Who in the world has ever chosen his college based on the result of a sporting event?
Well, I did.
Knowing I wanted to attend a school strong in journalism, I narrowed the selections to Temple, Rutgers, Syracuse, and Penn State.
Growing up my dream was to become a sportswriter for a newspaper, preferably in New York, where I read as many as eight papers daily.
I never, ever, gave a thought to broadcasting. I admired the great sportscasters I listened to, but I never imagined I would enter that field.
Instead, I relished the reports of John Drebinger, Bill Roeder, Dave Anderson, and other beat writers who covered my favorite teams, and the great columnists such as Arthur Daley, Red Smith, Dick Young, and Milton Gross.
As it turned out my choices came down to two: Penn State and Syracuse.
Not only was the quality of journalism training important, so was the quality of their football programs.
I couldn’t go wrong with either school.
Penn State and Syracuse had been eastern powers for many years.
Both were close enough for me to get home on holidays to see my parents and friends, most of whom were set to attend City schools.
As it happened, Penn State and Syracuse were ranked in the top ten nationally in 1959, my senior year at Forest Hills High School.
Both were unbeaten, heading for a showdown game late in the season.
So, on the eve of the big game in November, I announced that I would send in my final application to the school that won.
Unlike today, when every college football game is televised, there was one game on TV each week. That’s right, just one.
ABC televised the College Football Game of the Week and it usually was a game involving the Big Ten, SEC, PAC-8, Notre Dame, Army, or Navy.
For some hard-to-fathom reason, ABC chose another game to televise.
So, the huge confrontation between the two great eastern powers could only be heard on radio. There I was, sitting on a chair, inches away from my radio, hanging on every word.
The game, played at State College, was a thriller. I remember two big plays. Roger Kochman returned a kickoff 100-yards for the Nittany Lions, and Penn State’s Andy Stynchula had one of his punts blocked by the Orange.
And here I was, with no rooting interest, whatsoever, acting like I was the referee at the game, just doing my job, which was to await the survivor, and send in my application.
Syracuse beat Penn State 20-18, and that was that.
I guess it never crossed my mind that Syracuse might not accept me, but I had made MY decision, a significant life decision,as everyone knows, and my favorite color became orange.
Not only did Syracuse finish the season unbeaten, they were ranked Number 1 in the nation and whipped Texas in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas New Year’s Day.
It remains today the greatest season of Syracuse University football.
I anticipated four years of national dominance during my time, as I prepared myself for a career as a sportswriter.
But it didn’t happen.
On the education front, my career path turned to broadcasting.
On the football front, the Orange never approached their 1959 achievement.
There have been terrific seasons, for sure. Mostly after I left school.
There have been major Bowl game appearances and victories.
And there have been true greats of the game that would make most schools envious.
There was Jim Brown before me, Ernie Davis and John Mackey during my college career, Floyd Little right after, and the likes of Larry Csonka, Daryl Johnston and Donovan McNabb as well. There have been many others I don’t have the space to name.
Most sports fans, when they talk of Syracuse athletics, talk of basketball.
And why not? The Orange have been a national power in hoops for about 40 years, or as long as Jim Boeheim has guided the team.
The football program has had its moments, but generally it’s been a disappointment.
Often a major disappointment.
That is why this season has been a tremendous revival, a proud campaign of success and promise.
I don’t think many people expected the Orange to win 9 games, play an exciting brand of football and suffer defeats only to nationally-ranked teams. Finishing second in their division, S.U. lost to Pitt, Clemson and Notre Dame.
Clemson and Notre Dame are headed to the national championship final four.
I realize the Orange stunningly upset Clemson last season, but frankly I figured it was a flash in the pan. I never realized it was a preview of things to come.
Head coach Dino Babers has delivered big-time.
He has recruited brilliantly, (not an easy task here for a long time),and has put his team in position to have success.
Now comes a Bowl appearance. Right now it looks like the Camping World Bowl in Orlando Dec. 28.
If Dino Babers is the face of Syracuse football on the coaching lines, quarterback Eric Dungey is the face of Syracuse football on the field.
He has fought through countless injuries and come back to fight in relentless fashion. He has given the Orange, both a passing and running dimension that ranks with the best the school has ever had at that position.
Recruiting will pick up now that Syracuse is back on the football map.
Personally, I am delighted.
Remember, other than career factors, football was the reason I attended Syracuse.
Maybe there’s a senior in high school somewhere who desires a college rich in his or her chosen field, and rich in the unmistakable spirit of a football program that will make those autumn weekends sing.
How about Syracuse University?