By Mark David Blum, Esq.
The once famed mighty Syracuse University Orange was squeezed dry by a gaggle of backwoods hillbillies who think Mohawk haircuts (aka Mullets) are cool. Though nationally ranked, the University of South Florida football program was born just yesterday; actually 12 years ago, which is yesterday by today’s standards for elite football programs
Yet the crushed Orange have achieved a new level of notoriety; the laughing stock of Division One A football. Every game starts with the highest of expectations and by the end of the first quarter, you can almost feel “it” coming. The steamroller effect starts and by the end of the third quarter, you start to play over/under 50 – same being the points the opponent is going to score. It has gotten so bad that the stadium where home games are played is on the Hill; now nicknamed Heartbreak Ridge. Nobody brings home a loss better than a Greg Robinson team.
I hate to blame the coach. It is harder to blame the players. The team lines up pretty and always seems to be trying as hard as they can to execute the plays. Even the quarterback Dantly has an arm reminiscent of a Donovan McNabb rocket. I have watched and studied the team and cannot but believe the team plays flawless football for sixty minutes. What is painfully obvious is that the team suffers from the “just-a-bits”. “If he had thrown it just a bit sooner or softer.” “If he had run left instead of right.” “If he had waited a moment longer before moving.” So many just-a-bits fill the endless banter of mindless color commentators. I get it. If they just did the thing they were trying to do …. What do you do when your quarterback not only gets sacked but the danged ball pops out and rolls to the 2 yard line. …. Just a bit quicker, just a bit tighter, just a bit.
Doubtful that firing Robinson would cure the almosts. What can you say when a receiver drops a bullet. The ball was thrown too hard to catch or the receiver couldn’t handle the hard pass. For that you fire the coach? Do you fire the quarterback or the receiver? Do you tell the quarterback not to throw so hard or do you give your receivers casts on their forearms so they can catch zips. How does a coach change that chemistry? What can be done when a tackle forgets to cover or trips or commits a penalty? Fire the coach? Can a coach really prevent a young player from jumping the gun or prevent someone from tripping over their own feet.
I have watched enough Syracuse football, including being an eyewitness to their only win this season, to say that as much as I loathe Robinson as a coach because I find him so uninspiring, I still cannot bring myself to say it is bad coaching. Somewhere there has to be coaching failures but in the end, the players are the ones on the field. Either they are performing or they are not. As students, the players should not be booed or ridiculed as the University is an educational facility and NFL training ground. Yet, I struggle to find any blame to throw at the student players. I see the fire in their eyes and every game for at least 15-30 minutes of playing time, you can see in them a top ten team. But then the hemorrhaging starts. Suddenly a close game or a Syracuse lead turns into an orange bloodletting.
Like the pain and injured player on the field, you can be assured I will be there to see the next game. My heart will come loaded for Win and I fully expect to play the over/under game with whomever is nearest. I won the last over under bet I made against Penn State. I lost today’s over under by five points.
As these next two weeks pass and Robinson deflects the bullets to be rapid fired at him by local media and mouths, I know he will do everything in his power to motivate, educate, illustrate, and coagulate his players into a world class team. I am also fairly confident that his plans won’t survive first contact with the opponent. By the third quarter the Louisville slugfest should deteriorate into another disaster. Worse still I fear that nobody will be able to identify a single factor that cost the game. If the receivers catch and the quarterback is accurate, then Robinson’s plays will score every time. But when runners cant break the line, when linemen cant open a hole, and when the secondary is to the pass before the intended receiver, who do you blame?
Maybe instead we should avoid searching for blame. Perhaps this is God’s intentions for Syracuse. A once proud and powerful program perhaps became too arrogant and this decade has been a lesson in humility. It certainly has humbled me from bragging during bowl season.
Bring on Basketball and the NCAA Tournament. No doubt our basketball team is Final Four material and I wouldn’t bet against them at this point in the season.
Until hoops time, we will slug it out with our football team, scream for the coach’s head, and swear we could do a better job on the field that those who work so hard to make it look so easy. If only it was just a bit ….