On this day in 2003, nothing particularly important happened in Syracuse University basketball history.
Oh, wait, sorry, what I meant to say was: the single most important thing in Syracuse University basketball history took place on this date in 2003. That probably seems like a bold statement, and I’m sure there will be a few devil’s advocates who will argue the day the Carrier Dome opened, or the day we joined the Big East, or the day we hired Jim Boeheim as head coach, or something else like that, is actually the most important date in Syracuse University basketball history.
These are what we like to call “contrarians” and they should just shuffle off to Buffalo.
It’s kind of amazing when you think about it, that it’s already been 12 years since Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara, Hakim Warrick, Kueth Duany, and Craig Forth tipped things off against a senior laden Kansas Jayhawks team…and won. It’s not so much “amazing” as it is “slightly horrifying” to think it’s been so long since that means I graduated from Syracuse 12 years ago.
But that also leads to another pretty amazing thing, from a personal perspective. My family has orange blood running through every artery. My dad’s from Marcellus, and the bulk of my extended family still lives in Syracuse, or Baldwinsville, or Marcellus, or somewhere else around the area. Yet through all of the decades of cheering for the Orangemen, we’d never seen a basketball national championship.
There was plenty of heartbreak, and some near misses. The Keith Smart shot, the Lawrence Moten timeout (which, I know, was an early round game, but you get the point), that game against Kentucky in which I very much wanted to punch Tony Delk for racing in to take an uncontested layup to pad his stats while everyone else was beginning to shake hands at the end of the game. Honestly, I was starting to get resigned to the fact that I may never see a Syracuse basketball national championship. So the odds of what is still our only title coming my senior year at SU, while my only sibling, an equally diehard Orange fan, happened to be studying at SU Law at the same time? Well, it feels more than a little astronomical.
I was on Marshall Street following the wins over Texas in the Final Four and Kansas in the championship game. I’d have loved being down in New Orleans, and while I briefly held tickets in my hand (we had gone to the regional in Albany, and the guy sitting next to us offered to buy our Final Four tickets when we informed him we couldn’t go) I just had no way of getting down there. But honestly, as amazing as I’m sure it was to be down there for the championship, being in Syracuse was a pretty nice consolation.
Marshall Street was a mob scene on both nights. I have to be honest here, I don’t have much recollection of that Saturday night after beating Texas, other than winning the game, briefly heading to Marshall Street, and then heading back to my apartment on Euclid, where I stood on the stoop and chanted “Let’s go Orange!” at no one in particular for about half an hour straight. Monday is a little more clear in my memory, though. This time, we fought our way through Marshall Street, and right around the time we realized that even little sorority girls were shoving and throwing elbows in the middle of the crowd, we decided it might be a good time to find someplace close to the action, but not quite in the action. So we wound up at the bar in the Sheraton, and enjoyed celebratory drinks for a couple of hours while trying to convince ourselves that yes, Syracuse University was the champion of the college basketball world.
There are obviously a few things that stick out from the game itself, like Craig Forth scoring the first basket. That made me impossibly giddy, because my brother and I had always been staunch defenders of Forth whenever the idiots around us in the student section would start yelling obscenities or booing. I’ll keep defending him to this day, because people who badmouthed Forth don’t understand some of the nuances of the game to really appreciate the things he did for that team.
Obviously, Gerry McNamara’s first half barrage of three pointers is impossible to forget, in particular hitting a three right in front of the Kansas bench and watching the priceless reactions of the Jayhawks behind him, along with him pulling up from about 30 feet while Jim Nantz commented in incredulity. There was a transition jumper from Kueth Duany that made the building just about explode. There was an airballed three pointer from Kirk Hinrich from in front of the Syracuse bench. And by the way – doesn’t the fact that I haven’t even mentioned Carmelo speak to the fact that, contrary to popular opinion, this wasn’t a one-man team?
And obviously, there was The Block. Hakim Warrick recently wrote about The Block, and it’s kind of fun to see that he’s just as astonished by the ground he covered on as the rest of us are.
It’s not always easy to be a Syracuse basketball fan. Hell, look at the current landscape of Orange basketball now that the NCAA has issued some pretty steep and, frankly, unfair sanctions against the program. Look at some of the NIT seasons, or some of the frustrating ways we’ve lost over the years.
At least, you could look at the negative, particularly because that seems to be a favorite pastime of so many Syracuse fans. But even if you enjoy pessimism – and really, who doesn’t? – today at least, we need to think back on that national championship and walk around feeling like kings all over again.
Better yet, why not just re-watch the game? It’s not like you have work to do today, right?