This weekend was my 32nd birthday.
I’m not big on huge birthday celebrations. I generally take the Patton Oswalt approach when examining at this day. You get a birthday every year from 1 to 12, because you’re a little kid. You can then have a couple other ones for the special milestone years. That’s pretty much 16, 18 and 21.
Outside of that, you should get one birthday every 10 years. That’s it. I had my last one when I was 30. I’m due for another one in eight years.
The one thing I do like about birthdays is it’s a forced day of self-reflection. It’s the one day that makes you take a look back at the past year. So, in that light, I wanted to take a look back at the one constant in my life: my love of Syracuse. Hopefully, as I reflect on my great memories from the past year, you can reflect on your best memories as well.
1980-1987: These are the years I don’t remember. I was a baby/toddler/was obsessed with dinosaurs—what do you want from me? I know some great things happened. The Dome was built. Syracuse beat Nebraska. Pearl Washington is awesome. Don McPherson. I don’t remember any of it, so it doesn’t count. As far as I know, the Carrier Dome has existed since the dawn of time, basketball started with Derrick Coleman, and we have always been at war with Eastasia.
1988: On Sept. 24, 1988, I attended my first Syracuse game. It was a gridiron showdown against Virginia Tech. I was wearing a Hokie sweater. My uncle was a doctoral student in Blacksburg at the time and tried to get me on the bandwagon. I was bribed pretty easily. I lasted three quarters until I bailed on the Hokies for my future love. I remember taking off the sweater and trying to trade it for a hot dog to the people sitting next to me. There were no takers, but I still never looked back.
1989: My all-time favorite Syracuse memory was my trip to the Peach Bowl in 1989. This is the best Christmas present I ever got and was one of the greatest weeks of my life. There aren’t enough inches of column space in the Interwebs to accurately describe how amazing this trip was. It was my first big trip—just me and my dad. We stayed in the hotel next to the team. I attended the banquet and got to see Coach Mac up close. I went to the Discover Center in Atlanta, and stood inside a giant bubble. A bubble! Ok, that wasn’t football related, but it was still really cool. The game didn’t disappoint either. John Biskup kicked his game-winning field goal in the end zone where we were sitting. I can still point out where we were sitting on my tape of the game. This is the moment when I became a Syracuse fan for life.
1990: I made my first non-bowl game road trip this season to watch the Orangemen take on the Cadets at West Point. If you’ve never made it a game at West Point before, I highly recommend it. The beauty of the Hudson in the fall and the tradition and honor associated with US Military Academy is an experience every sports fan should have. It was a perfect trip, minus the fact that I got carsick threw up in my friend’s father’s van. Sorry Mr. Wilson.
1992: This year featured probably the best football team since 1987. Heck, it may have actually been better. I was supposed to go to the Miami game, but came down with bronchitis, and missed that classic. Even on TV, it was an amazing game to watch, coming down to the last play. Even though we came up short, I was still angry I wasn’t able to make the game and swore I would never miss an event like that again. Two years later, with two broken bones in my right leg and a cast that went up to mid-thigh, I crutched myself from the parking lot on Adams right off of the exit from I-81, all the way up the hill to make it for the Miami rematch in the Dome. Not worth it.
1993: Kirby Kirby Dar Dar Fan Fan Club Club
1994: There is the one reason I will never leave a sporting event early. That was Syracuse vs. football powerhouse Oklahoma in 1994. For those who don’t remember, Syracuse was down 24-0 at halftime, and it looked like the Sooners were going to run all over the Orangemen. The couple who sat next to my father and me declared the game over and left. I asked my dad if we were leaving too. “You never leave a game early,” he said, “cause you never know what you’ll miss. We’re staying.” He was right. I have never heard the Dome as loud as it was when Syracuse came storming back in the second half and took the lead on a long bomb from Kevin Mason (who is dramatically underrated) to Marvin Harrison with under a minute remaining. Now, it didn’t work out in the end, but it is the most exciting Syracuse game I have ever been to. To the dismay of anyone who has ever gone to a horrible sporting event with me, I have not left a sporting event early since.
1995: World, meet Donovan McNabb. Donovan McNabb, meet the world. We all knew from that first game against North Carolina we had something special. I feel silly now thinking before that first game that Keith Downing should have been the starter. Fail.
1996. The ‘Cuse is in the house, oh my God, oh my God. I love this Syracuse basketball team. John Wallace was a one-man wrecking crew. Jason Cipolla looked exactly like Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat. It was a good year. Al McGuire’s “dancing” is burned into my brain.
1997. I took a class at Syracuse University through my high school and sat next to Todd Burgan. It was awesome.
1998. McNabb to Brominski. Enough said.
1999-2000: OK, I have to admit I was checked out. Syracuse had pretty uneventful teams those years, and I was honestly pretty wrapped up with my George Washington Colonials. Sorry. We can call it 30 years of fandom I guess.
