My brother Tim was famous for turning off Atari games like "Joust" and "Breakout" if he was losing. My buddy Quinn would give up by the third inning and hit reset if his team was down big in "RBI Baseball." Poor sports both of them in the world of video-game athletics. The thought of sticking around for the inevitable was like torture to them evidently.
I wasn't quite built that way. For me, if I was down big in a video game -- or a game of one-on-one or P.I.G., etc. -- I would fight like hell to come back and win. Losing, especially if I started slowly, was something I almost enjoyed. It was like, "Alright, shit just got real. Let's go." But that didn't go across the board for me. If I was playing a "season mode" in "Bill Walsh College Football" or "John Madden Football" I would ALWAYS turn off the game before taking an "L." To me, there was nothing worse than playing four or five games with a team and then having the "computer screw me over." Or what would really drive me crazy: Going undefeated in the regular season, winning by twenty or more each time, and then losing in the championship game or Super Bowl. "Oh, hell no! I'm not losing this friggin' game."
Every time I would start a season, though, I would tell myself I was up for anything. A below .500 team? That might have been interesting, if only to see how I could improve it. A devastating injury to a quarterback? I thought I could go through the ups and downs with the backup. But then I would start and winning was quite literally the only option. Controlling a dead-in-the-water program or franchise seemed about as much fun as watching a dead-in-the-water program or franchise. Why bother with it when you can be winning?
You know where I'm going with this, obviously. It always leads back to Syracuse around here. It's a program that has played too many let's-hit-reset-on-this-shit seasons to count over the last two decades. Hell, just last year was another debacle to forget about. And sadly, even though there are definitely signs of progress and hope, it seems like 2015 is either lost or about to be.
Actually, this would be about the time when I would throw a controller, bitch about getting the shaft from the powers that be and pull the plug. Four-straight losses, all of them maddeningly could have produced different results. Games still ahead against...blah, blah, blah...you know the rest. There's no need to even go over it. There's no need for me to write about it and for you to read about it. We know what the schedule has in store. We know what's almost guaranteed to be coming for Syracuse: Defeat.
I don't want that to be the case. It's much easier to write about Syracuse football when there are reasons to write about Syracuse football. Plus, when the team is winning, well, people click on Syracuse-based Websites a little more frequently -- just check out the numbers for this site when SU hoops makes a run in the NCAA tournament. And the thing is, I'm not totally writing off this Orange team. Eric Dungey is just fun to watch play (when he's not taking scary shots to the head), there are plenty of other young kids playing key roles and the team has been competitive in every game this season. Really, for all the "Scott Shafer must go!" fans out there, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see him back on the sidelines at the Carrier Dome next season.
But the sad truth is we're back where we started. Or is it that we're stuck in the same spot where we started? Whatever it is, there is no short-cutting to the end of this thing. Syracuse has to play out the slate, starting in Tallahassee this weekend, against a team in Florida State that has A) had the Orange's number and B) will be plenty pissed after losing to Georgia Tech last weekend. In a couple of weeks, after FSU and all the other opponents to come, SU will most likely have completed the process of going from 3-0 to 3-6. And from there? Well, the odds of finishing with five wins aren't exactly great.
So it's here where where we can discuss where to go.
On one hand, we can hammer the importance of sticking with Syracuse -- avoiding the urge to start smacking the power button. Loses are mounting and they'll continue to pile up. Yet, you can go all in, dealing with the growing pains while watching a team, a program learn what it takes to start metaphorically putting feet on throats and close out wins. Remember: While SU has lost four in a row, you've likely thought it was going to win each of those games at some point. Gut-punching, hair-pulling losses hurt but at least you're not too numb to feel, like when your team gets blitzed by 50 points (Hello, Miami). It's hard to tell what slow-but-meaningful progress looks like, but I do believe we could be seeing it here.
Or now is the spot where we can go in the opposite direction, punching "reset." Two very forgettable seasons in a row with it looking like SU isn't moving forward as a program, generating less and less buzz with recruits and fans. I mean, it's noteworthy now when 30,000 fans walk into the Dome to watch the Orange play. That's really sad. It used to be a joke to see how inflated the "attendance numbers" were, now it's really not a laughing matter, especially so for Shafer and Athletic Director Mark Coyle. A losing team and a decreasing fan base are reasons enough to look for a new coach. "Who can save Syracuse football?! Oh, I know, Jon Gruden!"
I guess it's like a sad "Pick Your Own Adventure" for Orange fans. Some will bail and not even bother to watch, some already have. Others will be on the couch Saturday at noon, purposely blissfully unaware, die-harding with Shafer, the Orange and the losses. Just the same, you'll hear some chatter about "Wish-list coaches" to replace Shafer from those who have bailed. And all of this will go on until the final buzzer against Boston College next month. The malaise of losing coats us all, just in different ways.
Which is certainly not anything new for us -- we've been here, lingering in what seems like the middle of the beginning of the end many times before. It's all been done and it takes time. A lot of time. But the hardest part, though, is that we can't just tap a button and move on, in one way or another. If you still have hope or if your hope is lost, we all have to wait until the of this season. No matter what.