I can’t even believe the last time I wrote anything on here it was barely Thanksgiving . The guys were fresh off a great win to end the regular season at Temple and looking ahead to bowl selections, I was dreading finals and awaiting the promise of a month off from school…oh, how things change.
We’re almost two weeks into 2013 now, with memories of the Pinstripe Bowl still fresh (I’m starting to get the feeling back in my toes again) and a whole new semester of classes right around the corner. I’ve basically spent the last month in hibernation, snuggled up by my TV watching bowl games, eating Christmas cookies, and sleeping like a sloth. It was all happy, lazy and carefree until New Years Eve, when Adam Schefter reported that our beloved Doug Marrone was entertaining the thought of interviewing for the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills head coaching positions. To say I freaked out would be a bit of an understatement. But within two days of the news, I had completely talked myself down and begun to chant the word “leverage” in my sleep. I convinced myself this was all just a big act to scare Darryl Gross into making a beefy contract extension proposal complete with the promise of funds for a fancy new football facility and salary boost. Hello, denial!
By the time Saturday night rolled around, I was in full-blown panic mode. Marrone had interviewed with the Eagles, Browns and Bills by that point…and everyone seemed legitimately interested. I was convinced he’d be going to Cleveland as I went to bed late Saturday night. But whenI rolled out of bed at 6:30 AM Sunday and opened my eyes wide enough to scroll through twitter, I saw Schefter’s latest tweet and started shouting the word “NO,” scaring my family just a little: Marrone had agreed to a deal with the Bills as the next HC in Buffalo. If New Years Eve constituted a freak-out, this was grounds for all hell breaking loose. Luckily, I was really too groggy to even wrap my head around the whole thing at first, which limited my ability to break things/yell profanities. But by the time mass was over and I had consumed several glazed donuts, I started to realize the magnitude of the whole thing and it was just…BAD. I was so bummed. I am so bummed.
Doug Marrone was my guy. He’ll always be one of my favorites. I, like a handful of others, had envisioned him becoming the Jim Boeheim of Syracuse football. I realize now that was a pipe dream, but I really believed in him from the beginning and saw just how quickly he turned a struggling program into one with a will to win, a passion to fight on every down, and a habit of turning boys into men. I’ll never forget watching that opening press conference in 2008, or eating my uncle’s infamous hot peppers outside the Dome and discussing Marrone’s potential before the dome opener against Minnesota in 2009, or how I hung up a picture of him sitting at his desk getting ready to work on the very first day on my wall as inspiration for the start of a new era. The past four years — the all-too-short “Marrone Era” — have been a crazy ride. It definitely wasn’t all smooth sailing, but every season has its ups and downs, and Marrone/his guys led me to experience the magic of winning seasons, bowl games and an all-around hunger for victory for the first time in my life. It’s not that the G-Rob years were ALL bad – okay, for the most part they were awful, but for every terrible memory I have the ND win and Taj Smith’s 79-yard touchdown run off an Andrew Robinson pass on the first play of the Louisville game in 2007. The point is, those years had their moments, but overall they just kinda sucked. It was hard to stay positive and upbeat. I tried my best. So the Marrone hire was, for once, a welcome change in my book (me and change…we don’t do well together). But Marrone didn’t just instill a winning mentality in his teams and in the program – he allowed the fans to truly enjoy watching Syracuse football again.
I’ve grown up with a passion for Syracuse basketball in my veins, as has everyone born in this city. But when Marrone took the reigns, road trips weren’t just to Georgetown or Villanova anymore – they were to Akron, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Temple, Metlife Stadium and Yankee Stadium. I didn’t sit idly from March-December anymore, itching for hoops season to start up again…I started poring through recruiting news, heading up to Manley to watch spring practice, counting down the days til fall camp, and stocking up on football apparel as the season approached. People claim that we don’t have a real “football culture” here, but Doug Marrone’s tenure has undoubtedly started to change that tune. Don’t tell me that nine girls planning a dinner/”girls night” around the Syracuse-South Florida football game or a legitimate brunch around the Cincy game isn’t part of a “football culture.” Getting to home games an hour and a half before kickoff with signs in tow…getting five hours of sleep before hitting the road for a six-hour drive to New Jersey that ended in a tornado and a loss, but loving every minute of it anyway…sitting outside in the Bronx for four hours in the midst of freezing rain keeping warm with pure adrenaline and hand warmers…we may not be Alabama girls showing up to tailgate in sundresses, but we have a damn good sense of “football culture.”What I’m saying is, Doug Marrone picked us up, dusted us off, and got us back on track.
