If you have HBO and enjoy police shows you probably watched The Wire. The Wire is a show about a fictional Baltimore, Maryland which delves deep in the lives of police, drug dealers, politicians, schools, and the media. It is a complicated show that, unless you really watch from the beginning, it is hard to get into. It is the kind of show that you either love or hate. You are either a big fan, or it is the best show you never watched. The Wire is basically the story of Syracuse University Athletics.
The Wire comes from the mind of David Simon. A former reporter for the Baltimore Sun and the author of Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, of which the show Homicide: Life On The Street was based on. The theme of the show is that in postindustrial America, whatever institution you commit to as an individual will somehow find a way to betray you. March 9th saw the end of the critically acclaimed series. After five seasons and 60 episodes, watchers of the wire had plenty of drama and disappointment, shocks and a whole lot of heartbreak. It is exactly the kind of journey that Syracuse fans have experienced, especially the last two years.
Syracuse is not that big of a city. It is the most representative of Central New York, but compared to major American cities they lack anything that would really set it apart. It is land locked, it does not have a major professional sports team, nor does it have the population level. Baltimore, Maryland conversely does have pro teams, a bigger population, and sits on a harbor, these cities could not be more different. While every city has crime, Baltimore’s drug and murder problems have been well publicized and documented, while Syracuse is not remotely as bad. Yet these two cities both have institutions.
Baltimore has City Hall, the Police Department, a court system, much like every city. They also have Johns Hopkins, a major lacrosse powerhouse and a hated rival of Syracuse. But when you think of Baltimore you don’t necessarily first think of Hopkins. Thinking of Syracuse, New York however, it is possible that you could first think of Syracuse University, The Carrier Dome, or one of the university’s sports teams. Syracuse University IS Syracuse. While Baltimore is full of institutions, showcased on The Wire, SU is the one institution instantly recognizable and identified from the city.
But, as you know or may have learned earlier, The Wire is about institutions that fail those that serve it. The main character, Detective James “Jimmy” McNulty, is trying to lock up the most dangerous drug dealer in town, guilty of more than 20 murders, yet the Police Department, and subsequently the Mayor, has turned off the money tap to do the investigation properly. Or, if there are enough resources to do the investigation properly, the PD is unwilling to allow the veteran detectives to set up and take the time necessary to do a proper investigation. Syracuse, with a similar problem of needing better results, is in a very familiar situation to McNulty. Because of the football team’s exercise in football futility is bleeding the athletic budget there is not enough money to go around. That means more terrible marketing, terrible gimmicks, and generally a watered down atmosphere (complete with reduced band time I might add). Speaking from a fan’s point of view, Greg Robinson’s career at Syracuse can best be described as an utter failure.
Syracuse’s success in the Dr. Gross era is more or less a farce. A comedy of errors, specifically related to the football squad, has beseeched Syracuse with poor results, and that meant a lot of crying children on the pages of this notebook. On The Wire, Baltimore Mayor Tommy Carcetti was originally viewed as a reformer. He was going to come in, lower crime, and make Baltimore a better place. It was going to be a new day for Baltimore. After he was elected mayor, he fell into the same pattern as the last mayor, fixing the crime statistics so that he looks better. He was trying to parlay his time as Baltimore Mayor into a trip to Annapolis and the Governor’s office. Carcetti had high expectations and was built as a reformer, but he turned out to be just as bad as the previous occupant of the office. He also gave some great speeches in his day. Dr. Gross is in a similar situation. Billed as a quality candidate to helm the Athletic Department, as a savior from SoCal, Syracuse has plunged from elite athletic program to mediocrity, occasionally even vying to still be at all relevant. Syracuse football is in its worst stretch ever, the team failed to make the tournament, and lacrosse missed the postseason last year for the first time in 25 years. The reformer has regressed. Additionally, the character of Detective “Bunk” Moreland, the Bunk, is a little cocky. In an exchange with Freamon, he stated:
Moreland: I'm just a humble motherfucker with a big-ass dick.
I think this pretty much personifies DOCTOR Gross’s, and to a certain extent his wife’s, attitude within the department. I know best, and if you challenge it you get a not so subtle FU. As Coach P learned all too quick, it’s Syracuse… no one lives forever.
