It’s been three weeks since I wrote that Syracuse’s early season competition lacked any true tests, and we wouldn’t know where the team stood until Big East play in January. So allow me to pull a 180 and scream from the rooftops on Dec. 15, “CUSE IS NO. 1!”
The top ranking brings a new importance to each game, and a new sense of significance as the team is discussed ad nauseam on-line and on all major sports networks. But more importantly, for a fan base that ranks among the very best in college basketball, the No. 1 ranking is a welcome distraction from the alleged horrors of the Bernie Fine saga.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m inherently tough on my Orange, players and coaches alike, and that I’m generally pessimistic in my outlook for the season. Beyond that, I’ve been sick to my stomach thinking about the Fine case and the potential lawsuits against the University and Coach Jim Boeheim.
But still, Monday was an awesome day!
The great thing about writing this column, and not recapping the games, is that I believe it’s okay to be a fan. After all, this is an opinion piece, and my opinions are derived directly from my fandom. And as a fan and Syracuse Alum, being No. 1 feels great.
True, the journalist in me wants to point out the obvious–the Orange still haven’t been tested, only rose to No. 1 due to two other teams losing tough games, and going into North Carolina State on Saturday is a disaster waiting to happen. But I’m still riding the No. 1 high as a fan, so I’ll refrain.
And I needed this. We all needed this.
True fans take the No. 1 ranking anyway they can. They irreverently root against whoever their team needs to leapfrog in the rankings, and when the unimaginable becomes a reality, they storm Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of the social media universe with thousands of exclamation points and gleeful boasting about their squad.
These are the same fans who took to the same outlets after the Bernie Fine allegations were made public, and either defended Fine and the University, or went in the opposite direction and announced their shock and dismay. It’s an emotional and passionate fan base.
I was among the lucky thousands who journeyed to New Orleans for the Final Four in 2003. I still remember my surprise and pride when I realized that the Orange had the largest following there, even though Kansas and Texas, two much bigger schools and therefore a much larger web of alumni, were each at least 500 miles closer.
Syracuse has horrendous weather, a tough economy and zero professional sports teams. It has the Orange. How else could a college team routinely fill a 30,000-plus capacity dome.
That’s why the Orange rising to No. 1 means so much. It’s not just about the players, fans and University. It’s about the city. You’d be hard pressed to find another major city with the same connection Syracuse has with the Orange.
That connection extends to New York City, my home with countless reasons to love it. But, there is one reason in particular that always catches me off guard and yet I’ve encountered it numerous times; at any second I can meet fellow alumni and break into a spontaneous basketball conversation.
We all know when the Orange plays at Madison Square Garden, it’s basically a home game. Since Syracuse is only four hours from the greater New York City area, it makes sense that many alumni are either from this area or moved there after school. But beyond the geographical logistics lies a deeper tie. Alumni understand what the Orange means to the city of Syracuse and that same zeal was ingrained into us during our few years on campus.
Just the other day I had an alumnus, class of 1980, in my office on a sales meeting. We had never met before, but quickly made the Syracuse connection. After the business was disposed of, we turned our attention towards the Orange. We spoke at length about this year’s team, past players, and other Orange items. But we mostly discussed the Fine scandal and the University’s handling of the situation. This was when we were still a lowly No. 3 team.
On Tuesday we spoke again. Not about business, and thankfully not about Bernie Fine. We chatted for 20 minutes about the new No. 1 team in the country and where the squad can go from here. That was the entire conversation.
I don’t know what else will come in future weeks or months out of the Bernie Fine allegations, but I do know that for a brief time, a great fan base has something else to talk about and something to take pride in.
It won’t make the shame go away, and it absolutely doesn’t make a difference to the alleged victims, but it allows us, as fans, to pick our heads up and do what we do best – bleed Orange.