Only two things in Syracuse are constant: Snow and The Orange. It is a college town without shame. A college that is firmly rooted in the success of their basketball team. It reminds me of Auburn in some ways. Of course, Syracuse is significantly larger than Auburn but they share a community love for “their team”. And for good reason.
The Orange is the fifth winningest men’s Division I basketball team of all-time and currently holds an active NCAA-record 43 consecutive winning seasons. Syracuse was a founding member of the Big East Conference but the Big East split left Syracuse in the Atlantic Coast Conference in July 2013. More importantly, it left the Orange without the most necessary component of any big name school: a rivalry.
Auburn has Alabama, Ohio State has Michigan, USC has UCLA and, after the split, Syracuse had…no one. So they set out to remedy that situation. Syracuse handpicked Duke as their soon-to-be most hated rival. T-Shirts were printed, slogans created, yard signs posted and college students painted. All of this was intended to generate a rivalry but that’s not how rivalries start. A true rivalry isn’t the product of the marketing department, it is the reaction to a slight (real or perceived) that is nurtured, year after year and generation after generation.
In Auburn, two year old children can explain to you how truly evil the University of Alabama is and why no person of decent breeding would be caught dead rooting for them. It is something that is as present in Auburn as the Alabama summer heat. It’s not going anywhere so you should just embrace it. It doesn’t need a marketer to remind the Auburn faithful of their duty (even though there is plenty of marketing to do just that). It is natural, organic and it’s origins are lost in the fog of time.
Syracuse hasn’t learned that lesson yet. They need to wait for the slight..the insult. Then they should wrap it around themselves like a hair shirt. Hold that slight tightly like a child with its favorite blankie. Take that slight and shake it in the face of friends and enemies whenever you can. Get them to understand just why this is the worst thing that has ever happened and it deserves all of the enmity and hate you can muster. Practice your look of disdain for every person that doesn’t understand your hate. HOW CAN YOU NOT GET IT?!?! LOOK WHAT THEY DID!!
That’s how a rivalry starts. That’s the only way it starts. Once started, you do have to feed it with marketing and hyperbole but it will reward you with civic pride and tons of money. Literal bucketfuls!
And to keep the rivalry going, you need a certain type of fans. And here is where Dom Polski (The Polish Home) comes in. We watched the Syracuse-Duke game at the Polish Home as guests of Lisa’s co-worker, Kim, and her husband. It was amazing.
The Polish Home is located in a residential neighborhood in West Syracuse. As we parked in front of a beautiful old church, I noticed that the sign out front of the church listed times for the various services included a Polish language service. We gingerly walked down the street trying to avoid the pain and indignity of slipping on the sidewalk. Triumphantly still standing, we walked into the building. No one there. No reception of any sort. No indication of where we should go. Suddenly, we heard cheers coming from the basement. From behind a door saying “Private Club” and with a card swipe reader next to it. “Members use card for entry. Guests must register.”
This sort of thing really shows how different Lisa and I are. I tend to freeze when I see things like that. I don’t like knocking on doors or answering phones or returning items to stores or calling for take out. It all may seem unrelated but the common thread is I’m not good with people and prefer to only deal with people I know well (and, yes, I am aware that everyone I know well is someone I didn’t know at some point). So, we did what we’ve done for almost 30 years now: she tried the door, found it open and walked right in. I followed her and tried to look imposing. So through we went. It wasn’t Cleavon Little showing up in Rock Ridge but there were a few puzzled looks. They did quickly fade because even the oddity of a large, Black man showing up in the middle of a Polish bar in Syracuse, NY was not enough to take their attention away from the game at hand.
We spotted Kim and went to stand next to her and her husband, Rich, at the bar which was littered with bills of various denominations in sloppy little piles. As is often the case, I tried to figure out if I was blocking anyone’s view of the television but was assured that I wasn’t. I ordered a Zywiec and Lisa did the same. Pretty standard Euro Pale Ale. Tasted like a stronger Amstel Light: I hate Amstel Light.
Everyone in the place was in Orange. And not just Orange but very specific t-shirts and hoodies proclaiming their allegiance to Orange basketball. There were even a few “Beat DUKE” shirts. They screamed. They cheered. They clapped. They didn’t seem to realize that they were actually just watching television. It was the most “homer” crowd I’ve ever been in as they screamed at the referee anytime a call went against their beloved Orange whether deserved or not. We settled in to watch the game.
Poor Rich (Kim’s husband) had that look on his face that said his wife had brought him along to entertain me but I’m kind of difficult to entertain (see above re: talking to people) and he finally just let it go. Meantime, the bartender (bartendress?) worked overtime to make us feel welcome. As did everyone there. I’d say this was a pretty grand time and hope that we’ll be able to do it again. We may even join. Time to do a little more digging into the family tree.
We’ve been in this area for a few months now and one thing has struck us more than anything else. These may be the friendliest people in the world. We haven’t had one off look or any disturbing remarks or anything other than hospitality and friendliness from the folks up here.
Central New York may be the most under appreciated region in the United States. The scenery is beautiful, the wildlife is abundant, the rivers and lakes are pristine and the people are magnificent. I am glad we moved here.
But, damn, it’s cold.