2001: I got back into my Syracuse fandom by rekindling a relationship with my high school sweetheart, who was a junior at Syracuse at the time. Over Thanksgiving, I was at her house, and we decided to try to go to the Boston College game. The problem was, we were both broke, and since I wasn’t a Syracuse student, I couldn’t get a cheap student ticket. We tried hitting up a few scalpers, but we weren’t having much luck. Then a cop approached us. I though we were about to get scolded for trying to buy tickets from a scalper. We explained to the cop we were just trying to get a cheap ticket to the game since I couldn’t get a student ticket. He looked at us, reached into his jacket pocket, gave us two tickets and told us to enjoy the game. The seats weren’t great, but it was an awesome act of kindness by a man who took pity on a young couple. That woman would go on to become the future Mrs. Mark Porter. Just kidding, she dumped me a few months later. Syracuse, however, was here to stay.
2002: This was my first year in Syracuse for law school. My best friend from undergrad was a huge Virginia Tech fan, and I was in Washington, DC visiting him when Syracuse took on the Hokies. We watched the game together and trash-talked each other as Syracuse pulled off the unlikely triple overtime victory. I never let him hear the end of it. For the next two months, I would call him at random hours of the night to sing the Syracuse fight song. That winter I came up to visit for New Year’s. When I arrived in town, it was late, and he was asleep. A buddy and I proceeded to take my large Syracuse blanket and quietly nail it around the entire doorframe to his bedroom. When he opened the door, he was greeted with an Orange and Blue Wall blocking his exit. It took him 20 minutes to break his way out, and he was pissed. Totally worth it.
2003. Obviously it was the year of the national basketball title, and years of heartbreak finally paid off. We all have our memories of what we did that night. I watched my best friend fall out of a tree on Marshall Street and break his arm. I partied until 5 a.m. and decided it was a good idea to show up to my 8 a.m. constitutional law class still drunk. I made it 30 minutes before I passed out. I woke up to the class silent and the professor standing right next to me. For all you aspiring lawyers out there, let me give one piece of advice. The correct response to a professor reaming you out in front of a room of your colleagues is not, “Let’s go Orange.”
2004: I have always been a Coach P apologist. So, I was shocked and angry when he was fired unceremoniously after the disaster at the Champs Sports Bowl. The team may have never been what it used to be if we didn’t fire Coach P, but it sure wouldn’t have fallen apart like what happened under the man whose name shall not be spoken.
2005: Vermont?!?! You’ve got to be kidding me.
2006: This was the year of Gerry McNamara and the Big East Tournament. It may be the best four days of college basketball played by one player in the history of the game. Also, the Boehiem “Not 10 f*@king games” GMac rant was priceless.
2007: I just want to pretend this year never happened. The football team was terrible. The basketball team was mediocre and got jobbed out of an NCAA Tournament bid.
2008: It’s good to know Greg Robinson had some coaching ability. Too bad he decided to use it all after he got fired. Still, the Notre Dame game on NBC was awesome. This game introduced us to Antwon Bailey, who ran the Wildcat to perfection. It reminded me of the Syracuse games I went to growing up and not the crapshack the team had become.
2009: This season was a story of what I watched and what I didn’t watch. What I watched? An entire year of Greg Paulus. I had so much faith in him that I named my fantasy football team, “Paulus for Heisman.” By week six, it was, “Bench Greg Paulus.” By the final week of the season, I had moved on to, “F@#K Greg Paulus.” What I missed? The six overtime game. I watched the first half, switched to the Daily Show for the Jim Kramer interview, then forgot the game was still on and fell asleep. The next day all my coworkers wanted to talk to me about the game. I just smiled and nodded and refused to admit that this super fan missed one of the greatest games in Syracuse history.
2010: There were lots of great memories this season, but for me it was 1000% about the Pinstripe Bowl. I know the basketball team was great that year, but I’m a football guy, so getting to see the Orange at a bowl game in person easily trumps what the hoopsters did. The game showed offensive ingenuity we hadn’t seen since Macpherson roamed the sidelines. Kansas State made it a great game, and for that, I salute them. It was the rebirth (I thought) of Syracuse football.
2011: Again, as a football guy, I’m keeping this gridiron. The West Virginia game was the best I’ve seen Syracuse football look since 1998. The Orange played almost perfect football on all fronts. Now the rest of the season was a disaster, but this one shining moment has given me faith for the future of the football program.
This brings me to today. Now that I’ve reflected, I can look forward. As a Syracuse fan, there is a lot to look forward to. What’s going to happen with the move to the ACC? Will there be a resurgence of the football program? Can we win one more title under Boehiem? Will I ever fulfill my dream of watching the Georgetown game in a private box with Vice President Biden? Life is great because you never know what is going to happen next. I’m looking forward to the next 32 years of memories that Syracuse athletics will give me.
Happy birthday to me.