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Happy Anniversary Orange Nation

It still warms my heart to think about it.
It has been five years. For some it feels like an eternity. For me, I was just happy to be in school when it happened, and was able to share it with my friends and family. It seems pretty unbelievable still that I was in the Carrier Dome watching Syracuse win the National Championship in basketball. Everyone has a story. Here is mine.

I had watched the Road to the Final Four from many places my sophomore year. For the games in Boston I watched from my 7th floor dorm room in Dellplain Hall. I was at the games in Albany, New York courtside playing in the pep band. For the games in New Orleans I could not attend due to school obligations and other forces beyond my control. I accepted this fate and tried to make the best of it. I parlayed the fact that they had a pep rally at Manley for the departing team into getting my “Class and Politics” class canceled in favor of driving to Manley to see the team off. The professor was at the time the chair of the Political Science Department, Professor Jeff Stonecash, and an avid basketball fan himself. Thank you JStone. My colleagues also managed to get ADA Rick Trunfio, professor of my “Judicial Process” class to extend our ten page final paper another week because we all knew no one was going to be doing any work if Syracuse won on Saturday and/or Monday. So then it came to Saturday and the game versus Texas. I watched the game on a mostly uncomfortable, typically college apartment, couch on the corner of Livingston and Stratford in my friend Anthony, Jeff, and Marcus’ apartment. The game was an exciting one, with big dunks by Warrick, nice shots by Anthony and McNamara, and Jimmy B. guiding it all. The game to me now is a little more than an orange blur, probably due to the sheer euphoria of it, and a few adult beverages. Then the magical thing happened. As soon as we won, someone yelled “we have got to get to M Street.” So we poured out of that apartment, on a Livingston street that has quite a few “real people” living on it, as in not college students. The amazing thing that happened was that apparently every other college kid on the street, all of whom had been watching that game, ran out in the street as well, and literally we all just began hugging each other and jumping up and down. I hugged about 14 complete strangers that night. We than ran towards Euclid, still in the street, and about ten feet from the corner a Syracuse Police Department radio car pulls around the corner with the lights on, stops, and we hear “get out of the road or you are going to jail.” We immediately complied with the law enforcement professionals, and proceeded to run, on the sidewalk, to Marshall Street. Not on my account, but the trees along M Street paid a hefty price that night. There was such a sentiment of disbelief that night. I remember running into people I had not seen since freshman year. I remember thinking “so this is what it feels like to play for a National Championship.”

