|Winter of content at Syracuse|
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Not to insult the wimps at, say, Arizona or Pepperdine, but attending Syracuse requires a hardier student, not to mention much warmer clothing.
After all, it's one thing to slip on your flip-flops and T-shirt the morning after a late night of "studying," but when you also have to pull on the long underwear, zip up the fiberfill parka and shovel the driveway -- in April! -- just to get to class, it builds a certain amount of character.
It is so cold and gray here most of the school year that, as one alumnus put it, going to Syracuse is like living in a Dickens novel. The city averages 10 feet of snowfall every year, enough to bury LeBron James' Hummer, and it can snow much more than that in any given winter. This year's snowfall total was 150 inches. No, make that 152.6 inches. It snowed again Tuesday, the first day of April.
The high in New Orleans, meanwhile, was 75 degrees.
"I read a column by Bob Ryan and he asked, 'How does Jim Boeheim recruit players to play here?' " senior broadcast major Evans Boston said. "It can be the most miserable place to live five months of the year. You just have to assume that it will snow from October to April. You don't have to watch a weather forecast, because it's always the same. Snow."
When my plane landed here late Monday night, it was snowing. When I went to bed hours later, it was still snowing hard. And when I woke up, it was still snowing.
Shackleton should have had such dedicated men on his expedition to Antarctica.
Oh, the wait had its moments. Somebody had a portable DVD player, allowing a couple fans to pass the night watching "8 Mile" and "Goodfellas." A fair amount of alcohol got passed around. And around midnight, freshman forward Carmelo Anthony, sophomore forward Hakim Warrick and senior guard Kueth Duany all dropped by to pass out chips to their fans and sign autographs. Anthony even signed a bottle of Old English malt liquor when the fan couldn't provide a slip of paper.
They upset Oklahoma, earn a trip to the Final Four and provide free, late-night delivery, too? No wonder these fans love their Orangemen so much.
Slice of Syracuse
Now in its third generation of family ownership, the Varsity restaurant has been a Syracuse institution for three-quarters of a century. On a quiet, snowy night, it is a warm, inviting place. Photos and drawings of past Syracuse athletes fill the walls, and flags from the season's football opponents hang above the kitchen. When Syracuse wins, the corresponding flag is hung upside down. The game's most valuable player used to be given that honor, along with a free meal, but concern over NCAA violations brought that tradition to an end.
The pizza is good and just $1 a slice, but many prefer the wings, just for the pleasure of hearing their name called when their order is done. Kevin, your wings are ready.
Not to get all Rachel Rae on you, but for three dollars I not only feel as if I've been fed, I feel I've been initiated into the Syracuse community, a community as tight as the Orangemen's 2-3 zone, if for no better reason than they're huddling together for warmth. I left Milwaukee on Monday, certain that I would root for Marquette this weekend, but I'm not so sure now. By the time I buy a Real Men Wear Orange T-shirt on Marshall St., the memory of Keith Smart is enough to make me wince.
Syracuse loves its sports -- even lacrosse is big here (Jim Brown used to play here when he wasn't running over football defenses) -- and attention is squarely on the basketball team this week. Everyone is talking about the Final Four and whether there is any chance the superb Anthony might return for a sophomore year instead of entering the NBA. Virtually everywhere he goes, Anthony hears fans greet him with chants of "One More Year!" ... but the consensus is this weekend will mark his final games.
The hope is that he first brings the national championship that would finally remove the pain from that last-second loss to Smart and Indiana 16 years ago.
The Orangemen are a young team, but they have experience as well. After all, reserve guard Tyrone Albright is 26 and married with three children, while Duany is 25. He came to the United States as a child when his family fled Sudan just before the civil war that has been raging there for two decades.
"All my younger memories," Duany said at the team's press conference Tuesday, "are basically of family that is missing or have died, and things like that.:
Things like that are why the Final Four isn't the only topic of discussion.
Tuesday's was a captivating lecture on just how far back our current problems in the region extend, and a discouraging lesson on the long-range ramifications of policy decisions.
"A Stinger missile is effective at 15,000 feet, and we supplied them with a lot of Stingers," Bennett said. "What if some lunatic could get one near an airport? You think the American airline industry is in trouble now? You think people are nervous getting on planes now?
"But back then we didn't think about that. The Stingers were just to take out Soviet helicopters."
Our top story tonight ...
The competition inside Syracuse's famous broadcast school can be as fierce as it is on its basketball court. In addition to Koppel, Syracuse has produced enough sports broadcasters to justify another channel on ESPN. Bob Costas, Marv Albert, Dick Stockton, Len Berman, Sean McDonough, Mike Tirico -- they all went through the program here.
WAER, the campus radio station, broadcasts everything from basketball to lacrosse (which gets the highest ratings), and the students produce regular news segments for the campus closed-circuit television as part of their class schedule. On Tuesday, Evans Boston sat in as the afternoon's sportscaster and his lead story was, naturally, the Final Four.
The Syracuse academic year ends in May -- it has been known to snow during commencement -- and Boston isn't sure where he'll find a job when he receives his diploma and enters a very competitive field. Relaxing over a few beers after their newscast, his classmates joked about moving back in with their parents immediately after graduation.
But that's of little concern to him at the moment. Thursday, he leaves for New Orleans where he and partner Dave Friedman will sit at courtside and broadcast the Final Four for WAER.
"I was talking to Dave, and I said, 'We're seniors in college and we're going to call a Final Four,' " Boston said. "We'll probably never get to do this again in our lives."
Savor the moment.
That's the essential message Kurt Vonnegut provided when he delivered the commencement speech at Syracuse in 1994. Vonnegut apologized for not stirring them with tales of Teddy Roosevelt's charge up San Juan Hill or Operation Desert Storm, preferring to instead provide his usual wry humor and observations on the simple joy of life.
"I had a bad uncle named Dan," Vonnegut told the Syracuse grads, "who said a male can't be a man until he has gone to war. But I had a good uncle named Alex, who said, when life was most agreeable -- and it could be just a pitcher of lemonade in the shade -- he would say, 'If this isn't nice, what is?' ... If he hadn't said that so regularly, maybe five or six times a month, we might not have paused to realize how rewarding life can be at times.''
Yes, the Syracuse winters can be long and exhausting. Yes, April dawned with a snowstorm. And yes, the weather is nicer elsewhere. But why focus on the negative when there is so much else to enjoy? Summer isn't that far off, another bright young class is about to head into the world, the Orangemen are heading to the Final Four, the pepperoni pizza is hot out of the oven at the Varsity, and if this isn't nice, what is?
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.