Tonawanda News — There’s something special about college towns.
Syracuse isn’t completely a college town, mind you. The Salt City has more than 100,000 residents and is the third-largest city in upstate New York, so its existence doesn’t solely rely upon the university synonymous with its name.
But the city and university are certainly intertwined.
Sporting events on campus -- especially basketball games, at least over the past decade -- are events unmatched anywhere on the sports scene -- including Bills games in Western New York. And with the University at Buffalo and Niagara University failing to grip Western New York’s attention, Buffalo will probably never experience a similar sensation.
When a city falls in love with its school squad, the entire municipality seems to pause once the game begins. That was the case in Syracuse during a recent men’s basketball contest. Mind you, the Orange are in the top 10 in the national rankings and were playing a school (Monmouth) they were expected to beat by 40 points. But the game still drew more than 22,000 people on a Saturday night in December during finals week on campus.
And they were boisterous, too. Even though the Orange play in the football-centric Carrier Dome, their basketball games can be among the loudest in the NCAA. The long-held belief on campus is the team benches face toward the empty space and away from the dome wall because seeing tens of thousands of people screaming at you from three tiers up was too fearsome for opposing coaches to want to deal with.
So even a casual basketball fan can have a good time at a game. And a trip to the Carrier Dome is recommended. But it’s not required to have a good time in Central New York.
Just a bounce pass away from the stadium is Destiny USA, the massive mall formerly known as the Carousel Center that’s actually expanded even more over the past couple years. The monstrous shopping center features four floors devoted solely to shopping -- with Orange gear available at many stores. There are upwards of a dozen restaurants, a food court, a movie theater and even an obstacle course, ensuring that one would never have to leave a mall to meet all of life’s needs and wants.
Well, most of life’s wants, anyway. But for those with a penchant for gaming, the drive isn’t a long one from the mall. Turning Stone Resort and Casino is a half-hour drive east on Interstate 90 and is pretty breath-taking in its scope. There is an expansive gaming floor, two hotels, a championship golf course and one of the better buffets in the entire state.
As with the more local gaming venues, smoking is allowed on casino property. But Turning Stone allows 18-year-olds to gamble and has a larger gaming surface, so if you can deal with a bit of second-hand smoke it’s worth at least a brief visit.
If gambling isn’t your thing, though, a drive in the opposite direction might suit you better. Auburn is a small city about a half-hour’s drive southwest of Syracuse in Cayuga County. The community is on the shore of Owasco Lake, one of the Finger Lakes, and is home to a maximum-security prison whose employees make up a good chunk of the city’s population.
The prison, as would be expected, plays a pretty big role in the city’s history. The first electric chair execution took place there in 1890. The man who killed President William McKinley in Buffalo, Leon Czolgosz, was also executed there in 1901.
But the city’s history by no means stops at the prison walls. Indeed, a drive through the city streets will lead one to dozens of historical plaques noting the places and people of note from there. Abner Doubleday once called Auburn, and the man who invented baseball inspired the nickname of the city’s Single A baseball team the Auburn Doubledays. Abolitionist Harriet Tubman lived there, as did former Secretary of State William Seward -- the man who arranged the purchase of Alaska -- and “America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh. “Talkies” were also born in Auburn, as talking film inventor Theodore Case lived there and perfected the process of recording sound on film in Auburn.
The drive from Auburn to Syracuse is reminiscent of the journey through Niagara County from Niagara Falls to Lockport and points east, with plenty of farm country and sparse settlement throughout. Once you’re back in the city, though, there are plenty of other options. Regardless of whether you check out a sporting event on the Syracuse University campus, the nearby business district of Marshall Street is a must-visit, with numerous local eateries and shops to keep you busy of all afternoon. If you’re still hungry, the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is only a 10-minute drive from campus =- but get there early, as it’s tiny in there and always busy.
There are also plenty of options along Erie Boulevard, Syracuse’s counterpart to Niagara Falls Boulevard. Whether a familiar chain or something distinctly Central New York, you’ll find it there.
But the heartbeat of the region seems to originate from the SU campus. In that regard, even if you only go to a game - or even to tour the campus - a visit to Syracuse is a slam-dunk good time.
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