Monday came. I had class that day, but was a little too excited to really focus. There was a buzz and an energy on campus that somehow made it seem like the Maxwell Auditorium was vibrating. I remember I wanted to have a drink in the Carrier Dome during the game, but all I had was Amaretto and sour mix. Yes, I realize that is extremely terrible, but you have to realize I was under age and it was all I had access to. So you make do, I mixed, poured it into a bottle, and promptly hid it in my coat for transport to the Dome. We arrived early, just after the gates opened, awaiting a 9:00pm tip. I was seated in Section 103 about four rows from the railing. The Dome was in the football configuration for lacrosse games, so there were no extra bleachers, only that old Astroturf. They had big screens set up on about the 20 yard line facing the end zone and each side. For only having like 13,000 people, it was loud as hell. I was with some of my best friends not in New Orleans, and could not wait for the game to start. I, not having a basketball jersey at the time, actually wore a Syracuse baseball jersey. Syracuse currently still only has a club team, so I don’t even know why they sold them in stores, but I being a Syracuse and baseball fan got one. So I, like Barney Stinson, suited up! The first half was amazing. After six three point baskets from a tiny kid from Scranton, Syracuse was up 11 points at the break. I remember the “holy shit we are going to win this” feeling the entire Dome had. Syracuse continued to roll until Kansas started climbing back. Warrick missed some free throws, and that old feeling of “how will Syracuse blow this” started rolling back. I may have been only four when that ’87 team lost to Indiana, but I was well acquainted with the legend. Then, the biggest demon that ever haunted Syracuse basketball or Jim Boeheim was exorcised in one move. Hakim Warrick made the block of his life, sending the ball out of bounds, only giving Kansas time for one more shot. With the lead at three points, and I with my friends arm in arm, Kansas inbounded the ball, Kirk Hinrich shot and missed, Duany rebounded, and the game was over. Syracuse had just won the 2003 NCAA National Championship. The Dome erupts in massive cheers, people rush the floor, my friends and I all hug and we all jump up and down, holding up our fingers in the #1. I called my mom and dad and shared a moment with my father who was born in Syracuse, was a big fan that took me to my first game, and vividly remembers the 1987 game. It was a special moment that rarely comes along between a father and son because of sports. We then run, although we felt like we were floating, down to M Street again. This time riot police are present in full riot gear. People climb trees again, t-shirts are burned, and then, as if God was smiling because of the win, it began to snow over us. It was as if all of the bad feelings and missed opportunities were burned and were falling like ashes over us. My night was by no means over. Some bets had to be cashed in. Because of the win, I was witness to a couple of naked laps on Ackerman Avenue. Walking all over campus, every person had to acknowledge to each other that we had won. It could have happened with a conversation, or simply a “Go Orange”, or even just a woo. I still had that paper due a few days later, but that night I could have failed all my classes and it would not have mattered. Every member of Orange Nation felt satisfied and finally vindicated. None more so than probably Jim Boeheim himself. Either way, what was guaranteed was that Syracuse will be National Champions until they held another one, and that was the most thrilling thought for any fan of Syracuse. I dreamt of the great moments and great games I had watched all season, and knew that I was part of a once in a lifetime college experience and something I would never forget.

Everyone has a story. Everyone that is a fan remembers exactly where they were. This is one of a million stories. Hopefully you were able to enjoy the game, especially with friends or family. I hope you could wave your championship flag in someone face that is an annoying fan of another team. Perhaps you were able to use “unranked to #1” often in your daily vernacular. Either way, it was a great moment in Syracuse history and one that should be remembered fondly. Please, if you feel so inclined, leave a comment about where you were when we won the National Championship, or feel free to reminisce with me. This is what makes being a fan all worth it.

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2 Responses to “Happy Anniversary Orange Nation”

  1. # Blogger John

    As I witnessed the entirety of the Orangemen's (as they were called way back then) 2003 NCAA Tournament run live in person, I figured I should offer my own two cents.

    The first and second round games in Boston were basically the epitome of what the regular season had been; these were the Kardiac Kids -- they'd fall behind and have to crawl out of a hole to win it. I remember the morning before the second game we were scurrying around to check out of the hotel. Matt Glaude, founder of Orange::44 and current blogger at Hoya Suxa, had crashed in my room that weekend. He had already packed up and left for the game, and I noticed he had left behind a pair of socks. I put them in the pockets of my "Sitrus Kakhis" to give to him at the game. I didn't see him till after the game, and he refused to take them back, stating I had to keep them in my pockets for the rest of the Tourney -- that they had bestowed good luck upon this team. And in my pocket his stinky socks remained, through the National Championship.

    Carmelo Anthony had stated, prior to Selection Sunday, that if Syracuse was a #3 seed in the East regional, to book your tickets to New Orleans. That's because he knew that road would travel through Albany, thus giving Syracuse a Sweet 16 game and Elite 8 matchup practically in its backyard. And he was right. Though Albany was clearly the low-light of our Road to the Final Four (come on, Albany has nothing over Boston and New Orleans), we made the best of it. We took advantage of the 4am closing time of Albany bars, particularly the karaoke place across the street from our hotel. The games were much of the same -- keeping us on the edge of our seats till the final buzzer sounded. But when it was all over, we were cutting down the nets and trying to decide when the Athletic Department would send us band members down to New Orleans for the Final Four.

