RTC asked its legion of correspondents, charlatans, sycophants, toadies and other hangers-on to send us their very favorite March Madness memory, something that had a visceral effect on who they are as a person and college basketball fan today. Not surprisingly, many of the submissions were excellent and if you’re not fired up reading them, then you need to head back over to PerezHilton for the rest of this month. We’ve chosen the sixteen best, and we’ll be counting them down over the next two weeks as we approach the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
We got two excellent submissions involving Syracuse, so we decided to throw both of them up in this memory (yeah, it’s cheating… take it up with our compliance dept.).
Syracuse, Finally (submitted by The Kiff)
Growing up in suburban Albany, NY, I have been a Syracuse basketball fan all of my life. Until 2003, that meant a life of never having had “my team” win the NCAA tournament – although it has meant heartbreak (see, e.g., 1987, 1996). That made 2003 all the more sweet. That year was my last year of law school in Virginia. My roommate and I decided on a whim that we would go to Vegas for the first week of the tournament – not an original idea, but still a great one. We got a flight on Southwest and a room at some crack den that has since been torn down called Bourbon Street. All I can say in justification is that we were poor students and that it was a 3-minute walk to Caesars Palace – and we weren’t killed. We got to Caesar’s Palace early Thursday morning, finding slot machines to sit at where we could watch the games, and just absorbing everything around us. While half of the screens in front of us were showing bombs of a different type in Iraq, we were largely focused on the upcoming games (and nervously wondering if there were going to be any). I remember my buddy telling me that I could get 40-1 on Syracuse winning it all. I laughed and told him he was crazy – Cuse never wins it all, they just make you think they can. Damn it.
On Friday, we found ourselves actually sitting next to a couple of big Cuse fans, which was perfect. All I remember about the first game against Manhattan is that they won – not convincingly, but they won. I also remember that my hands hurt like a bitch from all of the high-fiving, and that I could barely talk from all of the yelling. On Sunday afternoon the good seats in Caesars opened up, and we were sitting pretty right in front. Unfortunately, the game started out rough – Cuse went down big early on (a Google search shows me they went down 17 points – jesus!). My buddy and I were going insane that they might lose in the second round with that lineup (McNamara, Anthony, Warrick, Edelin) – although I remember being less stressed than this kid sitting in front of us who we were pretty sure had bet his entire college tuition on the game. In the Final Four game against Texas, my memory is that Carmelo Anthony scored about 95 points and Gerry McNamara was hitting 3-pointers from half court. And this. That may be the result of a faulty memory, but they definitely dominated. Finally, Syracuse was back in the Finals – they would be a major part of “One Shining Moment” – hopefully the best part.
This next part is a little embarrassing. Saturday night after the Final Four game, I had to go to an incoming-student event at the local pub. I spent the night drunk, chanting “Let’s Go Orange, Let’s Go!” (add clapping here) to anyone who would or would not listen. Now, I didn’t know my wife at that point, but when I later met her, and subsequently her friends, they knew me as the pathetically drunk dumbass in the [bar name redacted to protect the innocent] who had been screaming about “the Orange” all night. Alas, if they only knew how big it was to get into the Finals again. I couldn’t stand to watch the final game in a bar, so a buddy from school who is from the Syracuse area and is a bigger Cuse fan than me came over to my apartment and watched it with me. Needless to say, Hakim Warrick is a god to us. I have (almost) forgotten his missed free throws that almost killed us because the subsequent image of his diving block of the 3-pointer with no time on the clock is burned into my retinas. I have never been so happy watching a sporting event – except maybe the 1986 World Series, but I was too young to appreciate that one. If the Bills ever win a Super Bowl, I’ll have to revisit that statement, but for now, the 2003 Tournament, with my first trip to Vegas, the amazing games and Syracuse’s first Tourney win, will never be forgotten (note: the below video isn’t me, but it could have been).
The other memory involving the Orangemen didn’t quite go the same way…
Sorrentine… From the Parking Lot (submitted by Michael Hurley)
There is nothing greater in sports than March Madness. It does what high school basketball no longer accomplishes. Except for in Kentucky and Delaware, high school basketball breaks their state tournaments down into classes by size. The NCAA tournament pits the big schools against the small schools. Every team needs to win six games straight. It is the same concept regardless of the size of school. Yes, there is seeding which makes it easier for the bigger and higher seeded schools, but the fundamentals are still the same. This is what enables teams along the way to write their own story and provide memorable moments in single games.
It’s the 2005 NCAA tournament. Syracuse was 27-6 and a four seed going up against Vermont, a thirteen seed. The Big East had six teams qualify for the tournament while Vermont was America East’s only representative. Syracuse had just won the national championship only two years before and Vermont had never won an NCAA tournament game. It had all of the makings of a David vs. Goliath. Vermont played Syracuse tough though, holding them to 23 first half points and was only down four. The Catamounts started to believe and came out in the second half and sent the game into overtime.
In overtime the Catamounts found themselves down two points with just under two minutes remaining when Germain Mopa Njila, who had been playing the best game of his career, hit a three to give Vermont the lead. The next play down the court for Vermont T.J Sorrentine hits the shot I will always remember. Sorrentine runs the clock down before tossing up a three-pointer from what it seemed like, halfcourt. The television camera catches coach Tom Brennan’s reaction to the shot and it is priceless. Brennan, who had announced at the beginning of the year he was going to retire after nineteen years at Vermont, is jumping for joy. Even though Vermont got knocked out their very next game, their victory over Syracuse will always reside in my memory when it comes to slaying the giant. T.J Sorrentine’s shot truly is the sweetest moment I can remember from the NCAA tournament.