Thank You Syracuse
The simple act of walking into the Dome is a unique experience in itself. There’s a massive shift in air pressure that creates a powerful vacuum effect, causing the revolving doors to spin like motorized carousels. The massive structure, the most iconic and recognizable piece of the Syracuse skyline, literally pulls you inside and swallows you alive. The doors slam behind you and you’re met by an electric atmosphere that feels one part Vegas and one part Roman Colosseum.
Like a vortex, you’re suddenly transported to a gigantic world filled with wonder, magic and imagination.
The low and heavy rumble of the crowd feels far away and up close at the same time as it bounces around the stone and steel. The excited energy feels almost tangible as the lights go down, the music pumps and the masses all turn their attention to the main event. The people aren’t there to see mediocre, they’re there for miraculous. They want to see something they’ve never seen before, they want to witness history, they want nothing but mastery.
For six years, every spring, I’d spend just about every weekend inside this special place watching my Brothers play lacrosse. I would watch these games closer than anyone - constantly studying the flow of it all. I didn’t pay attention to the X’s and O’s so much, I was observing the energy and how it all worked together. I could see how certain plays would change the dynamic of the entire atmosphere and cause the crowd to respond in different ways. I could also sense that there were special players that were tapped into this energy and could influence it. These players were athletes of course, but to me they were artists operating on a different level than everyone else on that field.
When I was a Freshman, I made it a point to be the first one to arrive at our first practice in the Dome. I succeeded. I even beat the security team and was there to watch them unlock the doors. I walked into the building, pushed through some double doors and eventually made my way out to the field. The lights were still off as I carried my new orange equipment bag out to the 50 yard line. I sat down in the dark and deafening silence.
I couldn’t believe I was finally there. After so many nights spent lying in my bed dreaming of being one of those artists that I admired - the ones that could tap into that magic energy and use it to win games.
Slowly, one by one with a hum and a buzz, thousands of lights along the white top ceiling came alive. I looked around this building, the lights coming to life and dimly revealing more and more of the building every couple minutes. I looked around at an empty venue - I was about to spend four years of my life playing a game that I love with my friends inside the most revered college lacrosse facility in the world. What an amazing opportunity. I felt like the luckiest kid in the world and as it turns out I was.
As I was lost in my head daydreaming of what might come, I heard one of those big doors slam and it sent a huge echo through the building. The next player that came out to the field was another freshman, one that had some Syracuse lacrosse roots as well - Brian Nee. I think he had the same idea that I had, he wanted to take in this incredible experience before anyone else got there. Like me, Brian had sat in the stands in previous seasons and watched his brother Tom play for Syracuse. We shook hands and like all lacrosse players do we decided to have a catch. So there we were, two kids that had dreamed of playing for the greatest fans in lacrosse history - just having a catch all by ourselves in an empty 49,000 seat stadium.
One by one the rest of the team started showing up and the field got louder and louder. The energy building and I was in awe as guys like Liam Banks, Mike Springer, Josh Coffman, Brian Soliday, Spencer Wright, Robby Mulligan, John Glatzel and so many more made their way out. Just a few months ago these guys were winning a national championship and now I was actually on their team. I simply couldn’t believe it.
I won’t bore you with all the details and share what unfolded over the next four years, that’s been documented already. I just wanted you to understand how much I love Syracuse and how much it meant to me to play college lacrosse there. I’m sure every program has a strong tradition and a tight knit community built into it, as it should, but I feel comfortable saying that Syracuse Lacrosse is different. It just is.
The Simmons family is to thank for that.
There are some people that walk this earth that are so remarkable their special qualities become infectious. Their spirit extends beyond themselves and spreads through an entire community. That's the case here. Roy Simmons Sr. started the program and coached some legendary minds including Chief Oren Lyons, Jim Brown and his son Roy Jr.. I didn’t get a chance to spend time with Roy Sr., but I’ve seen how much his son looks up to him and that’s enough for me to know the caliber of that man.
Roy Simmons Jr. is hands down one of the most spectacular human beings I have ever come in contact with. I often talk about how much I treasure him and how much he means to me and my entire family. He sees life through the lens of an real artist and the way he viewed lacrosse was no different. That's what Syracuse Lacrosse was built upon and what it stands for. Creativity is encouraged, bravery is celebrated and self expression is necessary.
His philosophy spread into his players and eventually made its way to the fans. Syracuse Lacrosse, as a brand, attracted a special type of person. I had the privilege of playing for his son Roy Simmons III who is equally as powerful in the development of players and people. Having the opportunity to play for him was one of the most comfortable experiences I’d ever come across in my life as an athlete. That’s the best way to explain Roy Simmons III and the family as a whole - they just make me feel comfortable because of their warmth.
And just maybe that’s a part of their power. The warmth of the Simmons family allowed every player that hung those uniforms on their shoulders to be comfortable as a person and a player. When a person feels they are comfortable to truly present the best version of themselves, they will.
My head coach was John Desko, who was a player at Syracuse that turned to coaching after his college days. John Desko was the perfect coach for me and my personality. He was more intense than Roy Simmons Jr., at least he showed it more anyways, but at the same time he let us play the same way that his coach did. He was more into the X’s and O’s of the game but at the same time he was aware that you have to listen to the energy and let things unfold sometimes. He was a huge reason why we won all those games in those days - he was fun to play for.
Then there’s the Syracuse community. There isn’t a college lacrosse crowd better, period. Nobody more loyal, no one with more heart and no one more fun to play for.
