Tuesday, September 6, 2011
The Grantland Rice-ification of Syracuse Football
If you spend any time at all on the interwebs you know that the Godfather of on-line sports writing Bill Simmons has assembled a staff and is now writing at Grantland.com -which is under ESPN's huge umbrella. You may have also seen one of these awful commercials that promote the site.
The site's name is an homage to Grantland Rice, one of the defining sports writers of the 20th century. Over the summer, I happened to read a piece by Tommy Craggs on Deadspin titled Why Grantland Rice Sucked. Craggs is a very talented writer in his own right, and spent the majority of the piece talking about how Rice shouldn't be revered for making Gods out of athletes that most certainly were not.
While I would argue that since Rice wrote in a time before we could see highlights five seconds after they happened on YouTube, the grandiose verbal poetry he used was needed to paint vivid mental pictures for the vast majority of the country that had no access to the games. The same games that allow people then and now to divert attention from the myriad of real problems we all deal with on a day to day basis.
However, the issue got to me to thinking -- what if sports writers today still wrote like that? What if the media still painted grand pictures of games we watch and the athletes who play them? For SU football coverage, Nolan Weidner does a fine, utilitarian job of reporting what happened, but let's face it, the stories could use a little color. A little satirical splendor if you will.
So, in an experiment that will most likely end horribly, I thought it would be fun to see what Nolan's game stories would look like if people still wrote like they did in the Grantland Rice era......if the person covering SU was a mediocre writer with a barely working knowledge of history. I apologize in advance.
Syracuse football team rallies late, tops Wake Forest 36-29 in overtime
How grave was the condition of the stallions who were carrying the SU flag through the first three quarters of the majestic home opener against Wake Forest?
By the time the frenzied Carrier Dome crowd of 40,833 was announced early in the fourth quarter, many of those brave souls had already departed to begin the long night's journey into day.
For shame. The deserters who once sat amongst us missed the most exciting comeback since the Americans defeated the British at Concord.
After digging a hole deeper than the the one that held Chilean miners, the mighty SU offense roared to life like Secretariat roared down the stretch, scoring 15 points in less than 90 seconds in a fashion that would have left even Joan Rivers speechless. The epic contest was tied 29-29 when SU summoned the strength of a thousand men and scored a touchdown that was part thrilling and part epic to defeat the Demon Deacons 36-29.
“It’s not rocket science,” said Orange head coach Doug Marrone who nonetheless coached more brilliantly than Hermann Oberth practiced the art he had just mentioned. “You have to make plays to win.”
An SU offense that was smothered by warriors from the Carolinas for the first 45 minutes somehow found a resolve that we haven't seen since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and scored 22 points in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Young genius offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said swarming pressure defense expertly applied by the behemoths from Wake Forest stymied an offense that was prepared for a tactical assault that the Orange assumed would have been lauched from a far different angle.
“They came out, they pressure everybody, on every play,” Hackett wistfully mused about an SU offense that gained two first downs, racked up 52 yards and scored one touchdown to trail 20-7.
Had it not been for a lone TD drive that reminded many of John Elway in the playoffs, the heroes from Syracuse had the ball six times in the first half, running a mere 18 plays.
“At halftime, I take the whole game plan and throw it out,” Hackett explained.
In the third quarter, SU's flawless offensive execution resulted in a nine-play drive to make it 20-14, but Wake was not to be denied. Like a mother lion defending her cubs, Wake struck back and answered with a TD of its own to push the lead back to 26-14.
Things looked as bleak as a dark, moonless night when SU tailback Antwon Bailey fumbled on the first play of the fourth quarter and Wake Forest recovered at the Orange 30. Mere seconds later, Wake’s lead was 29-14, although rocket-armed starting quarterback Tanner Price left the game right before the field goal with a knee injury.
Orange defensive end Chandler Jones, as tall as a redwood and stronger than granite, was violently grappled to the ground on the play when Price was hurt, and when his blocker finally released him from his death grip, the mighty Jones tumbled head over heels into the young quarterback’s leg. The strongest steel could not have withstood the blow. Young Tanner was done for the game, and while they had not yet received the telegraph, so was Wake.
At that point, Price was painting a picture more spectacular than the Mona Lisa, going 18 for 31 passing for 289 yards and three TDs.
“I feel like that was our time to take it up a notch,” Jones said, explaining the marvelous feats of strength that were about to come.
With 11 minutes left, the Orange marched down the field like the allies stormed Normandy, going on an eight-play, 73-yard touchdown drive to make the score 29-21 with 8:26 left to play.
Quarterback Ryan Nassib, who had to dance more deftly than Fred Astaire to stay upright in the pocket most of the first half, completed five consecutive passes for 55 yards, including a 2-yard TD toss to fullback Adam Harris.
The Syracuse defense then laughed in the face of Wake Forest, denying them on three consecutive plays and valiantly returning the oblong-shaped pigskin back to the offense on its own 47-yard line.
Then, the world shifted on its axis. On the first play from scrimmage, Bailey took off around the left side of the Wake defense and ran 53 yards for a TD, and it was clear that the axis shift that had just occured helped keep the young man in bounds as he teetered perilously along the sideline. On the conversion attempt, senior receiver Van Chew stretched out to a length that would make Paul Bunyan look tiny, making a diving catch of a Nassib pass just inside the goal line for two points.
Officials reviewed the catch, the play stood and suddenly an SU team that had been left for dead had risen like phoenix and tied it up, 29-29, with 5:24 left.
On Wake’s next possession, its second with reserve quarterback Ted Stachitas, SU cornerback Kevyn Scott dove through the air, meeting a pass intended for Wake Forest well past its apex. The senior with feet of Hermes cradled the ball in hands so powerful they could crush bowling balls and gave possession back to the Orange. SU advanced to the 22-yard line, but in a turn of events that was more stunning than the assassination of JFK, Ross Krautman’s 32-yard field goal try with two minutes left was blocked.
In the overtime, the Orange ran through the Wake defense like Sir Lancelot through opponents, as SU scored the game-winner from the Wake 25-yard line.
Like a surgeon, Nassib hit Chew, who went out of bounds at the 9-yard line. After Bailey wisely ran up the middle to the 4, Nassib was sprinting like a gazelle being tracked by predators and in the spotlight brighter than a thousand suns he fired a strike that found Chew in the front corner of the end zone.
That catch was reviewed, and but all those in the house already knew that fate was with the Orange. The senior receiver had both hands under the ball and his knee was down in-bounds. The call was never in doubt.
“To be honest with you, I was trying to throw it away,” Nassib said of the throw that will be discussed for years. “I was just trying not to get it picked.”
Nassib kicked off his Heisman campaign by completing 20 of 28 passes for 178 yards and three TDs. Bailey gained 114 yards on 25 carries and scored twice. Junior Alec Lemon caught seven passes for 52 yards, and Chew hauled in four for 60 yards.
Hackett said the Orange offense he assembled in the second half, after re-writing his game plan in a mere 20 minutes, employed tactics used against it's own defense -- one often compared to the 1985 Chicago Bears. Hackett said he thought that change actually helped calm the offense down.
“I still can’t believe it,” he said.
Nor can all of the fans who streamed out of the Carrier Dome gates on a dark and stormy night and missed God shining sunlight and warmth down on a Syracuse team that would not be denied.