SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Sean McDonough will be behind the microphone for Syracuse’s first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference game against a fellow ACC member, and he remembers being in the student section for the Carrier Dome’s inaugural football game.
It was the fall of 1980, McDonough’s freshman year of college. Now an ESPN play-by-play broadcaster, he chuckles over how the Carrier Dome welcomes unknowing visitors three decades later.
“One of my biggest memories of how incredibly hot it was inside there,” McDonough said. “Everybody laughs at the irony, I guess, that the Carrier Dome is not air-conditioned. It gets very hot and stuffy in there.”
The irony is that according to the Daily Orange (Syracuse’s student newspaper), Carrier Corporation purchased permanent naming rights to the indoor stadium for $2.75 million — and Carrier Corporation is an air conditioning giant.
How could an A/C company forget to, uh, install A/C in its prized possession?
“Well, if you’ve ever been to Syracuse, New York, you know you don’t need air conditioning very often,” McDonough said. “In the winter, you need a lot of heat — and a good snow plow or shovel.”
Luckily for Clemson, its first expedition to upstate New York arrives when the ground is blanketed with multiple colors of leaves, not two feet of snow.
It rained in Syracuse all day Friday following two straight weeks of sunshine, but that shouldn’t affect the gameday humidity inside the Carrier Dome, one of two Division I FBS teams that plays in its own on-campus indoor stadium. (Idaho is the other.)
The degree of truth to exactly how sweltering it gets inside the Carrier Dome depends on how many fans jam the joint. Syracuse is expecting a near-sellout on Homecoming Weekend, due both to hometown fans curious how a first-year head coach does in the program’s first ACC affair and relocated Clemson fans filling their share of the visitor’s section.
“When it’s full and rocking,” McDonough said, “it’s about as loud as any place.”
The No. 3 Tigers (4-0, 2-0 ACC) are sure to feel the heat when Syracuse (2-2, 0-0) sends blitzing linebackers at the offense, multi-talented runners Terrel Hunt and Jerome Smith at the defense, and a full-throttle upset effort at Clemson in its second of five road challenges.
“They’re a hell of a frickin’ team, and they scare the hell out of you as a coach,” Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said of Clemson on July 22. “But it’s a challenge we relish. We’re not afraid of anybody at Syracuse — never have been. Sign ‘em up and look forward to competing, knowing they got more stars next to their name than we do.
“We may not be as big, we may not be as fast, but doggone it, we want to play a style of football where we’re knocking the hell out of people and playing a hard-nosed game against everybody.”
The Carrier Dome is built intimately around the football field, which means the fans are a tad closer than normal to the sidelines.
“I expect it to be N.C. State with a roof over it,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “That’s the only way I can describe it.”
Swinney decided to shut the doors and windows in Clemson’s indoor practice facility Tuesday, to simulate something like what the Tigers may feel on Saturday afternoon.
“It was pretty stuffy, but I feel it’s something we’re used to here in South Carolina, getting really hot and the humidity and everything,” junior linebacker Tony Steward said. “Fall camp was pretty brutal, so I think we’re pretty accustomed to it and it doesn’t affect us as much. We’ll just have to stay hydrated.”
It’s been a long road back to relevancy for Syracuse, which won the 1959 national championship, enjoyed another undefeated season in 1987 and won three consecutive Big East Championships under Paul Pasqualoni from 1996-98.
“The fan interest tailed off for a while,” McDonough said, “but I think there’s a lot of excitement for the first ACC game, and especially when you’re playing Clemson, the No. 3 team in the country.”
The Orange suffered through eight straight seasons at or below .500 from 2002-09, and are hoping the change of conference will spark a program-wide renaissance.
“There’s only one way to go: baptized by fire,” Syracuse defensive tackle Jay Bromley said. “It’s a great way to come to the ACC. No other way I would want to start.”