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The moment no Syracuse fan will every forget.
April 7, 2003 was the day it finally happened. Syracuse earned their first NCAA Tournament Championship. Syracuse fans, former players, and alumni everywhere could finally rejoice and celebrate the Orangemen finally winning the big one, and finally put to rest the ghosts of Kieth Smart and Indiana in 1987. Again, John and I were apart with him getting a first hand experience of Syracuse winning, while I was on campus in the Carrier Dome, watching with hundreds of other Syracuse fans and my friends that were still on campus. John and I look back on the night magic happened for Syracuse 15 years ago.

As this was a Monday, I had class that day. I remember being very excited and probably not paying very much attention in my classes. I probably just read the D.O. in Maxwell Auditorium (I don't remember my schedule that semester but I assume I had a Monday class that was in Maxwell Aud.), counting down the hours until tip time. I decided early that day that since some of my friends were watching in the Carrier Dome that I would go buy a ticket. If you recall, I was under 21 at the time. And I wanted to be able to have a few drinks during the game. However, while the security at the Carrier Dome was a little looser than it is today, I still would not be able to just carry in a 30 rack of beer, nor was I of age to do that. The only booze I could find in my dorm room (DellPlain 7 baby!) was Amaretto, and the only mixer I had was sour mix. So I grabbed some Tupperware, filled that sucker up, and hid it in the deepest coat pocket you've ever seen between the liner. I went to the Dome, booze in my coat, and waited for the game to start. It did, and then Gerry McNamara decided to hit all of the three pointers. We got more and more excited, without relaxing because we knew there would be an entire second half coming. The Dome was also buzzing with a lot of excitement, but 1987 was in the back of the minds of a lot of people. We all knew Kansas wasn't going away. Syracuse let the game get tight. Hakim Warrick missed some free throws down the stretch (I've seen it before), and finally, Kansas was within three with the ball and able to tie the game. At least Syracuse wasn't going to lose on a last second shot. Kansas passed the ball around and Keith Langford took a shot from the corner. He was pretty open. But Hakim Warrick wasn't going to let him have a free shot to tie the game. His huge wingspan allowed the shot to be blocked. As we learned, it's not how tall it's how long, and Hakim Warrick got a piece of it. We started to get very excited. It seemed like Syracuse couldn't be denied. Then the clock ran out, Kueth Duany grabbed the ball, and Syracuse was the Champion. The team hit the court in a pile. People hopped the railing in the Dome and were running all over the turf celebrating and hugging each other. I was hugging my friends. I called my parents and it might have been a little dusty in the Dome that night. We then ran down to M Street again, and "rioted". Syracuse PD was prepared with riot cops this night. No one did anything. the only casualties were a t-shirt someone lit on fire, and a few more tree branches not taken on Saturday night. We didn't want the world to end, so we went to our friend's house on Ackerman to party for just a little bit longer. We were feeling pretty good, because my one male friend did a naked bottomless lap on Ackerman, and a female friend did a topless lap on Ackerman. Yes, it was snowing. It took a while to go to sleep. No school work was attempted. And luckily all of my professors knew so they kindly gave extensions. While we appreciated it, we wouldn't have cared. It was pure magic. And nothing was going to dampen the celebration. It was a night we wouldn't ever forget. And 15 years later, it's hard to believe we were in school for it. It wasn't New Orleans, but it was still pretty special.

