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A Touch Of Class
Curry Kirkpatrick
December 14, 1987
Nobody did it better than Don McPherson, the soul of undefeated Syracuse
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December 14, 1987

A Touch Of Class

Nobody did it better than Don McPherson, the soul of undefeated Syracuse

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Yes, Heisman electors, admit that had you known more about him, there's no way you would have voted McPherson right behind Tim Brown of Notre Dame and just ahead of Gordon Lockbaum of Holy Cross. There's no room for some kind of laid-back, insouciant, music-buff, clotheshorse weirdo who needs his space in the hallowed halls of the Downtown Athletic Club.

But, in fact, McPherson should have won the trophy on numbers alone. He finished the season as the top-ranked passer in the land (nosing out UCLA's Troy Aikman on the last week of the season) while accounting for 2,540 running and passing yards, 52% of Syracuse's total, and 28 touchdowns, 62% of its scoring. He established a grand total of 22 school records and has led the Orangemen to the brink of national (mythical, of course) runner-updom. And, who knows, if Syracuse wins the Sugar and Oklahoma and Miami tie in the Orange, maybe McPherson will suddenly find he has led the Orangemen to an outright championship.

McPherson made touchdowns running, passing and receiving this season. The year before he graced the campus, 1982, Syracuse had a 2-9 record. He led the Orangemen to respectability first (7-4 in '85), then to that magical Planet of the Unbeatens for the first time in 28 years. Grant him his stats and his team's immaculate 11-0, consider his class, style and renaissance collegian image, now set him down someplace else, say, in South Bend, and would there have been a Heisman vote for anybody but McPherson?

McPherson doesn't so much march to a different drummer as to a percussionist spreading ratamacues all over the musical firmament. Since when did a college quarterback thrive on listening not only to modernaires like Al Jarreau and Jean-Luc Ponty—whom McPherson has met backstage at Syracuse's Landmark Theatre a couple of times—but also to the Duke and the Count and Miss Ella? When thieves ripped the tape deck out of his vintage mid-'70s, ugly green Cadillac Sedan De Ville a few weeks ago, McPherson was most furious that they didn't leave behind his Basie/Fitzgerald On the Sunny Side of the Street tape. "At least they had some musical taste," he says now. Back home he soothed himself. "When times get tough, I always play a little Nat King Cole," he says. Even while he's warming up on the sideline, McPherson can be heard humming Cole's Sweet Lorraine.

Since when did a college quarterback wear Cardin suits and St. Laurent shirts and Dior silk ties and tweed fedoras around campus? "The QB from GQ," the local Syracuse media calls McPherson. "Our yuppie master," coach Mac says of Mc.

McPherson never owned a pair of blue jeans until last year. "I always liked wearing slacks," he says. "Then dress shirts seemed to go well with the slacks, and from there it wasn't far to ties and suits." The Bear Bryant-style hat from Saks Fifth Avenue? "It was my grandfather's," he says. That would be the same man, Milton McPherson, from whom the quarterback inherited his musical genes; who once led a big band at the Silver Slipper Club on the island of Jamaica; who lives still in the tiny New York village of Fishs Eddy, practically close enough to hear the hosannas for his grandson emanating from the suddenly stentorophonic Carrier Dome.

Since when did a college quarterback carry a briefcase as well as All the News That's Fit to Print? "I need to know what's going on outside this insulated world of mine," McPherson says. Upon meeting Gordon White, the Times's veteran football writer, McPherson shook hands and beamed. "My paper," he said.

"I put your name on my Heisman ballot," said White.

"Well, I hope so," said McPherson.

"Donnie's an example of the goodness in people," says coach Mac. Not to mention the good judgment. When his father, Gene, wanted to buy him a new BMW to replace the Caddy at midseason, Mc took Mac's advice that it wouldn't do much for his image and opted to wait.

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