There are freshman at West Virginia who were eight years old the last time Syracuse defeated West Virginia on a football field. As far as they're concerned, Syracuse has NEVER defeated West Virginia. They assume the Schwartzwalder Trophy is nailed down in the West Virginia University Trophy Case/Spittoon as a permanent piece. The idea that SU and WVU could be considered rivals is almost laughable.
And yet, I swear to you, we were. I mean, we are. No, I mean, we were...
In the late 80's, Syracuse and West Virginia were locked in a yearly battle to be the best team in Northeastern football (a dubious honor these days). In the 90's, while Miami was eviscerating everyone in their path, Syracuse and West Virginia made for the Big East's best head-to-head match-up on a yearly basis. The game almost always meant something, be it for a Big East title, bowl positioning or just bragging rights. There were last-second two-point conversations for the win, heated controversies and even a brawl or two. That's the kind of stuff you expect from two teams that have played 57 times and every year since 1955.
Teams like Penn State, Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College came and went and yet Syracuse vs. West Virginia always felt like the measuring stick. No matter what was happening with your season, if you beat West Virginia that was at least something you could take with you. During the 1998 year, despite winning the Big East title and playing in the Orange Bowl, the late-season loss to West Virginia still stung more than had it been anyone else.
The great thing about the rivalry was that, quite frankly, we were better at it then they were. Before 2002, Syracuse led the all-time series 30-19. Now? It's a much more even 30-27 thanks to eight-straight wins. EIGHT-STRAIGHT. That is a lot of straight. And this isn't some kind of fluky streak. West Virginia has outscored Syracuse over this run 257 to 93, winning by an average of 21 points.
Which brings us back to the present, where no current West Virginia student or player considers Syracuse a rival. Nor should they, to be honest. No longer do West Virginia fans hurl trash, food and racial insults at us, nowadays the only thing they hurl in our direction is pity. And maybe their own feces. Which they are constantly covered in.
Take Scooter Berry, West Virginia's senior defensive lineman. You're looking for the moment during the interview when Scooter cannot help himself from laughing at the Syracuse teams he's lined up against the past three years (I believe it's 0:51):
Though I do appreciate the moment at 1:09 when Scooter's media training kicks back in and he moves with cat-like speed to get back into "generic athlete-speak." Good work, Scoots. Hopefully we can wipe that smug grin off your face for you.
So when we talk about Syracuse beating West Virginia, what are we talking about? Obviously, this matters on a team level. Syracuse needs a win, regardless of who the opponent is, to validate the season-to-date and the progress it has made. Syracuse needs a win over West Virginia to reestablish itself in the rivalry, and in essence reboot the rivalry altogether.
But I'd go a step further and say that Syracuse needs to start beating West Virginia again for the sake of the Big East. Because when you think of the Big East, how many fierce, bitter rivalries can you actually think of? Pitt-West Virginia....and then what? Every other rivalry in the Big East is a new thing without any true historical perspective. A bunch of nouveau riche programs that can point to great games from three years ago...and that's about as far back as they go.
SU vs. WVU is a total package kind of rivalry. It has history. It had tradition. It has a trophy. It has memorable moments. It carries weight. It was arguably the Big East's first great rivalry. And for a conference in need of some serious gravitas, making this game mean something again would help do that.
We're a long ways off from making this the Game of the Year like it used to be. Making West Virginia fans remember why this game used to mean something would be a good enough start for now.