Sheesh, how best to portray the survivor-hood of Jim Boeheim, beyond equipping all GPS devices with an image of his singular face over the Syracuse part?
Maybe we could go with the human side, with Boeheim's 37-season reminder that if you stay around long enough, you can go from everybody's idea of a whiny grouch to someone roundly appreciated, someone right on the brink of cuddly. When, at age 68, he won his 903rd game Wednesday night to slip past Bob Knight into second place behind Mike Krzyzewski, didn't you sort of want to hug him?
Here was a man whose press conference before the 1987 national-title game majored in dreariness without any minor in humor, yet whose press conference before the 1996 national-title game crackled with levity. When a good reporter pointed out the contrast, Boeheim introspectively said, "That's probably a fair observation. Yeah, I've always had a sense of humor; maybe I just didn't show it."
The time had wound on, and he said, "I don't mean to be" whiny, "but on the sidelines I look at tapes of myself, I realize I do look that way. But I don't mean to do it." So across the rolling decades he went from a stone face you would see and resist to a stone face you see and appreciate for the quirks of its stoniness. Yes, Jim Boeheim informs us of our nature.
Or maybe we could go with the grand, gaping timeline of it, which we could convey this way: Boeheim made his first Final Four in his 11th season, his second Final Four in his 20th, his third Final Four and first national title in his 27th, and let's just repeat that here: first national title in his 27th season.
If that won't do it, this: In Boeheim's first NCAA Tournament as head coach, Syracuse fell in the round of 16 to upstart North Carolina-Charlotte and Cedric "Cornbread" Maxwell … today a 57-year-old man who retired from the NBA 25 years ago.
And if that won't do it, this: In 1987 in New Orleans, he lost on a last-second shot to Indiana, after which Indiana Coach Bob Knight shook Boeheim's hand and told him he would win one someday. A whopping 16 years later in New Orleans, Boeheim won after a missed last shot, after which he shook Kansas Coach Roy Williams' hand and told him he would win one someday -- which Williams, did twice.
As Syracuse coach in 2003, Boeheim spoke about Syracuse in 1962: "I was a walk-on at Syracuse, I didn't have a scholarship. I got one because a guy got thrown out of school my second year. Somehow Dave Bing liked me. I was smart, I roomed with Dave." Remember that a generation of listeners then carried around little idea of the excellence of Dave Bing, then remember that even 10 years after that, Boeheim coaches an 11-1 team ranked No. 7 coming off a final-eight showing last March.
Can this timeline even be real?
Still, I think there's a top way to categorize Jim Boeheim, survivor. It's the losses. It's the losses even though the wins just about triple them.
Jim Boeheim has lost 34 times in March. He has lost 11 times in NCAA Sweet Sixteens, eight times in second rounds, five times in first rounds, six times in NITs, and let's just repeat that here: six times in NITs.
He has lost in March to Navy. (OK, we all know the 7-foot reason for that.) He has lost in March to places that charm us for their wee-ness or semi-anonymity: Vermont, Richmond, Rhode Island, Bradley, Butler, Tulsa, Western Kentucky, UNC-Charlotte with Maxwell. He has lost in March to storied football schools: Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Florida State, Clemson. He has lost in March to basketball mastodons: Kentucky, Indiana, Duke, Kansas, Michigan State. He has lost in March to Arkansas when it towered over the game, to Virginia just after Ralph Sampson graduated, to Minnesota one of the times it bobbed into sight, to Iowa when it reached its only Final Four, to Missouri, to Georgia Tech, to Illinois, to Oklahoma State, to South Carolina, to Marquette.
He has lost in March to Penn, when Penn reached a Final Four, in basketball prehistory.
He has lost in March to a kaleidoscopic 32 different schools, only two of them as much as twice: Ohio State and Massachusetts.
Now, think of all that losing, and think of all the angst fans dredge up over losing, all that moaning, all that hurling of objects and dialing of radio stations. Think of all that pain, all that disappointment, all the calls for dismissal, 37 years. Now for a full reading of the rue, multiply it. Multiply it again if you want.
Now, think about the man who hurdled all of that.
In 1996, Boeheim said, "I only think about the losses. People say I'm not happy, which is not exactly true, when we win. I'm not unhappy when we win. But I'm very unhappy when we lose."
On Wednesday night after win No. 903, Boeheim said, "I think about the losses too much."
Maybe that's not true. Maybe thinking about the losses lends the clearest view of the wins.