I hate the word “relevance” when it comes to college football. Saying whether a team is “relevant” or not seems pretty irrelevant to me when the entire system is run by computers and the stories are handpicked and framed just so by the media – yes, ESPN, I’m talking about the Geno Smith-centric SportsCenter feature after our bowl win that showed approx. two clips of PTG running and mentioned Ryan for .5 seconds despite the fact that WE DOMINATED GENO AND CO…ugh. So I hate when people say Syracuse football is “relevant” again. I don’t think were ever irrelevant, even if ESPN begs to differ. I get that we struggled, and the program hit some low points in recent years. I lived through it to tell the tale. But “relevance” isn’t the moral of the Doug Marrone story. What I know for sure is Doug Marrone changed the culture of this program. By changed, I mean RESTORED. I don’t just mean on the gridiron, either – hearing him talk about forming a leadership committee so guys could learn good manners and how to tie a tie…seeing them travel in suits…it was just a complete 180. Marrone just gets it. Robinson was a great guy, a nice guy…but that’s where the similarities end. Marrone is not only a standup guy, but also a hell of a football coach.
Soooo when I heard the news, I was obviously devastated. I was still on a high from the win two weeks before, and when I thought back to the beginning of the season and how far we’d come, I couldn’t do anything but smile. To see this team come so far after a less-than-perfect start, despite all the criticism and a city full of naysayers…to secure two phenomenal road wins with last-minute scoring drives, win 6 of their last 7, and not only make it to a bowl game, but absolutely CRUSH a highly-touted rival opponent…it was like everything clicked and things were finally right in the 315 again. My fear for the transition into the ACC was all but gone, even with losing so much talent and leadership from this senior class. And then, bam. Right when you start to get comfortable, life pulls the freaking rug out from under you. This time, it was Marrone leaving for the Bills and taking the mastermind of our offense, Nathaniel Hackett, with him. GAH. That high-flying, powerful offense that got so many people talking this season, the one that would get me through every school week as I waited to watch it again and again…its coordinator, head coach AND quarterback – not to mention key offensive linemen and receivers – were all gone. It’s been a few days now, and I’m back to breathing again, but still. GEEZE. I always say I hate change, but this brought that to a new level. It was hard to accept, much less embrace.
But…I’m working on it. The funniest thing is, I joked ALL SEASON LONG about “becoming a Bills fan”. Not even kidding. I have a couple of friends who have grown up diehard Bills fans, so I’d joke with them about how I didn’t really have an NFL team and how I always love rooting for an underdog (teams with less-than-stellar records have never scared me ). Plus, Buffalo is close enough for road trips (!!!). And as the season progressed and Ryan Nassib’s draft stock rose and rose, I started to think maybe he could end up there, which would make rooting for the guys in red and blue really easy. But now…how can I NOT be a Bills fan?!
It’s kindof impossible to be bitter about the whole thing, really. I love and appreciate Marrone too much, and I understand why he took the job. The head coach of an NFL team? Who turns that down? I get it. He’s a great guy and an even better football coach, and I sincerely hope he can turn the Bills around. And say what you will about him “poaching” Hackett from us, but I’m happy for him too. The guy is freaking 33 years old and he’s the OC of an NFL team. That is insane!!! I’ve come to realize life is too short and it goes by way too fast to say no to opportunities when they slap ya in the face like that. Hello! And with every door that closes…a window opens. Enter: HC Scott Shafer. HI SHAFE. I’m so pumped. I could not think of a better successor. I read about Cristobal and pondered Diaco, but I was really in the Shafer camp from the start. I’m psyched, and nothing but good things have been said about him – from the AD, coaches, current/former players, recruits, everyone. The only thing I’m real worried about now is the OC slot, but I trust Shafer (and Zach Allen for that matter) and if we keep running this system, I’ll be a happy little bee. Who knows who will anchor it — Charley, Kinder, Terrel Hunt, frosh phenom…only time will tell.
