SYRACUSE — Syracuse legends were on hand among the 48,617 in attendance for the Orange's home opener against Minnesota at the Carrier Dome Saturday.
Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim, former Orange football coach Dick MacPherson and quarterback Don McPherson were all there. Midway through the first quarter, former SU quarterback and current Philadelphia Eagles signal caller, Donovan McNabb arrived.
"When I drove down with the family, seeing the tailgaters out at every spot, you can just tell everyone was excited about this day," McNabb said. "I think it's positive."
He also had plenty to say on quarterback Greg Paulus.
"You bring in a quarterback who seems like he's the Johnny Unitas of college football," McNabb said. "He's been through college and probably had a 9-to-5 (job), and now he's coming back to play this one year. What you're seeing is a guy who's really maturing. You have to remember, it's his first game."
What McNabb and company witnessed was Paulus converting 19 of 31 pass attempts for 167 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
They also saw the Orange lose, 23-20 in overtime, to Minnesota. It was the Orange's fourth loss on Sept. 5th and its sixth straight defeat on opening day. Syracuse last won its home opener in 2004.
Even so, the fourth largest opening-game crowd in school history was given something: Hope.
Yes, the Orange still lost. But the crowd rose to its feet as the players exited the field. The game was a lot better than the last four years under former head coach Greg Robinson when Syracuse lost by an average of 13 points per game.
Nearly every player mentioned something about the deafening noise inside the Dome.
"That dome was unbelievable today," said tackle Arthur Jones. "No one could hear anybody. My ears still hurt."
Said Paulus: "That was a big-time atmosphere. They gave us a huge, huge boost today."
But hope quickly turns into expectations, and when expectations aren't met, 48,617 people might start losing hope.
"The effort was there, but the execution wasn't," head coach Doug Marrone said. "I hope as an athlete, you understand that you also have to execute. Don't ever confuse efforts with results. I think that's pretty appropriate for this game."
Syracuse travels to No. 8 Penn State on Saturday in a game that will require plenty of effort and perfect execution to win. Then, they return home for six consecutive games. By the end of the stand, bowl game possibilities and the success of the season could well be decided.
"I hope the support stays with us and we give them what they deserve," running back Delone Carter said. "I see all the improvement. I'm thankful for it, but it's definitely not enough."
Fans are certainly hoping this isn't another year they collectively say, "I miss Donovan McNabb."
He, of course, led Syracuse to four bowl games from 1996-1999, winning two. Since his departure, the Orange have made three bowl appearances and none since 2004.
Paulus is — or is it already was? — their hope to get back.
"The support here is phenomenal," Paulus said. "I can't tell you the joy I get from playing football."
He added that the team has also rallied behind him, which was evident when he was elected a co-captain.
"The camaraderie these guys have and that this team has, it's something special," he said. "There's nothing like being in the huddle, having 10 guys look at you and having the opportunity to make a difference in the game every single time you touch the ball."
ODDS AND ENDS
Syracuse's starting tight endNick Provoinjured his shoulder in the first quarter and did not return. The school did not issued a press release detailing the injury or his expected time out. ... Orange wide receiverMike Williamsextended his streak of games with a touchdown reception to 10. It is the longest active streak in the FBS Division.