It’d be easy to say that being a Syracuse Orange football fan is Sisyphean, a futile task that forever resets, damning you to a lifetime of unrewarded labor. I’ve probably even written as such at some point. But I’ve come to realize that there’s a very good reason that’s not an apt analogy.
Even Sisyphus got to the top of the hill every once in a while before starting over.
Being a Syracuse fan doesn’t even give us that. We get the satisfaction of enjoying a random 8- or 10-win season that ends with a decent bowl game every so often. Those seasons cruelly give us hope that there’s a bright future ahead before the boulder slips from our grasp and crashes back down into the 4-8 chasm below. More often than not, we’re only able to carry the boulder back up to 5-7 before it slides back once more.
Bad seasons are commonplace around here. We’ve gotten pretty used to them, even if we haven’t gotten used to understanding why. Losing to Liberty is easily contextualized against so many other unconscionable losses that came before it. Losing 30-0 to a bad Louisville team forces nothing more than a deep sigh at this point. The painful prospect of finishing the 2020 season with a record of 1-9 is undercut by the realization that we were somehow overdue for that kind of finish anyway.
I can suffer these kinds of slings and arrows because I survived the back half of the Coach P Era as well as the Greg Robinson Era and the Scott Shafer Era after that. The aggregate numbers and stats, shocking as they might be, are nothing I haven’t seen before. Big picture stuff no longer scares me.
It’s the moments that get me. The fleeting events that encapsulate the state of Syracuse football so perfectly that they break beyond the bubble we usually create for ourselves and enter the larger consciousness. When we suck normally, we’re the only ones paying attention to the moments within the suckiness. But when we suck metaphorically, that’s when everyone else notices.
And as soon as Rex Culpepper spiked the ball into the turf on 4th down on Saturday, I knew we’d crossed over. I knew what was coming.
Syracuse QB Rex Culpepper, needing a TD to tie the game...goes for the 2 for 1 idiot special: he takes a sack on 3rd down without any timeouts, then spikes the ball to stop the clock...on 4th down. pic.twitter.com/UUHdeSYlac— Someone's An Idiot (@SomeonesAnIdiot) November 28, 2020
Syracuse spikes the ball on 4th down, needing a TD to tie the game. pic.twitter.com/XJH8gTMl1O— Funhouse (@BackAftaThis) November 28, 2020
I watched the clip spread across my timeline like wildfire. The perfect sharable moment to distill the entire state of Syracuse football, and everyone was in on the joke.
I don’t blame them, mind you, it’s the kind of thing I’d happily jump all over had it been Rutgers or Duke or Michigan. The kind of bonehead moment that content aggregators and social media mavens hope for every single day to add their one-liner on top of and blast into the ether.
But because Syracuse football is... Syracuse football ...and we tend to keep to the shadows and periphery of college football while spanning mediocrity, we only really jump into the collective consciousness when we do something really good or really bad. And more often than not, when it happens, it’s because we’ve done something really bad. And people already think of us as really bad, so seeing this clip of really bad Syracuse doing really bad things just confirms their suspicions that we’re really, really bad. And there’s no way to argue that assessment.
And that’s the feeling I really hate. Because you and I, we’ve seen the good stuff. We’ve seen the moments that made us celebrate. We’ve seen the potential, fleeting as it might be. And we’ve seen the injuries and opt-outs and weird happenstances that turned the 2020 season into such a nightmare. But that’s not what everyone else sees. They just see a Syracuse guy bork the end of a game by spiking a ball on 4th down and say “oh no Syracuse baby what is you doing?” And we have no answer to that.
I can’t think of specific moments like this in the recent past (as I’ve blocked them from my mind), but I know they exist. I remember this same feeling. Watching people who don’t follow Syracuse football suddenly gang up to laugh at the absurdity of us. It’s a feeling anyone who has been a Syracuse fan long enough has experienced more than a few times.
I don’t blame Rex Culpepper. The guy isn’t supposed to be here. I’m glad he’s here, of course, and he’s earned the right to be in that position, especially after what he went through. But the series of events that put him under center, with the weight of this dumb season on his shoulders, isn’t his fault. He’s an avatar out there.
I don’t blame Dino Babers. I like Dino. He was a great coach at two different places before he got here. He can still be a great coach here, though I’m beginning to wonder if the program will allow it. I don’t think most coaches could have woven gold out of the straw he’s working with right now. He’s got a ton of work to do next season and then we’ll see. Of course, he’ll have to wear the 4th down spike the same way he gets to wear the locker room celebrations after beating VT and Clemson. It’s all part of the same package now.
What I do blame is Syracuse Football, the unknowable entity that governs our Saturdays for reasons I no longer understand. Not the physical program itself or the players wearing the uniforms or even the coaches and staff who get paid vast sums of money to represent it. I don’t blame them, but rather, the concept of Syracuse football.
The concept that continues to plant seeds of hope which never grow. The concept that promises to maintain basic levels of mild success, like BC or Wake Forest or Duke, but never does. The concept that, in defiances of everything we know about college football, refuses to ever keep up with the landscape around it.
In spite of it all, I’ll be tuning in to watch Syracuse get obliterated by No. 2 Notre Dame this weekend. Because while the task of being a Syracuse football fan isn’t Sisyphean in the traditional sense, it is a task I have agreed to see through to completion, even if I know the cycle will never actually complete. The 4th down spike is just a feeling that I will be forced to repeat eventually, again and again.