LSU, Syracuse and Reflections on the Carrier Dome

Lyn Scarbrough

September 28, 2015 at 11:54 am.

Sep 26, 2015; Syracuse, NY, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) scores a touchdown after braking a tackle by Syracuse Orange cornerback Wayne Morgan (2) during the first quarter in a game at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 26, 2015; Syracuse, NY, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) scores a touchdown after braking a tackle by Syracuse Orange cornerback Wayne Morgan (2) during the first quarter in a game at the Carrier Dome.  Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

For the second week in a row, LSU looked like a national championship contender on Saturday, defeating Syracuse, 34-24, in a win more convincing than the score indicated.

Again, it was the Leonard Fournette show, as the sophomore Heisman Trophy candidate torched the Orange for 244 rushing yards and two touchdowns and had another 88-yard scoring run called back by penalty. The Tiger defense did its part, picking off a pass and holding the home team to 281 total yards in the Carrier Dome.

But, as I watched television highlights on Saturday night, my thoughts went back to a game played in that same arena exactly 14 years ago that day, on the fourth Saturday in September, 2001. Since then, that happens every time that I watch a game played in Syracuse.

It was the only game that I’ve ever attended or covered at the Carrier Dome and it was planned to be a unique football experience. My media/photo pass would have me on the sideline for that game between Syracuse and Auburn, but plans had been made for a mini-vacation before and after the game.

Several people had lodging reservations on the Canadian side of the border, near the rim above Niagara Falls … you know, the Maid of the Mist, the heavy blue rain gear as the boats go near the thunderous, deafening cascade. We also hoped to make it down to Cooperstown and drive through the Finger Lakes region of central New York.

But, hundreds of miles away from Syracuse, some people had other ideas. Several teams of Islamic terrorists, the very face of evil, had plotted to fly jetliners into buildings, kill thousands of innocent victims and throw the United States and the world into chaos. The cowards succeeded in their despicable, un-Godly plot.

In the aftermath, college and professional football games scheduled for the weekend of Sept. 15 were either postponed or cancelled, along with most other athletic contests and many other events around the country for the next week. Instead of attending games, people went to churches. Instead of yelling for their teams, they prayed for their country.

The next significant football game scheduled for the state of New York was set for Syracuse. Auburn was to play the Orangemen (as they were known then) on Sept. 22, the fourth Saturday of the month. After much debate, the decision was made to resume football games that weekend. Because of the location and the setting, Syracuse against Auburn would have added importance. It became a national headliner.

Niagara Falls and the Finger Lakes were out. Many fans, including several from our group, were understandably apprehensive about flights into New York.

So, just four of us made the trip – J.T. Norris, a former Motorolan now working for Harley-Davidson in Wisconsin; my cousins, Wesley Salter, who now lives in Tuscaloosa, and Myers Hyche, a former Birmingham Post-Herald sportswriter, now living in Orlando; and me with my sideline media pass to cover the game for Lindy’s.

On the field, the 2001 game wasn’t memorable.

Syracuse All-American defensive end Dwight Freeney led the Orangemen defense that forced five Auburn turnovers on the way to a 31-14 victory. That Syracuse team finished 10-3, placed second in the Big East and defeated Kansas State in the Bowl.

Auburn was a freshman dominated team, including its young starting quarterback Jason Campbell. After his 44-yard scoring run gave the Tigers an early lead, they didn’t score again until late in the fourth quarter. They went on to finish tied for the SEC Western Division title before losing to North Carolina in the Peach Bowl. Four seasons later, that team, led by seniors Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Carlos Rogers and Campbell, went undefeated and was named national champion by several outlets.

Based on LSU’s performance so far in 2014, it may not take that Tiger team four seasons to contend for the College Football Playoff championship.

But, off the field, the 2001 game was more than memorable. Of the 500-plus games that I’ve attended and covered over the past five decades, few, if any, stand out more.

Outside the Carrier Dome and around Syracuse the scene was subdued. Fire trucks were parked along brick sidewalks with firefighters holding boots to collect money for disaster relief. Inside the stadium, fans for both teams waved American flags as both bands played patriotic anthems. State and local officials, on the playing surface before the game, addressed the crowd, introducing area firemen who had returned from working in the rubble of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. The pregame national anthem has never been more meaningful or inspiring.

The 49,262-seat Carrier Dome, a small venue, dwarfed in size by the Georgia Dome and Superdome with their 70,000-plus capacity, seemed sort of dark and foreboding that night. It was hot on the sideline and loud, really loud, Tiger Stadium loud. A few minutes into the game, the photographer standing next to me indicated that there was no need to continue to attempt talking. Hearing each other was hopeless.

But, nothing else seemed hopeless that night, not for the teams on the field, and not for America.

Of course, both teams and their fans wanted to win the game. But, in a larger sense, the outcome didn’t matter. When the ball was kicked off, both teams had won, the nation had won. By the fact that the game was being played, especially in New York state, the terrorists had lost … and all of us had won.

The people of New York were given a respite, even if only for a few hours, from the abominable crime inflicted upon it. And, the people of the United States proved the resiliency and spirit that made America great.

Unprecedented horror had brought the nation together to a degree not seen since World War II. There was resolve to destroy terrorists, punish their supporters, make their lives miserable and their attacks impossible. Dealing with terrorists and their supporters and potentially helping enable their efforts – unthinkable!

September, 2001 … 14 years ago. It was the time when day-to-day life in this country and around the world was changed forever, when we stopped being able to take routine things for granted, and when America showed its true character.

Americans, almost all Americans, stood in solidarity … and sports venues around the nation brought people together as nothing else could.

It was a time and an experience that I will always remember. Hopefully, none of us will ever forget.