It's been almost two years to the day since November 30, 2013 and so much has changed.
On that day, Terrel Hunt hit Josh Parris with an 8-yard touchdown pass with six seconds left as the Syracuse Orange football team defeated the Boston College Eagles in thrilling fashion in front of the Carrier Dome crowd. With the win, the Orange qualified for a bowl game in Scott Shafer's first season at the helm of the program.
Everyone usually remembers the end zone celebration and Ivan Foy's emphatic dance along the back line, but Hunt and Shafer were the men of the hour. The win cemented the belief that things were going to be alright in this post-Doug Marrone world. Hunt had officially-solidified his spot as the starting quarterback that he had already won, lost and re-won from Drew Allen. Even if the record was a step back, it confirmed that hiring Shafer was indeed the right call and we could get used to the idea that bowl games were going to be a common occurrence after all.
A few weeks later, Syracuse won the Texas Bowl over Minnesota. Scott Shafer hoisted the game trophy while Terrel Hunt posed wearing a cowboy hat while he accepted the MVP award for his two-touchdown performance. It was less a culmination of a decent football season and more a coronation of two people about to take Syracuse Football to the next level.
Two years later, Syracuse is hosting Boston College in the Carrier Dome once again. Scott Shafer and Terrel Hunt will be there but they might as well already be gone.
Shafer will be head coach of the Orange for the final time after getting fired on Monday. Hunt will take a bow along with his fellow seniors despite not having played since the first quarter of the first game of the season and just having found out that his medical hardship waiver has been denied by the NCAA. Neither of them will be here the next time Syracuse plays a football game and neither really accomplished all that much on the field anyway in those two years.
Ostensibly, college football is an unfair racket.
Those who play do so in an environment that generates millions of dollars that they will never see and instead goes to rich, old white guys who don't feel the players deserve any of it and richer, older white guys who end up with most of it. They put their bodies, health, careers and even lives on the line to entertain fans who only care about their well-being because of the color of their jersey and stop caring about their well-being as soon as they are no longer capable of putting that jersey on.
Coaches are tasked with running a program and told that wins are only one aspect of what they will be ultimately graded on. That academics, charity work, keeping kids out of trouble and fostering goodwill in the community are all equal parts of the equation. But if they don't do that first thing enough times, they soon find out that wins were actually the only thing that mattered in the first place.
Coaches and players dream and their dreams require them to take part in a business that refuses to recognize itself as a business. A corporation that pretends to be an altruistic organization surrounded by millions of fans who willfully ignore these truths because they love the final product too damn much.
Scott Shafer and Terrel Hunt both came to Syracuse with their own ideas of how their story would end. Shafer was a well-regarded defensive coordinator tarnished from a failed one-year stint at Michigan and with something to prove. Hidden away in Central NY, he was able to put together the kind of defenses he made his reputation with. When Doug Marrone left, Shafer was the obvious choice. He was a good lieutenant. The players loved him. He was due for a shot like this.
Terrel Hunt came to Syracuse as "the other quarterback" alongside four-star recruit Ashton Broyld. Ahead of him in the pecking order were John Kinder, Jonny Miller and some guy named Ryan Nassib. Eventually, after working his way up from the depths of the depth chart and fending off a graduate transfer who looked the part off the field but not on it, Hunt earned his starting job by the end of 2013. It was only a matter of time before he earned an elite spot in the SU history books as well.
Of course, you know full well what happened after 2013. A broken fibula ended Hunt's 2014 campaign prematurely. Two quarterbacks tried to supplant him but neither could. Back and better than ever in 2015, it took all of one quarter for his 2015 season to end with a torn Achilles. This time the usurper managed to play so well that most SU fans had already written off Terrel's 2016 comeback opportunity even if he got a hardship waiver for a sixth season.
Meanwhile, Shafer's Orange have won a grand total of six games in two seasons, only four of which were over FBS schools and only two of which were over P5 schools (coincidentally, the same school - Wake Forest). The fire and passion and #hardnosed mentality that made 2013 so appealing also made the poor results of 2014 and 2015 feel worse. What once sounded like the war cry of a general soon sounded like a boy crying wolf.
The climactic scene in Unforgiven is Clint Eastwood's Will Munny standing over Gene Hackman's Little Bill with a shotgun in his hand, intent of killing him. Wounded, Little Bill pleads with Munny, but not for his life. He pleads for some kind of justice.
Little Bill Daggett: I don't deserve this... to die like this. I was building a house.
Will Munny: Deserve's got nothin' to do with it.
In 2013, Scott Shafer and Terrel Hunt were at the precipice of something special.
In 2015, Scott Shafer and Terrel Hunt have to begin anew someplace else because if there is something special going on at Syracuse, it no longer involves either of them.
Neither of them deserved to have their Syracuse careers play out the way they did and neither of them deserve to see their time here end like this.
But Will Munny's right. College football doesn't reward those who deserve it. It just exists and moves forward. The half-built house that Shafer and Hunt leave behind will remain. It sits on the same row alongside the one Greg Robinson & Andrew Robinson built and the one Paul Pasqualoni built. Their reminders of what could have been. Reminders of things that good people started at Syracuse but never got to finish.
Whether they deserved to or not is entirely besides the point.