It’s just insane to think about, though. How fast things have been turned up and jumbled around and flipped over and begun to settle again, all in a matter of hours, really. It’s tough to take in. I am notoriously awful with change. Even when I know it’s coming, I fight it…but when it’s unexpected, it’s even worse. See: Eric Devendorf (among others) leaving school early. But since the days of shutting myself in my room and listening to Dashboard Confessional after reading the news of players (or in this case, coaches) leaving, I’ve grown up a bit (THANK GOD) and realized the beauty of a thing called perspective. When you try and look at the situation through the eyes of someone else – namely, the person actually going through it – everything starts to click. If I was an OL with an extra year of eligibility but with the opportunity to declare for the draft and make my dream come true without fear of getting hurt in my last year of college play…would I do it? Hell yes. Hello Justin Pugh. Same thing applies to Marrone and Hackett and everybody else who makes an unexpected change in their lives. So I get it. Live the dream. And even when the effects of people’s decisions start to leave a sour taste…there’s always that silver lining – ahem, Scott Shafer.
While it’s not always easy being orange, I’ve begun to embrace the power of positive thinking. New Years kindof crept up on me and I didn’t make my traditional laundry list of resolutions (which is probably a good thing, in actuality), but I did sit down and try to figure out what was bringing me down sometimes. The funny thing was, a lot of it has to do with the media/internet. Not just in terms of SU athletics (although that is a big part), but just in general. Everyone is SO. NEGATIVE. Not like, “oh that’s the nature of the beast, the world is just a sad place” negative. But like, making a conscious choice to point out the worst part or potentially worst part of any given situation, hypothetical or real. It was driving me nuts. So I kindof “unplugged,” in a way. Not literally, but I did a “twitter purge” and unfollowed a bunch of bloggers and media types who did nothing but criticize/insult with every tweet posted. I also just stopped reading about the whole coaching debacle. I read enough to keep myself informed, but I stopped listening to people agonize over it and just tried to take it in stride. I also listened to some James Taylor, danced to the Dixie Chicks, did a little shopping, cleaned my closet, and downloaded the Bills mobile app. I listened to Marrone’s whole first presser (may or may not have teared up several times) and started looking up player info, schedule predictions and even did some window shopping via Victoria’s Secret PINK NFL collection (this is where the “don’t judge me” reminder comes in). I also had a fifteen-minute conversation with my dentist this morning about draft projections for our guys.
I’m slowly but surely starting to realize that life goes on…win, lose, stay, leave, whatever. The sun always comes up tomorrow morning. I’m going to approach this new year with positivity. And I can happily look back on my favorite season yet, while looking ahead to a future that, while full of the unknown, is also full of promise and potential. A new coach, a new conference, a new QB…it’s sad to move on from this year, but that’s college sports for ya. I’m also really excited to embrace my newfound NFL fandom. I now have actual reasons to root for a team!!! And after months of jokes and legitimate consideration of “becoming” a “baby bills fan,” it’s probably, actually happening. Now I’m just gonna bop around campus as I anxiously await the draft in April. Until then, it’s a whole new slate of classes, our farewell Big East basketball season (I’m mentally and physically preparing for campouts), the return of vitamin D to CNY (it was seriously 40 and sunny today!) and enjoying every second of being back with my friends at college. I’m also really psyched for the upcoming lax season, and I’m applying for a program to go abroad in May and for an internship this summer, so there’s plenty to keep me busy until next football season rolls around.
This novel is almost over, I promise…just have to share some photos/stories from the Pinstripe Bowl now.