    If my memory serves me correctly, we departed on Friday morning. Our first night in New Orleans (after overcoming the delayed flight down there), we convinced our bus driver to drive us down to Bourbon Street from our hotel. Great idea. Didn't even think about the getting back part. So, a bunch of college kids loose on Bourbon Street... and of course, there's drinking involved, people flashing people for beads, you know, the usual. Eventually I get separated from my friends (but don't think to call their cell phones to find them) and it's late and I'm quite drunk, so I figure I'll just walk back to the hotel myself. Except I don't know where it is. I can't even spit out the name of the hotel. At some point, a couple of Syracuse fans see me caught up in some bushes outside a car repair garage trying to use my key card to get in. They recognize me as an SU fan (I'm wearing a Final Four shirt) and ask me where I'm staying. All I can relate to them is that I'm in the hotel where the band is staying. Well, thank God, so were they, and they took me back. Evidently all I kept saying was "I just wanna go to my room!" It was quite humorous seeing them again on Bourbon Street the next night - "hey, those are the guys that saved my life!" And from that day on, anytime I ran into Raymond (which has happened quite a few times) he always made be shout "I just wanna go to my room!" It's even his "favorite quote" on his facebook page! So this ends my "Bourbon Street knife fight" story, as it has come to be known.

    The National Semifinal game against Texas was so exciting! I was just happy to be in the Final Four, and happy to be in New Orleans... but after we won, and Marquette had been destroyed by Kansas in the other game, I discovered it was Marquette that was just "happy to be there." I'll never forget when Hakim Warrick dunked over the Texas defender in that game - what is now called the "Texas T-Bag Dunk." I know this, because I have a poster of it framed in my office at work, signed by Hak and Josh Pace, and Hak refers to it as the Texas T-Bag Dunk. My clients love that! On the bus ride back to the hotel from that win over Texas, the driver had the radio on. Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" came on, and I remember everyone on the bus -- band members, cheerleaders, and dance team -- all singing along. And then more Bourbon Street craziness ensued.

    The Championship game against Kansas on April 7, 2003 will go down in history as probably my greatest college experience. Socks still in my pocket and heart racing, Syracuse had a monster first half. Gerry McNamara was unconscious from beyond the arc, and it seemed as though Kansas had forgotten how to play. Yet, in the second half, that all started slipping away. My thoughts at halftime that "holy shit, we're gonna win this big!" turned into "Oh great, the Kardiac Kids are at it again!" Some big mistakes by Syracuse, with some great determination by Kansas, got the game to within 3 with mere seconds remaining. And then Hak blocked the shot. We've all seen it a million times, but it's just as amazing each time we see it as it was when we saw it happen live. The Superdome went absolutely nuts when that happened! I think the refs stopped play to take a look at the clock, so the electricity in there just kept rising and rising. But Syracuse wasn't out of the woods yet. The desperation shot at the buzzer was no good, and victory was ours!

    Being the end of the game, it was the band's job to play the fight song. I don't even know how we were able to play it, but with the excitement and the adrenaline, we played the fight song faster than it had ever been played. And we just kept playing, while the team, cheerleaders, and dance team spilled onto the court to get the free championship shirts and hats. I later had to go buy my own shirt. I still think that's BS.

    Bourbon Street that night was one huge Syracuse party. Almost everyone was wearing orange, starting "Let's Go Orange!" chants, and of course, singing the (in)famous "Hey Song" (aka SU's version of Rock 'N Roll Part 2 by Gary Glitter -- who is a sex offender). And then Jim Boeheim showed up, wearing that enormous orange hat, parading the team down Bourbon Street. It was an experience I don't think I'll ever forget!

    Hard to believe it's been 5 years already. Here's to hoping the team can re-create that magic next year!  

  2. # Blogger Cliff

    Oh, you like Barney Stinson, too? Man, he's awesome, isn't he? I idolize that guy so much that I wear suits in a bar along with one of my favorite yellow ties. Anything just to be like Barney! Anyway, I miss watching NCAA games. The last time I've watched was when Melo was still in Syracuse. =(  

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