Will one of those guys named McPherson or MacPherson please explain who they are and why Syracuse University's football team is acting this way, undefeated and ranked No. 8 in the country? Eastern independents are supposed to compete for attention with the subtle turning of autumnal leaves, not in the national polls.
Coach Dick MacPherson is running halfback passes, reverses and look-option bombs, while quarterback Donnie McPherson is the second-rated quarterback in the country. Neither of them is Ted Gregory, the Outland and Lombardi Trophy candidate on the defensive line. Together they have gone from a 5-6 team a year ago to one that is 8-0, having defeated the power of the East in Penn State and Pittsburgh, and bowl scouts are swarming around them.
MacPherson is distinguishable by his generous countenance, silver hair and booming voice. He opened his arms bountifully, his broad smile reflected great good will for all, including the weather and his opponents, including Navy this week (1:30 p.m.). "I love Annapolis," he bellowed. "It's wonderful, a beautiful town."
MacPherson is entitled to his exuberance, because after seven years of workmanlike progress with the Orangemen -- making them good enough for an occasional visit to exotic Detroit for the Cherry Bowl -- he has received abundant rewards all in one season. "Everybody is alive," he said. "We've got a lot of reborn football people here."
For the purposes of clarification, quarterback Donnie McPherson is no relation, just a blue-collar guy from Rochester whom most schools wanted to use at defensive back. A fifth-year senior, he has become finely groomed in his dark pin stripes and his neatly trimmed mustache, but he wrecks the outfit by carrying a rubber dinosaur, which he clasps by its tail. A classmate gave it to him a few weeks ago; since then Syracuse has remained undefeated and McPherson has thrown for 1,687 yards and 16 touchdowns. "I'm very superstitious," he admitted, squeezing its precious scaly body.
A wise choice. Doubters are everywhere, for the school in question is a cold, remote one, populated mostly by chunky point guards. Syracuse last won a football national championship in 1959, and everybody knows that Eastern independents do not go to major bowl games anymore unless they are named Penn State. Rather, they content themselves with the Lambert Trophy for who has the most victories over teams named Colgate and Rutgers.
Clearly, the Orangemen have had trouble proving their worth despite successes like last week's 24-10 victory over Pittsburgh. They did not move up in the rankings even though they are one of only four unbeaten and untied teams left. With Navy, Boston College and West Virginia remaining on the schedule, they appear to stand an excellent chance of going undefeated, but will have trouble convincing those who vote in the polls, the key to playing for the national championship.
"I'm happy to keep proving it," McPherson the quarterback said. "We'll just keep proving it by winning games."
They are making believers out of some by doing just that. Among those who take them for real are the Orange Bowl representatives, who have attended the last four games, will go to a fifth at Navy on Saturday and may choose them to play the Big Eight champion in what could be a national title game. The Sugar Bowl folks would also love to dance them down to New Orleans for a Southeastern confrontation. In addition to those two, hosts of bowls such as the Fiesta, Hall of Fame and Gator have been in attendance.
"We've already accomplished what we wanted to," MacPherson said. "So then we said, well, what do we want next?"
Their best season in almost 30 years has gone like this: the Orangemen set down Maryland, Rutgers, Miami of Ohio, Virginia Tech and Missouri in efficient if not spectacular order. But they still had to play Penn State, the defending national champion. On national television, they mortified the Nittany Lions by 48-21.
Pittsburgh Coach Mike Gottfried was off that Saturday, so he decided to relax by watching the game. He thought he might learn something about the Orangemen, who were supposed to be a quietly good team even if they had no chance of beating the Nittany Lions. Gottfried, like the rest of the nation, watched agape as Syracuse passer McPherson threw for a touchdown on the first play.
He snapped the television off, got in his car and went for a drive.
"It gave me a headache," Gottfried said. "So I went to the mall."
That victory galvanized the Orangemen. In the previous five games, their largest margin of victory had been 17 points. But the following week they leveled Colgate, 52-6, after leading 42-0. Last week they took a 24-0 lead at halftime over Pittsburgh.
"You don't see that ever happen to Penn State," Gottfried said. "When you can do that to Penn State you catch the eye of the media, the bowl scouts, not to mention every coach in the country."
Which brings them to this week's opponent, Navy. Poor Navy. Because the Orangemen are not such a secret anymore, they have gained huge amounts of confidence and have become one of the more spectacularly well-rounded teams in the country. They average 433 yards a game, 11th best in the nation, and are scoring 36 points a game, ninth best. They are limiting opponents to 12.1 points a game (No. 5) and 79 yards rushing (No. 4).
Defense and defensive leader Ted Gregory have been two of the differences between this year and last, the Orangemen going from the 105th team in the country against the run when Gregory was lost to a broken leg, to a punishing heavyweight line. Gregory has 55 tackles, including seven sacks, a caused fumble, a recovered fumble, and a pair of broken-up passes. "The only reason I'm not scared of him is because I'm the head coach," MacPherson likes to say.
On offense, they have not only Don McPherson, but a receiver named Tommy Kane who has mystified defenses by catching 31 passes for 720 yards and 10 touchdowns. In the backfield, a trio of indistinguishable runners named Robert Drummond, Daryl Johnston and Michael Owens have totaled 1,624 yards, and Drummond and Owens are averaging nearly six yards a carry.
"When you have a quarterback like that, you have to worry about him," said tight end Pat Kelly. "Maybe you can stop him, but then you have worry about Tommy Kane. Let's say maybe you can stop him too. Then you have to look in the backfield, where there are three different backs. And after that you have to worry about a 275-pound offensive line that's willing to block and die for all of them."
The one thing Syracuse still lacks is something that perhaps cannot be gained, and that is power in the polls. The Orange Bowl has been told by Jimmy Johnson, coach of third-ranked Miami, that he wants an unconditional invitation on Nov. 21, despite the fact that the Hurricanes will have games remaining against Notre Dame and South Carolina. That puts the Orangemen at a disadvantage, and they are viewed as an upstart with a generous schedule.
"I don't care who we play," MacPherson the coach said. "A win is a win. I love them all."