The universe has a funny sense of timing. I was a senior at Syracuse University during the 2002-2003 championship season, and let me tell you: for a lifelong, diehard fan of the Orange, there was no better time to be finishing up my time on the Hill. Everyone was swept up in not just Carmelo fever that year, but also the quickly growing legend of Gerry McNamara. As soon as he hit those six first half three pointers against Kansas, he vaulted to another stratosphere for SU fans. It was shortly after the championship that I returned to home to Pennsylvania, where my parents lived at the time, and discovered they’d gotten a new puppy. That little guy would quickly be named Gerry.
You’re probably wondering at least a little bit why I’m talking about this, and it goes back to that whole funny sense of timing from our old pal the universe. The little dog – a Springer Spaniel – came into my family at the apex of Syracuse fandom. And now, he’s on the verge of leaving us 12 years later, just as we’re hitting one of the lowest points in Syracuse basketball history.
I don’t think that’s hyperbole, either. Anytime a Syracuse basketball team fails to reach 20 wins – a near certainty at this point with a record of 15-8, eight games remaining, and games against Louisville, Notre Dame, Virginia, NC State, Pittsburgh, and two against Duke still on the docket – and a postseason ban is in place, that’s got to be considered an absolute low point. You’re just hilarious, universe, really.
Of course, the unfortunate thing about having a dog name Gerry is that everyone assumes it’s spelled Jerry, and because he’s a Springer, well, people got the wrong idea about where the name came from. No, I had to explain to them, he’s not named after a disgraced former mayor of Cincinnati who likes interviewing people who sleep with their sister’s midget hooker best friends. He’s named after a Syracuse icon, whose legacy is really unlike anything I’ve personally witnessed in Syracuse basketball history.
And I think that’s the thing that we need to remember about Gerry. I don’t remember ever seeing anything like the reaction he would get every time he took the floor in the Carrier Dome, or the legions of fans from both Syracuse and Scranton that would follow him on the road, booming choruses of “Ger-ry! Ger-ry! Ger-ry!” echoing throughout opposing venues.
I admit, I was always a little envious of McNamara because he was living out my dream. I’d always thought to myself, “Man, it would be great to be the 6-foot-2, Irish point guard for Syracuse, wearing number 3 and bombing away from downtown.” And I’m not making that up just because it fits Gerry. Well, except for the 6-foot-2 part. I’ve stood next to Gerry, and while I’m every bit of 6-foot-2, Gerry is, if I’m being generous, all of 5-foot-11. As for wearing the number three, yes, that ultra specific part that played out with Gerry is accurate as well, seeing as my favorite player of all-time at SU is Lazarus Sims, and three has been my favorite number ever since the 1996 Final Four run.
So you can see why it was especially easy for me to enjoy the championship vicariously through G-Mac, since he was quite literally living my own dream.
Everyone has their favorite Gerry moment. Most people will go with the first half performance against Kansas, or obviously, the Big East Tournament magic that forever cemented him as a college basketball legend. For me, one of my favorite moments came on January 13, 2003, in a non-conference game against Missouri in the Dome. It was a small moment, but every second of it was perfect, almost a microcosm of Gerry’s career – hitting a clutch shot that he shouldn’t have been able to get, and infuriating the opposing coach at the same time, all in a few seconds.
To this day I don’t know which part was better: McNamara actually hitting the shot, or watching Quin Snyder’s reaction on the sideline, clearly 100% certain of what was happening even without actually watching Gerry take the shot.
Syracuse has had plenty of legends pass through the program. Dave Bing, Louie and Bouie, Derrick Coleman, Sherman Douglas, Billy Owens, Lawrence Moten, John Wallace, Carmelo Anthony. But you’d be hard pressed to find a more singularly beloved figure in Orange history than Gerry McNamara.
We already knew he’d become a legend when that little puppy came racing through my parents’ kitchen and we christened him Gerry. Gerry – the Springer – isn’t doing very well right now. Chances are, he’s probably not going to make it out of this week before he’s got to be put down, thanks to a blockage in his intestines that’s keeping him from eating, along with the fact that the veterinarian told my parents that if they open him up to remove the blockage, they anticipate finding a tumor, as well.
It’s kind of amazing to think that it’s already been 12 years since one Gerry became a legend, and the other Gerry became part of my family. Today it just felt like a good day to get a little cathartic about both the state of Syracuse, and the fate of one of the best dogs we’ve ever had, and think back to happier times for both. My parents and Gerry live in the Boston area now, and my brother and my dad will be at the BC game tonight. Maybe they can bring a litttle bit of that Gerry magic to Chestnut Hill with them.
Here’s hoping that Gerry makes it through the weekend, and the Orange are able to beat Boston College and upset Duke. It’d be a hell of a lot more fitting if a great dog like Gerry could leave the world the way he came into it: with Syracuse riding a high, atop the college basketball world.