It's a slightly old joke, but an obvious one.
A Syracuse graduate was talking on Tuesday about Saturday's football game between the Orange (and for the record I hate singular sports nicknames) and Penn State. "I think Penn State just scored again," he said.
He wasn't right, but it sure seemed like it. Ye Olde Alma Mater is 0-3 on the current season. It has lost to Northwestern (not exactly a Big Ten power), Akron (not exactly anyone's idea of a power), and Penn State (a top 25 team that scored more than half a hundred points on Syracuse). So Syracuse has a game with Northeastern coming up, followed by the Big East portion of the schedule. And 1-11 looms as a good possibility.
The question is, how should I react to all of this?
I'm used to losing football teams at Syracuse. When I arrived as a freshman in the fall of 1973, I was all excited to see big-time major college football. Week one saw Bowling Green defeat Syracuse, 41-14. Bowling Green? Where is that? What conference? I believe Syracuse went 2-9/2-9/6-5/3-8 during my four years there, and I covered some of those games for the school newspaper. As one co-worker said, "The stories are much funnier when the football team gets clobbered."
Syracuse football had some dramatic ups during the 1980's and 1990's, but the last four years have been dreary. Attendance has dropped way off, which probably will lead to the obligatory coaching change.
Part of me looks at rabid college football fans with a small degree of disdain. It's easy to wonder about the priorities of people who gas up the RV and drive hundreds of miles to see their favorite team, and then when the team loses they start Web sites that are something like firemycoachnow.com. It's not like a bad football team is going to decrease the value of my diploma. And plenty of schools have a good reputation without a good football team -- MIT and Duke come to mind. I never could figure out why some people think they have the right to throw money at players with a $50 handshake (note: I kind of doubt this is happening at Syracuse now). I'd prefer the team to win, but it's not going to ruin my day.
Still, the football team represents a connection to my college years. When the score comes up in the newspaper or on television, it's easy to think back to when I sat in the stands of Archbold Stadium with friends, hoping that the team would figure out to win a game or two. The thought of those friends still makes me smile. The math department doesn't make the pages of the newspaper very often, at least when you are 150 miles away.
I guess I don't expect dominance, year after year, but a trip to the Weed Eater Bowl every once in a while would be nice. Until that happens, I'll be wearing Syracuse shirts as a reminder of my years there and my friends from there, and not as a reminder of 0-3 and counting.