It’s easy to question fandom, in general.
One team wins a championship each year, and the odds aren’t even close to level for every team. That’s apparent enough in the pros, when your team’s one of 30 to 32 teams. It’s even more obvious that this whole thing’s futile in college, where not only are there more teams (130 this year), but odds are much higher that yours WON’T win it all — unless you’re a fan of 5-10 schools at the top of the sport.
Still, being a fan is something most people participate in on some level, despite all of those warning signs. The sirens blare when you enter into the arrangement that this isn’t a good idea. And among Power Five football programs, there are very few football programs that offer key signs to “STAY AWAY” more than the Syracuse Orange — at least based on recent history.
Yet, we’re all here. Some of us for longer amounts of time than others, and for different levels of emotional and financial investment. But to various extents, everyone here has ridden out part of this storm that Syracuse football has been through these past 17 years. You’re optimistic there will be a return on investment, though it’s really faith and blind loyalty that’s keeping you around more than anything else.
Then a win like tonight’s 51-41 upset over the N.C. State Wolfpack occurs, and you understand why you slogged through the overtime loss to Pitt, and last year’s Wake Forest implosion, and the Shafer years, and the perpetually dumb 2011 season, and GERG... these moments like upsets and clinching bowl eligibility (which hey, we did both of those on Saturday!) are the payoff for caring. They’re what make it all worthwhile.
I don’t want this to seem like I’m considering the year’s work done at all — far from it, with four games to play. But considering our goals coming into this season were “get to a bowl,” that’s at least a box checked for the Orange now. It wasn’t essential Syracuse got there this year for us to feel good about DIno Babers’s tenure. From a fan standpoint, though, it was sort of needed for our collective psyches, no? It HAS been five years since we were last bowling after all.
When Andrew Armstrong hauled in that late interception to nearly seal the win, I felt elation. And when Dontae Strickland scampered into the end zone, it was overwhelming relief. After all of the trudging through the wilderness these past few years, we did it. I went to games at Wake Forest and NC State and LSU in recent years, and win or (almost certainly) lose, my takeaway was getting to see Syracuse over anything else. Now, the takeaway’s more tangible: We’re back to bowl eligibility.
Not only that, we’re just scratching the surface of WHICH bowl we can go to this season. The sky is still the limit and that’s what makes this particular season so incredibly satisfying already. For the first time in a long time: there are still possibilities for Syracuse beyond “just” getting to a bowl game.
Credit goes to the players, first of all, many of whom have been on the same seemingly hapless journey the fans have been on lately. Guys like Eric Dungey, Dontae Strickland and others have been pining for a bowl their entire college careers. The fact that they get to play in one now is the reward for sticking it out and I hope all of the Shafer holdovers are healthy enough to participate in said postseason game to the fullest extent.
Dino Babers obviously gets an enormous amount of credit as well, for re-instilling faith back in the players, the alums, this fan base and for potential recruits, who now once again see Syracuse as a place where they can find football success (both individually and team-wise).
The fans — whether you went to Syracuse or not — also deserve credit for sticking it out.
To me, this has always been the reason why you do this, no matter how long it takes. It’s why I don’t sleep during football season, and sacrifice my Saturdays and watch every second of every game (twice). Many of you do the same. This is what we do it for.
With luck, perhaps this becomes the norm, and these “little” victories seem quaint to us in the years to come. If they do, great, but I don’t plan to forget what got us to this point; the constant waiting and hoping for SU’s big break. Maybe this is it, and maybe it isn’t. But for this weekend — and probably this season — it’s why we’re all here. And I’m certainly happier to be an Orange football fan today than I have been in a while. These highs make every low on the way worth it.