While it is entertaining to watch Bunk and McNulty drink by the train tracks, you appreciate the cunning of Lester Freamon, and everyone likes Omar, what is not entertaining is seeing an institution you love and are so attached to struggle to be successful in areas where they have done so for more years than the current freshmen have been alive. This can be illustrated by the character Omar, testifying in court. Omar, who makes a living by robbing drug dealers, testified in court against a murderer. Omar, despite his criminal record, is one of the most ethical characters on the show. A man must have a code, and Omar does. While testifying he is asked:
State's Atty. Ilene Nathan: Mr. Little, how does a man rob drug dealers for eight or nine years and live to tell about it?
That exactly sums up the attitude fans have to have. She could have easily asked any one of us, how does a man root for Syracuse for the last three years and go on each day with that kind of disappointment? Day at a time, I suppose.
There is something to be said for fighting the good fight. Assuming that Syracuse will stay down forever is most likely not the fate that waits the school or its fan base. Without ruining anything for people that have not seen the show, it is safe to tell you that on The Wire, it was not a happily ever after ending. The only hope for Syracuse is to learn from the past to avoid a terrible future.
Than again, maybe Syracuse is a victim of a conspiracy of players not availed to the average Syracuse fan and beat writer. Deadspin, via the boys at Storming The Floor, stated their claim that Gary Williams and Jim Boeheim was actually the same person. While College Park is not Baltimore, it is a little to close to be a coincidence. One of the rival schools of Syracuse’s Newhouse school is in fact the journalism school at the University of Maryland. Who went to the University of Maryland? None other than David Simon. David Simon, being a powerful figure in the media now, with two critically acclaimed shows under his belt, a mini-series that won him a few Emmy Awards, and probably a nice chunk of change, perhaps decided to take a little pleasure in Syracuse’s misfortune. Everyone loves a good conspiracy and I am no different.
I have neglected to compare who Det. McNulty might be in this parallel world. The massively loved, but tragically flawed protagonist from The Wire. Jimmy, the Detective who wants to do the right thing, lock up the bad guy, and appeal to his intellectual vanity by feeling that he is smarter than any crook that comes down the pike, is in fact, you. You, the fan of Syracuse. It is you, me, and any ticket buyer. Yes, Jimmy has his faults, and he thinks he can go outside of the system in season five, but he is all of us. Syracuse fans want to do the right thing, despite the fact that Syracuse leaves you asking “what the fuck did I do?” They want to go and support the team through think and thin, but Syracuse makes it hard to by not winning. Syracuse then tries to trick us into going with gimmicks and Mini Kiss. Syracuse assumes you are stupid and are willing to ignore the current state of the Athletic Department. While Jimmy, like you, are generally on the ball. You realize what they do, yet you are too low on the food chain to really do anything about it but maybe complain, and show up for work, in your case buy a ticket anyway. You have a drink because you either can’t stand that you know there is something wrong and you feel bad about it, or you just don’t give a fuck anymore. Just do not drink and drive like this:
It is true that some institutions fail average citizen’s everyday. It is also a fact that Syracuse has failed its fans the last few years in a variety of ways. If that is the ultimate fate for Syracuse, at least we can be entertained as the ship sinks. We should try to squeeze every last bit of juice out of the Syracuse University athletic experience. However, unlike the fictitious Baltimore that Simon has created, Syracuse is not doomed to fail. Syracuse has a chance to right the ship this next school year, and the years after that. You will hear this theme a lot in the coming months of the approaching football season, but many, especially Brent Axe, are making the claim that this will be the most important season of Syracuse Athletics ever. I cannot disagree currently with that premise. Syracuse is currently doing its part. Syracuse lacrosse is ranked #1 for the first time since 2004. Syracuse football has its work cut out for itself. The Wire may be over, but the fate of Baltimore and every American city is still up in the air. The fate of Syracuse is in the hands of the players and coaches and the directors that are about 34 pay grades above me. The institution is failing, but it does not have to. Something has to be done. I can’t take another year full of crying children, much like you loyal readers out there. Below are some choice clips from The Wire for your enjoyment. If you have HBO on demand you can watch episodes from every season, and seasons 1-4 are currently on DVD, with the fifth and final season coming out soon. I highly recommend if you enjoy true crime books, police shows, or just good drama you should check it out. No matter what you think of The Wire or Syracuse just remember… it’s all in the game.
*The clip above contains a Syracuse reference.
Labels: Athletic Department