Pinstripe Bowl proves worthy of the venue

Syracuse wide receiver Marcus Sales celebrates with running

Syracuse wide receiver Marcus Sales celebrates with running back Antwon Bailey after Sales scored a touchdown against Kansas State in the second quarter of the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, Thursday. (Dec. 30, 2010) (Credit: AP )

Mark Herrmann

Newsday columnist Mark Herrmann Mark Herrmann

Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988,

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All afternoon, the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl had been a very nice show, something for which Yankee Stadium could be proud. At the very end, though, it took a sharp turn, and wouldn't you know it? A Yankees-Red Sox game broke out, or at least a Jeffrey Maier controversy.

The best compliment for this game put on by the Yankees was that the focus afterward wasn't on compliments. Instead of polite platitudes, there was raw emotion over this result: Syracuse 36, Kansas State 34.

Tears were the remnant of good, earnest, heartbreaking competition, which was the best tribute of all for the site and the organization that put this bowl game together.

This was more than a dressy Chamber of Commerce matinee. It sure was a lot more than the only other bowl game held in the Bronx, the 1962 Gotham Bowl, which also ended in a 36-34 game but left the participants weeping only because they wished they hadn't trekked all the way from Nebraska and Miami to play before more than 50,000 empty seats.

Yesterday's game was honest-to-goodness postseason football that was so taut and draining that Bill Snyder, the gentlemanly, soft-spoken coach of the losing team, admitted, after a pause, that his players were "dramatically pained."

And the coach of the winning team, Bronx boy Doug Marrone, grandson of a longtime Yankee Stadium usher, choked up when he left the dugout and looked way up at the frieze. "I truly almost did break down and go to my knees," Marrone said, "because it truly is a dream come true for me."

All of this answers the question: Is it a good idea to hold a bowl game in the teeth of winter in a city that hasn't been a college football town since the 1940s? Darn right it is.

New York may not be a college football town, but it is a big-event town. "This is Yankee Stadium. This is where events happen," Yankees president Randy Levine said.

The atmosphere was terrific, from the roars of a paid crowd of 38,274 to the piles of snow left along the sidelines for effect (1.5 million pounds of snow had been shoveled up, carted off and dumped in the Harlem River).

There were flea-flickers and daring fourth-down conversions. Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib and his counterpart, Carson Coffman, threw the ball a lot better than A.J. Burnett did this year. There was Snyder's ill-advised fake field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter. There was the fact that Delone Carter passed Larry Csonka on Syracuse's all-time rushing list and tied Jim Brown with 11 100-yard games.

All well and good. But then the day reached Yankee Stadium proportions.

Kansas State wide receiver Adrian Hilburn was called for a questionable unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for making a salute after scoring the touchdown that drew the Wildcats within two points with 1:13 left. Officials ruled that Hilburn had flagrantly called attention to himself. This peanut stand suggests that it was the officials who called attention to themselves with an excessively harsh judgment.

Anyway, the 15-yard penalty made the two-point conversion attempt an 18-yard try instead of a 3-yard play. It failed.

"My heart dropped to my stomach, to my toes. I couldn't believe it," said Hilburn, adding that he couldn't stop crying in the locker room after his final college game.

Stuff like that happens in games that mean something. This meant something. It probably was the best bowl game anywhere so far this year. It happened in just the right spot.