The 2002 season wasn’t a particularly memorable one for the Syracuse University football team. The Orange opened the season winning just one of the first seven games of the year, finishing the year with a record of 4-8. That was my senior year at Syracuse, and for a life long Orange fan, it would have left a pretty sour taste in my mouth had we not gone ahead and decided to win a basketball national championship a few months later.
Now, why would I be talking about the 2002 season, you ask? Simple, really. Sean Keeley over at NunesMagician.com posted a question about which SU games from the pre-Twitter era would have broken social media. Sean’s got some great games on the list, and they all come from much more memorable seasons than 2002. But there was one game in particular in that ’02 campaign that to this day remains the craziest football game I’ve ever attended.
The game in question took place on November 9, as the Orange hosted the 8-1 Virginia Tech Hokies on Parent’s Weekend at SU. I remember it was Parent’s Weekend because rather than sitting in my usual seats in the student section, I found myself in the upper deck of the Carrier Dome (which is actually a better vantage point from which to watch a football game, for the record). The Hokies were ranked No. 8 in the nation, while Syracuse slumped in with a 3-6 record, having just picked up a pair of wins over Rutgers and Central Florida.
It was expected was a complete ass kicking, reminiscent of the one the Hokies handed the Orange in Blacksburg my freshman year, when Michael Vick’s squad stomped Syracuse 62-0 (in a game Syracuse had entered ranked No. 16 in the nation, amazingly).
What happened instead was one of the wildest, most entertaining football games to ever be played at the Carrier Dome, with the Orange emerging on top 50-42 in triple overtime. More than 1,100 yards of total offense were piled up, including a whopping 907 passing yards combined between the two teams. Syracuse not only got 403 passing yards from Troy Nunes, that wily magician, but racked up 201 yards on the ground as well.
Virginia Tech receive Ernest Wilford could not be stopped all game, hauling in eight catches for 279 yards and four touchdowns. On the Syracuse side, future Super Bowl hero David Tyree had the finest game of his college career with nine receptions for 229 yards (but, surprisingly, no touchdowns). Walter Reyes – perhaps the most underrated running back in Orange history – ran for 118 yards and three scores, and true freshman and local hero Damian Rhodes rushed for 67 yards and two touchdowns.
And it was ultimately the combination of fatigue for the Hokie defense and a burst of speed from Rhodes that won the game for Syracuse in that third overtime, as the freshman from Fayetteville-Manlius High raced virtually untouched for a 25 yard touchdown on the first play of that overtime period. And then, as the Orange lined up to go for the two-point conversion, Rhodes took a pitch to the right, saw any running room close up in a hurry, and completely reversed fields, getting a block from Nunes to pave the way for the conversion and an eight point victory.
The game wound up being utterly meaningless, as Syracuse would lose its last two games of the season before going 6-6 the following year. It was still, without question, the most memorable Syracuse football game I’ve ever attended. And good news! It’s available in its entirety on YouTube: