This week’s ASE’s Pick of the Week feature is dedicated to the Big East, and more specifically the Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry. Tonight, the two will clash for one last time as Big East rivals. Next season, Syracuse will be part of the ACC, and Georgetown will be part of the Catholic Seven, or the new Big East, which I’m having difficulty accepting. Regardless of whether the Big East name lives on, the new conference, made up DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova will never be able to uphold the tradition built over the past three decades. Keeping the name adds insult to injury to millions of us true Big East fans that are casualties of this gut-wrenching divorce.
As I say farewell, I still reflect upon how easily it was to render a college basketball powerhouse and Big East mainstay like Syracuse impotent, lacking the muscle to put up a good fight, at least for the sake of the fans. Yet, it’s become more and more evident that the allure of football money is like the big joker in a game of spades, all-powering. No one stands a chance when that card is tossed out. No one.
Also, I can’t help but acknowledge the absence of UConn in all of this. It’s the end of the Big East as we know it, and UConn wasn’t even invited to the final dance due to academic problems. Another punch to the gut.
I can lament about the tragedy of conference realignment all day, but it’s more fun to celebrate what was, rather than what will never be, so let’s do that.
To commemorate the great Syracuse-Georgetown rivalry, The Washington Post recently published an oral history of the thirty year rivalry. Coaches Jim Boeheim, John Thompson Jr. and III, Mike Tirico, Mike Wilbon, Gerry McNamara, Lawrence Moten, and many others share their fondest memories of the bitter and brilliant rivalry. The piece is divided into four chapters: Manley Field House is Officially Closed, The Roaring 80s, No Signs Cooling Off, and An Era Ends. It’s lengthy, but well worth the read, especially if you’re a Big East purest like myself.
Here are a few excerpts from the article:
Jim Boeheim on John Thompson, JohnThompson on Jim Boeheim…
Boeheim: You had two fairly young coaches that were trying to establish their programs as the best program. And you’re going to have moments and battles in those games that are going to get heated. We had those in those first years. At the end, it really mellowed. We came together, got to know each other off the court. And we became friends even at the end of the rivalry when we were still coaching.
Thompson: There’s a difference between competitive dislike and personal respect. Regardless of what I felt competitively, Jim Boeheim is a hell of a basketball coach. And that’s what made it better to dislike him. . . .
Let no doubt be about it: I have always respected their program and Jimmy. And I never could have admitted it — never would have admitted it. But you want a good opponent. That’s what you measure yourself by.
Shapland: If you ask a Syracuse fan about this game, he will refer to ‘Graham throwing a punch.’ If you ask a Georgetown fan, he will tell you to look at the Daily News photo of Patrick [Ewing] being punched in the groin by Pearl Washington.
On that time John Thompson received three technical fouls within 10 seconds and was ejected in the first half.
Boeheim:That was the most memorable game, I think, in the series. We had three Final Four referees working that game, great referees. . . . It was a call that really when you looked at it, I think it was the right call. It wasn’t an outrageous call. John had one official right next to him, and he just went after him, which you expect on a call. He got the technical. That official left. The second official came over to try to calm down, and he went after him and got the second technical. That ref left, and now the third guy comes over, and he got the third technical [for walking on court]. At the time, we were down five or six points. I think we got six free throws. That kind of put us in the lead. . . .Billy Owens was coming up the court, and they called a foul, which could have been a little questionable. . . . Billy had not shot the ball particularly well from the free throw line. You’re down two; you have to make both, or else you don’t get into overtime. He made ’em both. The overtime was spectacular basketball. We played great.
Thompson: That one loss haunts me today. . . . They threw me out of that game. . . . [The officials] were picking on me. . . .[Had we won it], I would have come out of that locker room and come right out on the floor. I was set for that! I said: ‘We got ’em! It’s [one second] to go! They’re at the far end of the court!’ Sam [Jefferson] was guarding him aggressively and happened to foul him. And then they end up winning the game. Had we won that game, guarantee you: Manley Field House statement wouldn’t have been nothing compared to what I would have said to ’em! Emotions were always very high, and that’s the beauty of it now when you look back at it. I don’t remember why I was mad [and drew the technicals]. I probably created something to be mad about, to tell you the truth. Michael Jordan and I had lot in common about that: I functioned better when I thought people didn’t like me than I did when I thought they did.
Donovan McNabb…the ringer???
Vinnie Perrone, former Georgetown beat writer for The Post and a producer of the 2013 documentary “The Bayou: D.C.’s Killer Joint”: Syracuse, which seemed to have an advantage inside, lost both its centers [in a 1997 game at the Carrier Dome, won by Syracuse]. They both fouled out. . . . Boeheim has no big men to insert, and so who comes in off the bench but Donovan McNabb? . . .Obviously I had known of McNabb through his quarterbacking Syracuse for his first couple seasons. I kind of expect this sort of lanky, languid, really athletic looking dude to come off the bench, and here comes McNabb, and he’s got these avocado biceps, this thick chest. . . .All he did inside was rather than jackhammer his way through, he became a scalpel. He dissected Georgetown inside. . . . I think he had totaled 13 points for the season up to that time, and he ends up with 10 points. He hit two big free throws with seconds left to seal the deal.
How John Thompson III resurrected the Syracuse/Georgetown rivalry…
Sean Keeley, proprietor of the Syracuse-based blog “Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician”: Few Syracuse fans would admit it but in the late ’90s and early 2000s, U-Conn. briefly replaced Georgetown as our most-hated rival. Around the end of the John Thompson Era and during the [Craig]e Esherick Era, the rivalry was still there but there wasn’t as much behind it. With Georgetown down and U-Conn. emerging as a Big East powerhouse, our games against the Huskies were the ones we saved our most passionate responses for. They just meant more. When John Thompson III took over, the rivalry came back with him. Obviously, being John Thompson had something to do with it, but it also didn’t hurt that both teams were playing meaningful basketball again.
Final thoughts on the end of an era…
Thompson:The thing that bothers me most is the lack of reaction by the fans. That bothers me more than anything. The fans should not have tolerated this. That’s the one time when I thought the Georgetown, the Villanova, the St. John’s, the Syracuse fans should have gotten together and said: ‘Hell no! This is not going to happen!
Boeheim:The Big East will be missed because it’s what we knew and what we grew up with and what made us. But it was time to move on. It’s just the way college athletics has evolved, really. The memories of Georgetown-Syracuse will last forever in people’s minds. People that have come to a Syracuse-Georgetown game will list that as one of the great events that they’ve ever been to.
John Reagan, Georgetown fan, creator of Hoyasaxa.com: [Former Big East commissioner] Dave Gavitt once said, ‘The Big East is not simply a league of convenience but one of commitment.’ Thanks to the TV networks, that is no longer the case. ESPN built up the Big East, and they helped tear it down. Rivalries are now disposable because of money — the same money that leads Maryland to drop 60 years of games with Duke for the likes of Minnesota and Purdue, or for West Virginia to fly 1,500 miles for a midweek game with Texas Tech instead of a bus trip to Pitt.
This 15-minute video also sums up the history between the two universities.
Don’t forget tonight’s matchup between ‘Cuse and Georgetown tips-off at 7PM/ET on ESPN. I’ll be watching and I hope you will too. My pick? HoyaSaxa! I want them to move onto the final, and take down Louisville.
Enjoy your weekend!