I mentioned in the previous article that I played for the name on the front of my jersey and that is the truth. I didn’t want to let the city down and they never let us down. I used to love going to away games and seeing more Syracuse fans in the parking lot and stands than the home team. Before that first whistle blew every game, because of our fans we were already up one to nothing. I am going to dive deeper into this in the future because what went on at those tailgates was really something special and certainly worth sharing.
And finally, my teammates. What an incredible opportunity to get to play with the best lacrosse players in the world for four straight years. When you compete with forty guys, spending countless days and nights together, taking long bus trips together, handling losses together, celebrating wins together - what forms out of that is an organic relationship that only you and them will ever understand. And you carry it with you for a lifetime.
From that first moment in the dark and empty dome to my final seconds as a Syracuse Lacrosse player I loved it and will cherish it forever. I would like to thank Syracuse University and the entire Syracuse community for allowing me the opportunity to play for you.
This weekend's festivities have got me feeling nostalgic and I have received many congratulation messages from my teammates over the past few weeks. Last night I got one from Brian Nee, my classmate, teammate & friend. The same guy that I shared a catch with at 17 years old, as a skinny freshman, before we had any idea what was going to happen.
He quickly became my favorite player that I would ever play lacrosse with - he was my number one target. I spent my entire career at SU firing passes at him on the doorstep. I could throw them backhand, between the legs, bouncing, no look, etc... I could throw it at his ankles or hips and it just didn't matter, he would catch it and finish. Him and I were meant to play together. What I lacked he had and vice versa. I was right handed and he was left. He was one of those players that had that ability to tap into the energy - he was an artist. I always knew where he was on the field and he knew that I was always looking for him, so he was always ready.
This is what he sent me…
I didn’t sleep a single wink before my last college game. I was too excited to play. I laid there in my hotel room with visions popping up from long ago. I thought of all of the Syracuse players from the past and I thought of my team. Since I couldn’t sleep, I went downstairs and asked the front desk if they would let me use their computer to type something out. So I sat there at 3am, behind the front desk typing a letter to my team. I walked the hallways and slid this note under everyone of my teammates doors and then went back to my room.
I'd forgotten about writing this note until last night when Brian sent it to me:
Today will be the very last time that a Syracuse Orangemen Jersey will rest on my shoulder pads. This thought alone forced me to lose sleep last night and influenced me to touch my pen to some paper. As I laid on my back, staring at the ceiling, I looked back on my career as an Orangemen. I did not visualize the Tewaaraton Trophy or any other personal accolades. What I saw was each and every one of you. I did not see the number that you wear on your jersey, I did not categorize you based on the position that you play, in fact, I did not view you as lacrosse players at all. I looked beyond that. We are all great lacrosse players, everyone knows that, but that is not what is important.
“Although greatness will be displayed today by our hands and our feet, it resides in our hearts and in our souls.”
All of us are different, in many different ways we indeed are individuals. But as soon as that whistle blows today we become one single unit, we become a team. I would like to share a story with all of you before we head into battle.
My late Grandfather Lloyd “Rip” Eldridge spent most of his life racing horses. He lived a good majority of his life on the infield of horse tracks around the country. He passed away when I was very young so my memories of him are very cloudy. I remember him telling me stories about the races and of some of his favorite stories. He spoke of horse racing like Roy Simmons Jr. talks about lacrosse, passionately. The only story that I can remember as clear as day is the story of a horse named “Love Potion Number 9.” My Grandfather said that many people doubted “Number Nine” and oftentimes bet against him. Those people ended up going broke because “Number Nine” quickly showed that he could compete with the best by winning a bunch of big races. After “Love Potion Number Nine’s” racing career was finished, for some reason or another, my Grandfather was forced to put the champion horse down. My Grandfather was crushed, he loved that horse. He loved his horses like he loved his family. So as he raised his gun and set aim at “Number Nine,” he failed to pull the trigger. He figured that it may be easier for him as well as “Number Nine” if he just dug a hole and buried the horse. My Grandfather dug a hole ten feet deep and somehow placed “Number Nine” in that hole. As my Grandfather began to push the loose soil surrounding the hole into the ten-foot crevice, he noticed something amazing. Every time that the dirt was pushed onto “Number Nine” he would shake it off and step up, shake it off and step up, shake it off and step up. “Number Nine” did this until he reached the surface. At this moment of the storytelling process I remember my Grandfather beginning to cry and it showed me the impact that this horse had on my Grandfather’s life.
By five o’clock today our team will be deeply engraved in lacrosse history forever. I promise all of you that you will remember this sixty minutes for the rest of your lives. When I sit back, in twenty years, I will look back and I will once again see all of you, my brothers of war, and I will remember today. A day when individuals, with individual talents, separate lives, and common goals became an unstoppable force. As we battle Navy today let us keep in my mind that they are going to score goals, it is going to happen. But it will be our duty to be like a champion and “shake it off and step up, shake it off and step up, shake it off and step up” until we reach our goal. If we play together as a team we will win this game. I am extremely proud to walk into battle today with each and everyone of you. When we execute together, we are unstoppable, and we will forever be known as the Syracuse University Men’s Lacrosse team that won national championship. . . . . . . . . ."Number Nine!”
Your Teammate and Friend,
Number Twenty Two
In the final seconds of that game, I scored my last college goal on an unbelievable pass from who else but…#5 Brian Nee. This was Syracuse's 22nd straight final four appearance. Chapter closed.
Thank you Syracuse. Eternally Orange.--