2012 in a nutshell
And they said we’d struggle because we play in a domed stadium. RIGHT. How’s that open air expertise workin’ for ya, WVU?
Freezing but blissful!
A bittersweet end
It was such a fun trip and AMAZING Christmas present! We headed down to White Plains Friday afternoon and had dinner at a place on “Gedney Way” (not even kidding – what a good omen for a Syracuse football game). Then we just hung out at the hotel and watched bowl games for the night and got a good night’s sleep. Saturday morning we got up for breakfast and took the train into the city, marveled at Grand Central for .5 seconds and then it was off to the Bronx. Got heckled by/heckled some WVU fans en route, obviously. We got there pretty early and watched the guys warm up a little, and it. was. COLD. Not cold as in “chilly”…cold as in “I am not sure if I have circulation in my feet anymore” after the first quarter. I will never be more impressed than I was after watching our guys warm up in shorts and shirt sleeves and play without underarmour. INSANE.
Before kickoff we had a late lunch at the steakhouse in Yankee Stadium (Hard Rock was filled to capacity and we wanted to warm up instead of getting food and eating in our seats…and of course this mysterious ‘steakhouse’ turns out to be a fancy shmancy restaurant with $62 steaks as the main course…so we all got salads and scarfed them down before running back to our seats in time for kickoff…classic Lane family move). By the time we sat down, the pretty snow had turned to a sort of freezing rain that entailed chunks of wet ice falling from the sky and into my hair. The underarmour and down coat were not even cutting it. We didn’t have bags to put over our signs, so they got soaked right through and we had crayola marker ALL OVER us, but it was worth it.
The game was amazing. After a rocky start, we just took the reins and absolutely dominated the mountaineers. It was the best. Especially after all the hype and talk of how they felt “disrespected” at getting picked to play us at the bowl game…to slap them right in the mouth and hold them to 14 points while running all over them all night was just great. PTG and Rome kicked ass, Ryan was amazing as usual and despite the conditions kept everyone calm, cool, and collected (and got up and walked off after that hit like it was NOTHING…insane), and our defense was out to kill. Cam, Siriki, Brandon Sharpe…the tackles for loss were abounding and were those safeties not BEAUTIFUL?! Couldn’t even believe it. We had great seats around the 40 yard line and got to lean over the wall to congratulate the guys afterwards, before heading back to Manhattan to celebrate at our favorite pizza place down there. After missing several trains/getting off at the wrong stop by accident, we got back to White Plains and settled in for dry clothes and more bowl games. We headed back Sunday in the snow, singing a celebratory rendition of “Country Roads” along the way, and got back to Syracuse around dinnertime. It. was. amazing. Never have I been happier to stand out in the freezing, wet cold for four hours.
Basketball has been interesting of late…I’m starting to get a little nervous, but we’re taking it game by game. Temple was rough but a necessary wakeup call to say the least. We missed the Alcorn St. game because we were in New York, but I’ve trekked up to 900 Irving a few times since then and had pizza nights on the couch for road games too. There have been some ugly wins, but wins are wins. It’s been a good break. I’m psyched for Nova on Saturday – the Big East is about to be in full swing! March will be here before we know it. I’m off to research offensive coordinators, buy my books online and attempt to pack all my clothes up again before I head back this weekend. Thanks for reading this – I’ll be back soon with shorter updates, I promise!
PS: Ryan is playing in the Senior Bowl January 28!! SO excited – I usually never pay attention to games like that simply because none of our guys get invited, but this year it’s different. Deon Goggins is also playing in All-Star game soon. When your guys get invited to random post-season games and your coach is a hot NFL prospect…you know you’re moving in the right direction. Here’s to the wonderful memories of 2012 and to the promise of even more in 2013!!! Keep smilin’
PPS: Just because my mature side is working on perspective and rationally RE: the coaching situation/seniors leaving doesn’t mean I haven’t had my fair share of angsty music on sometimes…time to get metaphorical and emotional as always. VOILA:
Katy Perry (will now be referring to HCDM as “the one that got away”)
Bay City Rollers
Kenny Chesney again
X’s and Oranges,