Let me start off this edition of Observer on the Ground with a quick disclaimer. I love traveling to cover Notre Dame football. It’s a privilege, and the experience is always worth it.
That being said, get me the [insert expletive of choice] out of Syracuse, New York, and never send me back.
Logistically, the best parts of this trip were inherently not because of Syracuse. I’ll credit a surprisingly good pulled pork sandwich at the South Bend airport for getting me off to the right start. And the best food I had in Syracuse was probably at the cute local breakfast spots: Denny’s and Dunkin’.
Our trip started Friday afternoon with smooth travel and no notable hiccups. We picked up our rental car at the airport, and J.J. and his aggressive New Jersey tendencies tolerated my passive driving developed in the rural roads of Maine. I was in the left lane maybe once all weekend. After checking into our hotel, we got back into the car with high hopes for the oft-recommended Tully’s, which nearly every Syracuse native had told me to get to on Friday. There was nothing wrong with Tully’s, but given how frequently I was told to go there, I was mildly surprised that it was of similar quality to Buffalo Wild Wings. Slightly above average, overpriced chicken tenders and pretty bad fries.
So while it wasn’t bad, I wasn’t exactly awestruck by my experience at the top local recommendation. The next morning, my negative feelings toward Syracuse became fully apparent. After a relatively easy drive to the Dome, it was an absolutely atrocious experience finding parking. I’m not going to individually blame parking attendants, but whoever passes down information may need to find a little consistency or clarity in their communication.
We asked the first parking attendant we could find. She kindly informed us that there was no media parking, and that we should park in the nearest garage. We were subsequently redirected to three garages, with one telling us that we didn’t have credentials (awaiting us inside the stadium), so we couldn’t park there. Of course, that became an issue, because we weren’t able to park anywhere, so we couldn’t pick up our credentials, which meant we couldn’t park, which meant … Well, it was a real chicken or the egg situation.
Finally, we did make it to a lot, ending an excruciating 40-minute parking process. The unexpected delays cost us a chance to really explore the tailgating scene. Upon making it to the credential pick-up, we were informed that our credentials had been mailed, despite a very specific email which stated “Credentials will not be mailed” being sent to us earlier that week. That communication added to the ongoing frustration of the morning, but it was eventually sorted out.
We got up to the press box, at which point I was excited for a cup of coffee after a long morning. Surely, there would be coffee for a noon kickoff right? Nope. No coffee, and the only water was available via a water cooler and small paper cups. Bottled water would have evidently broken the budget. Dear Notre Dame press box food (and the decision makers responsible), I appreciate you immensely.
Beyond that, the actual game was certainly enjoyable from a Notre Dame perspective. But taking in the Syracuse environment, it was rather interesting. The “sellout” crowd featured at least one largely empty section. As for songs and traditions … “Tell me you don’t have traditions without telling me you don’t have traditions” seemed to be Syracuse’s mantra. Their entrance song was “Zombie Nation,” a great nod to … bigger football brands like Penn State. Their kickoff song was clearly a long-established and time-honored tradition in the recently popularized “Narcos” by Timmy Trumpet. Again, tell me you don’t have traditions without telling me as much. Also, on maybe a more biased note — because I think Notre Dame has an elite band and a fantastic alma mater — I was generally underwhelmed by both of those elements, as well.
I was generally disappointed by the noise level, too. I expected one of the benefits of the dome would be capturing the noise, but it honestly never felt that oppressive. The Irish got called for two false starts in three plays at one point, but that was the only time the crowd felt particularly loud. Of course, part of that could be due to the Irish’s general dominance. But still, you’re a top-20 team facing Notre Dame in a game that was close until the fourth quarter. Bring a little energy. I was severely underwhelmed by the in-game atmosphere, outside one or two moments.
Overall, my Syracuse ratings went something like this. Food gets like a 3/10. And that might be generous, but at least there was plenty of Dunkin’ to be had. The environment, maybe a 5/10 (could have been better if we had been able to experience more of the tailgating atmosphere). Syracuse’s traditions? 0/10. Their music choices …maybe a generous 2/10. At least I like “Narcos,” even if I think it’s an awful kickoff song. Parking? -17/10.
The biggest positive from this trip was a relatively seamless travel process. Especially on our flight out. Given last year, we almost missed a return flight from Charlottesville and I also got stuck in the Phoenix airport for 11 hours — the ease of travel this time around was very enjoyable.
Maybe something to be said about the best experience in Syracuse was leaving. A wannabe big brand in a wannabe relevant city. See you (hopefully) never again.
Contact Aidan Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org