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Posted by on Jul 18, 2012 in Life, Sports | 1 comment

A previous Fan Fest in review (or 1 reason to make your kid an offer he can’t refuse)

A previous Fan Fest in review (or 1 reason to make your kid an offer he can’t refuse)

fan fest syracuseMy son and I headed out of the city smog driving due north on Rt. 81 hoping to take one last big breathe of summer before the return to job and school. Bob had just gotten his first camera and the novelty of a new toy meant pictures of everything, from the inedible, rubberized pork chops at The Buckhorn in Binghampton to Broome County’s endless, empty nothingness.

OUR DESTINATION? SYRACUSE NY and FAN FEST.

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

Bob and james wyche

Bob and James Wyche

I took the day off at my father’s insistence. He reminded me that time is fleeting and my son would soon reach the age where it was no longer cool to spend time with dad. Truth is, I thought that time had already arrived. So when I brought up the idea of he and I heading upstate for the day to watch the “Orangemen” practice, I was thrilled when he enthusiastically embraced it. There’s something about Fall and the promise of another football season that just pulls me back in, regardless of the results of the previous year. And to share it with my son, well, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my time.

“Paulie, pull over, I gotta take a leak.”

I think I heard “Are we there yet?” more often than Freeney sacked Vick that year. And for those who don’t remember, Dwight sacked VT quarterbacks the same way dead people in Chicago vote, early and often. I pointed out historic landmarks along the way like the Broome County Correctional Facility, outside of which I spent a very long evening trying to re-start a Triumph convertible, an indictment of English engineering if ever there was one. I bought the piece of junk thinking that it looked cool and might just impress some SU coeds. Truth is, the only dates I got out of it were with Mr. Goodwrench.

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

There it was, the Carrier Dome. We exited 81 right near the Brewster – Boland towers and, having arrived two hours early, headed toward Marshall street. No use going to Manley this early when the Varsity Pizzeria was only a few blocks away. Then I made my son an offer he simply couldn’t refuse. “Let’s get our hair cut at the Orange Tonsorial!” I shouted. He refused.

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

Bob, Brandon Darlington and Steve Gregory

After playing the guilt card, he relented. It was off to the Tonsorial for a haircut and the best gossip in town. As you no doubt know, if you want the skinny on any of the latest rumors, the local barber shop is the place to go. These were the days of Carmello Anthony, Gerry McNamara, and Hakim Warrick and I had questions. Once I told Joe (or was it Duke? My memory fails me) that I had been a student back some 20 years earlier, he brought me and my son up to date on all that was happening on campus. We learned of Carmello’s sexual exploits (cover your ears, son!), Gerry’s final speech for his public speaking class (it was on fly fishing and was well received, I understand), and Craig Forth’s academic prowess. We left a few pounds of hair behind (mostly my son’s) and took with us some great gossip which I planned on spreading liberally at the next CYO breakfast.

“My godson has come all the way from California. Give him a drink.”

Watching the Orangemen practice was a revelation. We didn’t play football in my family as we were basketball players, pure and simple. This was all brand new to both of us as we watched Paul Pasqualoni, George DeLeone, and the rest of the coaches run a disciplined but spirited practice, likely devoid of some of the blue-er banter that was the norm (language sanitized for the protection of younger ears). We saw some big hits and great catches. When practice was over we grabbed a drink as the players exited for Manley Field House.

walter reyes

Walter Reyes, Bob, & thumb

“No Sicilian can refuse any request on his daughter’s wedding day.”

The players wandered back to the Fan Fest area a few at a time. The guys who had been wearing the red “no contact” jerseys during practice arrived first. Each was cordial and friendly, some engaging the kids in conversation, others simply signing autographs. We had been sitting, having a bite to eat with Ricky Krautman’s parents (very nice folks, btw) so I was particularly interested in speaking with him. We enjoyed meeting Walter Reyes who we figured was destined for a long and productive NFL career. He was about as wide as he was tall. Stephen Gregory stopped by. And coach Paul Pasqualoni was the last to emerge from the field house, as I recall. We asked him if he wouldn’t mind standing next to my son for a photo and, predictably, he didn’t refuse. I can still remember him saying “That’s a nice football you have there, son.” as he signed Bob’s ball.

“You sonofabitch, do you know who I am? I’m Moe Greene! I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders.”

It wasn’t but a few months before Jake Crouthamel would retire and a Socal guy, Darryl Gross, would come to town. I’d spent enough time around LA folks to know that they talk out of both sides of their mouths. Still, he was from USC and the comparisons were obvious. Having a proud tradition similar to SU, particularly at the RB position, Gross was part of the new regime at USC that had returned them to prominence. Seemed like a good hire to me.

“So, Barzini will move against you first. He’ll set up a meeting with someone that you absolutely trust, guaranteeing your safety. And at that meeting, you’ll be assassinated.”

Back in Jersey we read about Chancellor Nancy Cantor announcing at a press conference that Pasqualoni would stay for a 15th season, riding high on Diamond Ferri’s superman-like performance and a 43-17 win at Boston College. As great as it was to beat Tech and Michael Vick, this game was perhaps the most satisfying win of any I’d ever been witness to. Just 11 days later Gross would be hired to replace Jake Crouthamel. Jake seemed to value loyalty among all else and as long as he was there, Coach P would be as well. Now all bets were off.

“Oh, Paulie… won’t see him no more.”

Two weeks later heads would roll, most notably that of Coach Pasqualoni. To this day I will say that while the program had begun to stagnate and perhaps a change was in order, Coach P deserved much better. Being given a vote of confidence one week and then unceremoniously fired just two weeks later, well, it just wasn’t right.

“I have a sentimental weakness for my children and I spoil them, as you can see. They talk when they should be listening.”

My father, who by that time was ailing, had taken to doing things that were not too strenuous. Having admired his grandson’s photography, he had begun assembling the pics into a photo collage so that we would have a keepsake from which to remember the day. He wouldn’t live long enough to finish it.

My son and I had the experience of a lifetime, one we’ll never forget. If you’re considering going up to Syracuse this year for Fan Fest, I encourage you to do so. Call in sick and take your son or daughter. You won’t regret it.

The collage hangs from my son’s wall half completed, exactly in the state that his grandfather left it. Hey Dad, in between all that talking…I really was listening.

1 Comment

  1. Great piece. In many ways this is what sports are built for – to help shape, build, and symbolize relationships on so many levels. I’m adding your site to my favorites under Syracuse Football.

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