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A love-cringe affair for Syracuse fans and their quarterback

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Eric Dungey is a play or two away from doing something you won’t want to miss. Also, he seems to be a play or two away from having his Syracuse career come to an end. It’s been something Orange fans have grappled with for years.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Syracuse
Eric Dungey shaking off an apparent shoulder issue
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Midway through the Syracuse Orange’s eventual beatdown of the Florida State Seminoles last weekend, a kind of odd, almost out-of-place video popped up on the Carrier Dome’s big boards. It started rolling after a highlight reel of plays from the game between the Orange and the ‘Noles. The rather vague montage featured what appeared to be hard hits from other college and even some NFL games.

There were a few “ohhs!” and “ahhs!” as fans looked on at the bone-crunches: blindside sacks, DBs laying out wideouts and running backs getting hammered by on-rushing defenders. They were the classic kind of hits you’d see on an old-school NFL Films video (shout out to Sports Illustrated for sending those out to subscribers like my dad back in the late 80’s!) or on ESPN’s Jacked Up! feature that used to run during the pregame of Monday Night Football.

It was unclear exactly why the video was played — be it a Syracuse University product or some type of promotional package. Regardless, it was awkward and even a little tough to watch. I don’t think myself an expert on concussions or brain injuries, but I know I worry about the player’s safety more so now than I used to when I would hear the ESPN Monday Night studio crew scream “he got jacked up!” after a big collision on the field.

The “oohs” and “aahhs” were just different back then.

Florida State v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Hard hits highlights are something you don’t expect to see played in 2018. Maybe six or seven years ago, and certainly you would see those types of tackles being touted 10 to 20 years back. But now, most of us watching try to mentally box out some of the over-the-top brutality.

The other oddity to the hard-hit video was the timing of it all: smack dab after Syracuse’s quarterback was thought to be out for the rest of the game against the Seminoles.

In that match-up with FSU, Eric Dungey was seen favoring his shoulder or arm in the first quarter, took some kind of hit to the helmet in the second, and had to go into the medical tent just before halftime against Florida State. Which all led to his missing the last two quarters, reportedly due to eye irritation.

Syracuse followers don’t need to see any video montages of players getting truck-sticked because they’ve already seen their fair share of those big hits.

Their quarterback has been the starter since 2015, yet has never finished out an entire season. Dungey claps back at being called injury prone, as we found out over the summer. Still, out of 39 potential games to play in during his career, Dungey has only participated in 29, and that doesn’t take into account the times he played but left early, like this past Saturday.

This isn’t to bury Dungey or to be an indictment on his ability to stay healthy. It’s just, really, he might be one hell of an example as to why football is so cringe-worthy.

On the one hand, the senior from Oregon is as exciting as just about anyone to ever suit up for Syracuse, certainly he’s in the top five during the last decade. He’s likely to make something out of nothing the way Donovan McNabb used to do during his days in the Dome. Dungey might just knee a dude in the face during a quarterback scramble, or he could score three TDs and rack up over 330 total yards against the No. 2 team in the country.

Wagner v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Then again, he could get walloped by a Central Michigan defender (2015) or have his head pinball back and forth against Clemson (2016). Dungey even played at Florida State last year on a broken freaking foot.

He’s like both a good and bad highlight video about the game of football in 2018: so entertaining but so scary to watch.

Now, maybe SU was overprotective of him in his freshman and sophomore seasons, and maybe the foot injury in Tallahassee was just pure bad luck? Those are certainly possible, plausible counter arguments to his being considered injury prone.

Either way, now three games into his final season the feeling remains: the next play could very well be Dungey’s last. He was this fireball fill-in in ‘15, then the face of the program, more or less, since. Nearly a completed career that is somehow more of an incomplete assignment than a completed thesis.

Sure, having Tommy DeVito, the assumed Heir Apparent, lessens the potential blow of potentially losing Dungey at any moment. Obviously, in the previous seasons when Dungey went down it turned out to be a season-over situation. DeVito, though, showed a glimpse of Syracuse AD (After Dungey) on Saturday against FSU, and it looked like a pretty manageable world.

Florida State v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Still, outside of “Let’s go Orange!” the number one phrase yelled by fans is “Get down, Dungey!” or maybe it’s “SLIDE! WHY DOESN’T HE SLIDE?” The faithful ride the heart-dropping Dungey roller coaster on a play-to-play basis.

If Dungey’s last snap does indeed come before the team’s last snap, well, that’s probably met with slumped shoulders and a few F bombs. It would be a giant let down given Syracuse’s 3-0 start. Another metaphorical gut-punch. But nothing new. And maybe the Orange, with DeVito and a potentially revived defense, could still forge ahead and get that elusive invite to a late December game. Dungey would then go off into the distance, holding a more complex but slightly similar legacy to that of Terrel Hunt. Or maybe he would be remembered somewhere along the lines of a Ryan Nassib. Maybe?

If it all goes badly, I have no idea how he’ll be remembered, other than his being relentless in his pursuit to help Syracuse win again, and unfortunately not being able to finish the fight. The Would Be King who never really had time to get comfortable in the throne.

But if there is a true finale, a real conclusion, wherever it happens to take place for SU, it should include Dungey lifting this Orange team to six or seven wins and a bowl berth, right? Wouldn’t it be fitting that, after all of the this-close seasons, the one Dungey actually finishes upright is the one fans remember for years?

A real highlight reel, with SU a winner and Dungey at the center of it all. And not for taking the big hits, but for helping Syracuse become a big hit again.