The offer came as I was on my way out the door that Friday: Tickets to the Syracuse game the next day.
I enjoy watching big-time college football. I was in the Ohio State Marching Band in college, and we visited most of the Big Ten stadiums in my five years. We also saw the Superdome and Raymond James Stadium during bowl games, and I got a visit to the Rose Bowl before my final year of college. It’s been a few years since I spent fall Saturdays in football stadiums, but I miss that setting and was excited by the opportunity – and, yes, I know there’s no mistaking current Syracuse football with anything in the Top 25.
It was supposed to rain the whole day. My wife warned me not to get sick. Roger asked about the bad weather. Not to worry, I said, Syracuse play in a dome (that is surely more raucous for basketball games).
It poured the entire way there. Didn’t help that we left an hour after we planned. Avoided active construction zones, but the single lanes slowed us down. And I topped out at 48 while squinting through my windshield on I-81. Only saw one accident on the way up, parked (Syracuse has the goofiest way of getting you to their visitors’ parking lot), and took a university shuttle down to the Carrier Dome. One guy was amped up for the game, and he tried to get the full bus revved up. Nobody was interested. There was more response from the lady at the gate who took our tickets. “Those are nice seats,” she said.
The dome was half empty. I’ve never really been at a half-empty stadium for a college game before. My alma mater’s traveling fans would take any unused seats from whoever was the home team normally. Heck, it was easier to get a ticket to an away game than a home game for some people I knew. The folks around us said that the fans openly mocked the announcement that there were 35,000 people there the week before. Announcer listed 27,000 at our game.
We walked in about 4 minutes into the game just as an Orangeman was running into the end zone. Fans were ecstatic. Game continued that way. Syracuse continued to do well. I was underwhelmed by the band, and the food was adequate. The game and stadium developed an odd feel. It was reserved similar to a baseball game but with the action of football. Fans weren’t into big plays. Some of the times they were most passionate was when they wanted a penalty called (and there was obviously no penalty on the play). A couple years of mediocre football can dampen everyone’s edges – the fans, the band, the team. Everything became lackluster and missed the passion found on other college campuses.
Pittsburgh, the visitors, finally pulled even and took the lead as the game wound into the fourth quarter. As Syracuse turned the ball over and the game got out of reach, fans finally became vocal – in criticizing the coaches and players. (They’re college kids folks…) When they weren’t groaning and yelling at the coaching, they discussed options for a new coach next year. This guy has a tie to the team, this guy once lived in the area, that guy knows the university’s administration…
Everyone filed out grumbling about the game that got away. It was then that I heard somebody say something – one of the memorable items about the trip. A guy walking into the bathroom was trying to bolster the spirits of a stranger. “Faith, it’s called sticking with your team,” he said.
Hmm, no, that’s loyalty. I saw loyalty but not faith – the fans seemed surprised their team was leading for so much of the game. And when fans lack faith, their excitement and enthusiasm isn’t there. Without that, it really isn’t college football.