As you know if you read my post about the Final Four game against Texas, I was in New Orleans with the Sour Sitrus Society for the Final Four. After celebrating the Texas win down on Bourbon Street (and making it back to the hotel safely), we were just biding time until Monday, April 7, 2003. Awaiting us was the Kansas Jayhawks. We had seen what they did to Marquette the other night, and quite frankly, had no idea what to expect. The band was escorted to a warm-up area inside the Superdome where we played a few songs and tuned our instruments (well, to the extent that we tried), and were then escorted out to the floor and to our area behind the basket. We were set up at the Syracuse bench end of the court, which meant Syracuse was scoring baskets at the opposite end for the first half. So as Gerry McNamara went on his three-point cascade, we had to see it from the length of the court. Well, I mean, some of them seemed like they were shot from mid-court, so I have to believe that Gerry did that just to allow Sitrus to get a closer view. As the Syracuse lead continues to grow, our adrenaline skyrockets. When we get a chance to play songs during time outs (and sometimes you can hear this on the TV broadcast) I think we're playing these songs several ticks faster than usual. We had to alternate playing the media timeouts with Kansas, and got to play during Syracuse-called timeouts. So if you ever wondered why Brian & I know the under-16/12/8/4 timeouts, as well as the 30 ----> full, it's because getting ready to play at those marks just became ingrained in us playing in the band. So the halftime lead for Syracuse was 53-42, and we're going freaking nuts. We had a pretty standard halftime setlist, kicking things off with Espana, and probably with some favorites like Road to the Final Four, Sell Out, Championship (Championsheeeeep?), Mississippi Mud, you know, all the Sitrus classics you grew to love that they don't play anymore. I honestly don't remember halftime. I just remember going through everything and thinking "Holy shit, is Syracuse actually going to win a National Championship in my presence?" Obviously, the second half developed much differently from the first. Syracuse was scoring at our end, which was nice (well, when they were actually scoring), and Kansas was cawing their way back at the other end. Much of the second half saw Carmelo Anthony sitting on the bench with a sore back, which made Josh Pace's performance that much more impressive and important to maintaining the lead. Credit also goes to Kueth Duany, who scored when the team really needed him; and also Craig Forth, who was a great presence down low and had the presence of mind to go right up to the basket with the ball when he got it (which is what any tall center should do, TBH). At any rate, Syracuse was holding onto a 81-78 lead down the stretch, and Hakim Warrick was fouled with 13.5 seconds grabbing a rebound under Kansas's basket. Syracuse is in the double bonus at this point, and Hak can likely put the game out of reach from Kansas by just hitting both free throws. He gets the ball at the foul line, the rest of the team is back, and Sitrus (and probably all of Orange Nation) puts their arms up, ready to swoosh the ball through the net. But the ball rims out. My heart is pounding, but hey, Hak just needs to make the second shot and Syracuse is up by four -- a two possession game. Arms up again. Another rim out. With no coverage from Syracuse, Kansas grabs the rebound and races the ball up the court, as Hak runs back. Syracuse got into its 2-3 zone, but some good passing around the top of the arc moves the zone around to where, as Lee gets the ball in the corner, there's not a defender there. Hak was virtually under the basket at this point, but sees Lee wide open with the ball, ready to put it up and potentially tie the game with a three. He somehow teleports himself close enough that with his crazy long wingspan and a perfectly timed jump, he's able to make The Block. The Block. A lot of my memory of The Block was been painted by the video, by the photos, all that. But I saw it in person. Unfortunately, it was at the opposite end of the court, so we did get a great view of it. And quite frankly, I don't think we knew or appreciated just how amazing The Block was at that point. There was a lot of confusion. Was there any time left on the clock? If so, how much? Whose ball was it? Again, with no replays in the Superdome, we were kind of in the dark as to it all. While the officials checked the monitor for timing and all that stuff, Sitrus is playing the fight song. At warp speed. Followed by the "Let's Go Orange" chant that seemingly everyone except those Jayhawk fans were yelling. They were still waiting to do their Rock Chalk Jayhawk chant (which they didn't get to do!!!!!). So anyway, 1.5 goes back on the clock, Kansas inbounds the ball, gets it to Heinrick who puts up a shot at the buzzer, which is too long, falls into the hands of Kueth Duany, and SYRACUSE IS YOUR NATIONAL CHAMPIONS! The Syracuse team collapses into a celebratory heap near mid-court. Sitrus plays the fight song at an even faster warp speed (we're probably at mach-5 by now). I literally have no idea how I was even able to play at that point. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run onto the court (like the cheerleaders and dance team did). I wanted to jump up and down. We were hugging & high-5ing each other. I don't know how any of us played. It was just truly amazing. We stayed around for the trophy presentation, and One Shining Moment. We didn't get our own natty championship swag, but like you and me and everyone else we went out and bought some. Eventually we had to leave, so we loaded onto the bus, changed at the hotel, and went back down to Bourbon Street. It was a sea of orange! Literally just one big Syracuse celebratory party. I can't imagine that Bourbon Street is typically this crowded on a Monday night. So many "Let's Go Orange" chants up & down the French Quarter. So many performances of the Hey Song. So much drinking. The team eventually made their way out as well, even Jim Boeheim, who had acquired that iconic orange hat by then and wore it up & down Bourbon Street like the pimp he was. I was doing my best to, uh, help some people get certain beads. It was like a scavenger hunt! A lot of fun. I don't remember getting much, if any, sleep, and we had to load the bus to get to the airport for our flight back pretty early. After a delay because a certain band member had been cavorting with a certain basketball player a little too long, we finally went wheels up and were back in Syracuse by early afternoon. But Syracuse had finally won its first National Championship, and I was there. April 7, 2003 goes down as the best day in my college career.

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2 Responses to “15 Years Later: Remembering Syracuse vs. Kansas in the 2003 National Championship”

  1. # Blogger JaRube

    Honored to be there with you, buddy. --"Male Friend"  

  2. # Blogger dono jono
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