For most of the Syracuse Orange, their homecoming game was played earlier this season at the Carrier Dome. But for coach Doug Marrone, Thursday's Pinstripe Bowl date with Kansas State at Yankee Stadium is his real homecoming.
As if just getting Syracuse to a bowl game for the first time since the 2004 season isn't enough, Marrone gets to play it in the Bronx, where he grew up as a Yankees fan. Marrone lived nine miles from old Yankee Stadium in Throgs Neck. To get to his house, you took the last exit before the western entrance to the bridge, Harding Avenue.
To say Yankee Stadium was a part of his youth is an understatement.
"When we had travel teams in baseball, we used to play behind Yankee Stadium because they had all the baseball fields there," Marrone recalled at a recent news conference promoting the Pinstripe Bowl. "And I remember when my mom - one of the greatest gifts I ever had growing up - took me when I was 13 to the 1977 World Series here at Yankee Stadium. Bleachers."
Of course, that stadium was torn down after new Yankee Stadium opened last year. The Marrone family connection to "The House That Ruth Built" went even deeper because his maternal grandfather, Robert Thompson, worked there as an usher for more than 15 years. Now Marrone has the privilege of ushering in the first bowl game at "The House That George Steinbrenner Built."
"For me, this will be an interesting situation,'' he said. "When I would come to Yankee Stadium growing up, I sat in the bleachers. Last year, I came to the new Stadium and sat in nicer seats than that. But I was never able to step on the field. When you're born a Yankee fan, like I like to say about myself, it's great I finally was able to step out on that field .
"I understand what that field is and the history of it. I really feel it's an honor and a privilege to be on that field."
Since Syracuse was invited to the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl, Marrone said he has schooled his players on the history of Yankee Stadium, which includes the Orange playing in the first college football game at the old Stadium back in 1923. At the same time, the second-year coach wants his team to make its own history.
"It's a little Catch-22 for me," Marrone said. "I'm so excited for the players and I'm so excited about this program, but from a personal level, I try to keep it in. It's not about me coming home. It's about this football team and what they've done in a short period of time to get us back. So I want to make sure I convey that message to everyone and don't make it about myself."
Marrone has taken only two years to resurrect a program that was about as low as you could go. Syracuse (7-5) enjoyed its first winning season since 2001. Playing in a metropolitan-area bowl that figures to be a showcase for Big East football now and in the future should serve as an important recruiting tool.
The irony is that Syracuse never has to play in the snow at home in the Carrier Dome, but after the blizzard that hit New York on Sunday and Monday, the Orange must step into the elements Thursday afternoon at the Stadium.
"Our players are excited about being in this area at this time of year," Marrone said. "They'll have an experience that's going to last them a lifetime."