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The quintessential moment of the game.
It's been 15 years to the day that Syracuse played Texas for the right to advance to the 2003 National Championship. So tonight Orange::44 pays tribute to the game leading up to the game we will never forget. Both John and I were in very different places, but we both had pretty great experiences watching this game. We'll take you back to April of 2003, on the faithful night no one that watches college basketball would ever not know Carmelo Anthony or how hard someone could dunk.

I was a sophomore at the time. While I was in the Pep Band and got to go to Syracuse's Sweet 16 and Elite 8 wins in Albany that year, I didn't have enough points (allegedly) to get to go on the trip to New Orleans. I had a chance at tickets, but due to some personal obligations, I couldn't make the car/plane ride down. I was in Syracuse to watch the game. And being under 21 at the time, my only choice, really, was to go to a friend's house and watch the game. The Sour Sitrus Society only travels 30 band members by rule, and at the time we had tickets for 96 members for each men's game. But there were about 200 or so members. Which meant a lot of us were in the same boat, stuck in Syracuse to watch the game. But with good friends, there are worse situations to be in. I was invited to the corner of Livingston and Stratford. 2nd Floor. Maybe a dozen of us. We had some friends that lived further down Livingston that also joined us. We had plenty of beers, and some good food by college kid standards. And a pretty large, standard definition television. I remember being nervous for the game, but I'm never as nervous at home as I am if I'm actually there, so I was pretty calm. While Syracuse seemed to have the lead from the jump, they never really pulled away. Carmelo kept putting the ball in the bucket. And then, or course, we all remember what happened when Hakim Warrick headed to the basket with authority. Royal Ivey sadly found out the hard way that you can't stop something with that amount of force. However, in one of the most unusual plays you will ever see, the officials counted the basket, but called a charge on Warrick. Either way, that's 2 points that were earned, and to whatever photographer was smart enough to click at the exact right moment, congrats and thank you. The picture above will live forever in the hearts and minds of Syracuse fans. "The Block" is #1 for Warrick, but this was #2. I remember the whole room yelled out when it happened. I think it was at that point, that was assumed Syracuse was going to win. The game really wasn't that tight over the last couple minutes. But none of us wanted to move, or leave the room, or say anything that would jinx the game. Syracuse held on, we all yelled out as the clock hit 0:00. And without talking about it ahead of time, or planning it in any way, we all just ran down the stairs and outside. And for some unexplained reason that still is a mystery to me today, it happened on Livingston with every house full of students watching the game. And we all just started hugging each other. I remember hugging about 15 strangers and just jumping up and down with everyone in the middle of Livingston. And then someone just shouted "we gotta get down to M Street". So we all just started moving to Euclid so we could make the trek down. We got to about 20 feet before the end of the street before a SPD police cruiser pulled into the street and with their bullhorn shouted "GET OUT OF THE STREET". So we waived and moved onto the sidewalk for an orderly march down to Marshall Street. We made it. We "rioted" by just hugging everyone and watching people try and climb trees. No one smashed anything and no one did any real damage, save for a couple tree branches that couldn't handle the weight of even the skinniest college freshman. And it was amazing. Not as amazing as what Monday would become, but we didn't know that then. This was college. We were lucky that we were there and our team made it to the National Championship. I imagine it wouldn't have felt too much different from the kids there in 1987 or 1996. But it was our time, and we were there. It actually happened. Syracuse made it to the National Championship and I was in school for it. Next to many of my friends who also couldn't believe it. I called my parents, and specifically my Dad who grew up watching Syracuse games and was actually born in Syracuse. We shared a moment that could only be topped by winning it all. There were only two teams left, and Syracuse was one of them. I think we then left to drink the night away, with a less enthusiastic but still very electric walk back to the other side of campus. But it was one of those Saturdays in college that you can never forget. We knew we were lucky to have had it. And we knew that it was rare. Anthony had put up 33 points for his career high in college, and it was truly the night he became a Syracuse Legend. Hakim Warrick would follow up his big moment with an even bigger one, but for now we talked about how Ivey was owned... forever. The beers flowed heavy that night my friends. It was truly special.

I have unique memories of the 2003 Final Four, because I was lucky enough to be in New Orleans with the Sour Sitrus Society. Brian wasn't. But that's another story. We flew in on a charter on Friday morning. Our flight was very much delayed, because the plane we were flying in on had to come from (Boston I think?) and because of weather, didn't leave there when it was supposed to. So, we had some quality time at Hancock. But we eventually got to New Orleans and once checked into the hotel, convinced the charter bus to bring us to Bourbon Street. A smarter John Brennan would have paid closer attention to the route from hotel to Bourbon, but I was 21 and wide-eyed and had other certain things on my mind. Miraculously, and with the help of some great Syracuse fans, later that night I made it back, repeating that "I just wanna go to my room!" Again, another story for another day, if you've never heard it. But the next day was game day, and I needed to get my sh*t together. A pregame pep rally at the hotel conference room really psyched us all up for the game. I remember Coach Mike Hopkins taking to the podium -- probably at the height of adrenaline in his life -- bragging about his "hot wife" and how we could beat Texas. I remember Kenneth "Buzz" Shaw, the greatest Chancellor Syracuse has ever had, taking the podium and showing us the Texas "horns" hand sign -- and then flipping them over and saying "Hook 'em and Cook 'em!" Whatever fogginess I had from the night before had dissipated. Had I gotten my sh*t together? And that I did. The bus dropped off the band at the Superdome, we went in, and were brought to our seats courtside. The first game was Kansas vs. Marquette, so we sat there and watched that one while anticipation built. The Golden Eagles had Tom Crean at the helm, and Dwyane Wade at guard, but stood no match for Kansas. That game was out of reach in the first several minutes. I think I spent that entire game just taking it all in -- the Superdome, the Final Four -- I had been to New Orleans my senior year of high school, but I was 21 now and it was totally different, and the enormity of everything seemed to fall on me during that first national semifinal. So after the Kansas blowout of Marquette, there was the 30-minute gap between games, and Syracuse came out to warm up and prepare for its game against Texas. By now it wasn't a secret that for the Orangemen to win the title, that road would take them through the heart of the Big 12. Texas tonight, and then Kansas on Monday if things fell the right way. Sitrus played our normal pregame, and the teams were ready to tip. In all honesty, I don't remember much of the game. I mean, I do, but in the 15 years since, I've seen the TV previews, the media pictures, and all that -- and it sort of rewrites your own personal memories of the event. You all know that the most memorable moment from that game was Hakim Warrick dunking on Royal Ivey -- which has been memorialized in a picture-turned-poster in my office signed by Hak as the "Texas TBag Dunk" (see below). At the time, I remember it being a monster dunk, but didn't really think much of it -- probably because they didn't show replays in the Superdome so I didn't know just how epic it was. Plus -- and this is probably lost to time -- Hak was called for an offensive foul. It was one of those rare calls where the basket counted but the offensive foul was called. But really, who remembers that? Certainly not the poster in my office! Syracuse, as we all know, won that game 95-84. Carmelo Anthony was a beast, and had his best game of the Tournament with a career high 33 points. That effort probably wrecked his back more than he realized, as he struggled during Monday's title game, but we'll let that slide. After the game, the band, cheerleaders, and dance team filed back onto our charter bus back to the hotel. On the bus, Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" came on the radio. For whatever reason, we were all so high on good feelings that we did the best and most memorable singalong I've been a part of. Literally every time I hear that song, my mind goes right back to that bus in New Orleans. I'm not mad about it. So yeah, Saturday, April 5, 2003 was a pretty, pretty, pretty good day. Beautiful, you might say.

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