Oh What A Night!

March 7, 2007

On the eve of attending my 25th consecutive Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, I am sitting just across 7th Avenue, alone with my thoughts.

Still somewhat giddy from the magnitude and success of the recent 100th anniversary basketball weekend, I have not yet removed from my sport coat the staff tag issued for the Marquette game. C'mon, it was our centennial anniversary basketball game. I'll take it off when the curtain closes on the season -- hopefully four weeks from now. I don't care how silly it looks hanging off my blazer as I wander through the aisles of the Garden all week.

Last week, I hitched a ride on the plane with the hoop team to Syracuse. It was a homecoming of sorts. My family lived for many years in one of its suburban communities. My parents met while going to school there. I grew up rooting for the Orange -- still do when their opponent is not Georgetown. SU's greatest-ever coach, Roy D. Simmons, coached my father to the eastern collegiate heavyweight boxing title and later gave me my first lacrosse stick. Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little were among my boyhood heroes.

Crouse College: a Healy-esque landmark on the SU campus

An SU student landmark: the Varsity

Central NY Hoya basketball alums Bob Moses '58 and Denny Owen '51

Syracuse is home to one of my closest friends and teammate from Georgetown, Nick Midey '72, now the senior judge on the New York State Court of Claims. I spent my college summers there. I played lacrosse there. I studied for the bar exam there. I even enrolled for a year in the MBA program at Syracuse University. My early mentor as a Georgetown alumnus, Denny Owen '51, lives nearby. It's true, I go way back with the city of Syracuse and my roots there run deep.

In 1978, I watched future NFL stars Joe Morris and Art Monk put on a show in a Syracuse upset of the Naval Academy at the last football game ever played in venerable Archbold Stadium. That old concrete bowl was opened in 1907 with a gift of $600,000 from SU trustee and Standard Oil tycoon, John Archbold (whose daughter later built Hillandale and donated part of her land to establish Glover Archbold Park). This modern day coliseum subsequently gave way to a new facility, the Carrier Dome, home for Orange football, basketball, track and lacrosse teams.

And that brings me to the real reason I returned to Syracuse last week. In this year of the basketball centennial, I wanted to revisit Manley Field House -- just to remember. You see, I was there that January night 27 years ago, the night that the Hoyas took part in the last game the Orangemen played in Manley. For the entire week leading up to the game, the local papers speculated only on the margin of victory by the #3-ranked Orangemen, the outcome a foregone conclusion. Who could blame them? Half a generation had grown up without witnessing a defeat in the building. The Manley chapter of Syracuse basketball history would surely close with a resounding victory. The Hoyas, however, had an alternative outcome in mind: down 14 points at halftime, the Blue and Gray clawed their way back into the game and took the lead in the waning seconds for the first time in the contest for a 52-50 win. The exclamation point came with Coach John Thompson's post-game press conference declaration: "Manley Field House is officially closed!"

Manley Field House in the dead of winter

Inside Manley with seating retracted

Athletic administration and coaching offices are housed in the Roy D. Simmons Coaches Center connected to Manley

It was a defining moment, for Georgetown, for Hoya basketball, for the new Big East Conference, and yes, for Syracuse too. The biggest rivalry in eastern basketball was born that night and since then, the two schools have battled each other 75 times including eight overtime games. The Hoyas have won 36, the Orange 39. They have each won eight Big East regular season championships. Georgetown has captured six Big East tourney titles, Syracuse five. The Hoyas have played in 19 NCAA tournaments, the Orange in 22. Each school been to the NCAA championship game three times and each has captured one national championship. The teams could yet meet again in this year's Big East tournament.

Finally, that victory affected me in a real way as well. Throughout the 70's, when I would come home to central New York from Georgetown and tell neighbors where I went to school, the unknowing ones would ask "where is that?" The (seemingly) knowing ones would reply that they were not aware there was a school at that farming crossroads some 35 miles south of Syracuse - a pin prick on the map labeled Georgetown.

All this changed that one night in January. Thereafter, I would tell any Syracusan, without further explanation, that I had graduated from Georgetown.

And every one of them knew exactly where I had gone to school.



The SU hoop team now plays in front of a sea of orange inside the Dome, now dubbed the "loud-house"

Plans for the future: a new basketball practice facility


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