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SU Basketball: Bunker Game

They're the best games that you ironically don't enjoy until well after they're over.

Rich Barnes

Bunker Game: noun; verb; whatever you please

bun-ker game

* A game promising to be so good that one can not watch it in public for fear of distraction and/or embarrassment.

"I can't come over to watch the game, it's too big, it's a Bunker Game."


I'll never forget watching Syracuse games with my dad when I was younger, easily some of the best memories of my life -- SU v. Miami in football, Orangemen against Hoyas in hoops and my first ever college lacrosse game back in '94 at the Dome. But the weird thing is, even though I still love to think about those times with him, all we ever seemed to do was argue.

The second Syracuse, in any sport, started to "fall apart" in a game my Dad would write the game and the Orange off.

"Oh, they stink, they're just not good enough to win this game."

"But, Dad, it's 12-10 in the first half?"

So where he was Mr. Pessimistic, Daddy Downer, I, in turn, became an over-the-moon optimist. Syracuse a forgotten-about 7 seed in the NCAA tournament? No matter, I was talking myself and anyone who would listen into a Final Four run. Of course, my dad was one of those people who would listen - he always listened - but then the tourney would tip and right on cue he'd say how bad SU was and forget that I legitimately had unreasonable hope.

It got so bad that in the '96 title game in basketball we had to watch from separate rooms -- my dad upstairs in the kitchen, me downstairs in the family room, and my mom caught somewhere in the middle. Now that I remember it, my mom was the one that rightfully broke us up for the night. And looking back, I should have known better than to watch that game with anyone around me -- I didn't expect SU to win, but I also knew the forty-minutes of basketball would probably be more painful than pleasurable (which is probably an accurate description of most of Syracuse's games for fans).

My stubborn hope matching my dad's irrational rationalism.

That was when it hit me, nearly 18 years ago, Bunker Games are nothing to mess around with. Any game that you would rather watch alone, far from distraction, is a Bunker Game. The same goes for a game where you may say something so off-color or embarrassing that you'll actually regret it the next day.

Ever yell, "Leave me alone!" to your phone because people won't stop texting you? Bunker Game. Tournament games; nationally hyped games with significant consequence; certain rivalry games all could be considered Bunker Games.

And through time, and genetics I suppose, I've become like my dad, minus all his brilliance. Eternal hope in my soul during games has mostly transformed into "Welp, I know it's not even halftime, but I've seen this enough, they're going to lose." Which makes Bunker Games all the more important: measuring the weight of a game against whether you can handle the inevitable ebbs and flow. If the two don't balance, get yourself out of public, STAT.

Syracuse vs. Cornell? Hit Buffalo Wild Wings with your friends and family.

Syracuse vs. Duke? That's an entirely different story.

Actually, for me, Syracuse vs. Duke took time before becoming Bunker. Especially after the Blue Devils started to slide a little bit in January. But once I realized, after a weeks worth of relentless and at the same time seemingly needed coverage, just how big this game was going to be, I knew I'd have to hunker down at my house. No thank yous to invites to watch the game at friend's houses or to meet up with people out -- "I'm turning down the phone and drawing the curtains because...I just have to."

And it's a good thing, too. I can't write anything more than everyone else hasn't already written or said about how fascinating that game between the Devils and Orange was on Saturday. It wasn't just a great ending that people confuse for a great game, it was, from tip to buzzer, an all-timer. In fact, the sadomasochist hoops fan that I am, I kind of wanted it to keep going. When Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon did this...

...I laughed. Not in a sarcastic "You've got to be kidding me" chuckle, but a full-on "I don't believe what I'm seeing but I'm really glad Syracuse is involved" type of way. The game was that good.

Which is comforting, really. In this whole new Atlantic Coast Conference world, Syracuse has at least one built in Bunker Game each season from here on out. Duke and Syracuse, Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim, heavyweights trading punches at center ring on center stage in college basketball. Sure, because Syracuse is Syracuse, there are always going to be Bunker Games -- nonconference battles with old Big East foes; some November tournament somewhere far from Central New York that will inevitably be considered a home game -- we're just lucky that way. But with those Connecticuts and Georgetowns and Villanovas no longer a guarantee, well, true Bunker Games, at least until March, weren't locks.

That was until Saturday rolled around and the Game That Couldn't Live Up To All The Incessant Hype actually lived up to the hype.

Bunker. Game.

So, come February 22, at roughly 6 p.m. east coast time, when the Blue Devils welcome the Orange to their house, you'll know where to find me. Actually, you know where to leave me...alone. Because there is no way I'm taking the chance at someone or something taking my attention away from a single dribble of that game. It'll be another classic, even if it isn't as aesthetically beautiful the second time around, it'll still be can't-miss basketball.

I'll be in my makeshift living room/bunker, and while he passed away nearly ten years ago (you have no idea how painfully shocking that is to write), I guess you could say my dad will still be "upstairs" watching. Some things never change, even if what qualifies as a Bunker Game does.