distinctly remember moments of candor with Paul a couple of hours after the infamous 1988 Sugar Bowl 16-16 tie against Auburn. Joining us in our radio network broadcast location at the team hotel in New Orleans, we recollect agonizing with the Orangemen’s free safety about just how close the defense came from stopping the Tigers final drive on a 4th and 6 play with under a half minute left, before a first down and subsequent Auburn tying field goal with 0:01 on the clock sent everyone home unhappy.

“We came so close,” Paul agonized shaking his head. “An inch or two either way and we would have stopped them from scoring.”

The glowing tributes this past week from NFL players and coaches, his former teammates and others, illustrate what a remarkable person he was, and how greatly he influenced a generation of players in a nearly 25-year career as a strength and conditioning coach with five NFL franchises resulting in five Super Bowl rings.

Floyd Little had the best three-year career of any Syracuse back in program history. An All-American all three years he lettered for Ben Schwartzwalder, Little finished in the top five in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1965 and 1966, before embarking on a pro career with Denver, and retiring in 1975 as the Broncos all-time leading rusher (a mark since broken by fellow Hall of Famer Terrell Davis).

After helping to secure Doug Marrone as head coach in 2009, Little returned to Manley Field House for a final chapter of his SU career in 2011, serving as Daryl Gross’s right-hand man. As the best brand ambassador for Syracuse athletics, Little always had time to talk about the Orange, pose for a picture or sign an autograph for anyone that asked. We’re grateful for the time he spent with us before several football games, displaying a constant bubbly public persona along with a down-to-earth manner that was rare for a man of his stature.

» Related: 3 things we learned from Syracuse’s 36-29 loss to NC State

Terry O’Leary was a tough guy on the football field as a safety and punt returner, and a nice guy off of it. Recruited from B-ville by Maloney, O’Leary played three seasons for SU including the last team to call Archbold Stadium home. We were dorm mates in Booth Hall for two years, and he was a fun member of the football team to hang around.

Before embarking on a successful career in the alcoholic beverage industry both in central New York and New Jersey, O’Leary married his college sweetheart Kirsten, a 1982 Syracuse graduate, and they eventually raised four children. Although we lost contact with Terry in the immediate years after graduation, we’ll always have the warm memory from the summer of 1983 when we had the honor of attending the O’Leary’s wedding in Baldwinsville as a guest of a friend of the bride.

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.