This fall marks the 10th anniversary of the beginning of a momentous academic year in Syracuse sports history. It was the year that Troy became a magician, Gerry became the Golden Boy of two cities, and Melo earned the right to have his name on a building.
And most importantly, the fall of 2002 was the first time that I stepped on to the Syracuse quad as a student. Doug Flutie notwithstanding, eastern Massachusetts has never been a hotbed for college sports, so I was excited to get my own taste of the action, with season tickets to both the football and basketball teams.
From the beginning, it was…well, honestly, it was pretty disappointing. The Orangemen (which actually sounds a bit strange when I read it out loud to myself) were coming off a 10-3 season that ended with a top-25 ranking and a bowl victory. The 2002 season kicked off with a nationally televised Thursday-night game at BYU, a mere 3 days after freshman move-in day, and it was a 42-21 beat-down.
At this point, I was starting to have second thoughts about the whole college football thing. I stuck with the rest of the season, even though most of my new friends couldn’t be bothered to go to Dome, and even convinced my dad to get tickets to the Parent’s Weekend game.
That would set the stage for the first sports memory that I actually have from Syracuse: Watching the fireworks show that was Virginia Tech’s defeat at the hands of high necromancer Troy Nunes. It was the absolute apex of a generally underwhelming career from a guy who was never supposed to be the guy, but gave us everything he had anyway.
Fall faded into a typically devastating Syracuse winter, and basketball season began. Though they brought in the highest-rated recruit (another strange one to think about, people didn’t seem to think that mattered back then), the Orangemen had faltered the previous year, and lost a number of players to graduation and transfer.
Expectations for the season were so low that you could actually get a seat on the ground level at tip-off. It ended up being a great seat, as Jimmy’s team never lost a game for us at home, Otto never failed to antagonize the most inebriated students he could find, our student section became best known for taunting our opponents with salty language to the tune of a song written by a sex offender.
It quickly became apparent that Carmelo Anthony wasn’t just the best freshman in the conference, or the country; he was quite possibly the best player. Gerry McNamara, all 5-feet-11-inches of him (I learned this first-hand), was more than we could every hope for from a fearless sharpshooting combo guard, and once Billy Edelin finally got into the line-up, the special season took off.
I spent the national championship game trying to teach the rules of basketball to my future roommates (they majored in art and music). I don’t think it took, but it didn’t matter. The dome was packed with crazed students, and the joy of the victory swept us all outside to go party on Marshall Street.
Except that it was freezing (I think I remember snow). There would be no Maryland-style destructive riots, only barrel fires that were started more for warmth than chaos.
That year basically summed up what I’ve come to understand about being a Syracuse fan. We may not be a glamorous group, and we may not dominate the rankings every season, but no matter how cold it gets, we’ll always get together for the game.