Monday, March 18, 2013

Saying so long to the Big East is difficult

As I'm sure you may have heard by now, the Big East as we know it is no longer. Sure, there will still be a Big East, but it feels like the days of the conference's dominance closed with the doors of Madison Square Garden Saturday night.

Seeing those memories end is especially hard for me personally growing up a Syracuse fan. One of my earliest memories is watching Ryan Blackwell sink St. John's in the semis in 1998.

 I don't remember anything else about that team or that season but watching Ryan Blackwell's shot in the corner and seeing those guys pile up after the win will always be with me.

That would be the first of so many more memories. I remember skipping an afternoon class when a fortunate class cancellation in 2006 allowed me to watch an on-the-wrong-side-of-the-bubble Orange squad led by an "overrated" senior play Cincinnati. I remember whipping my bright orange hat at my 9-inch TV after a stupid foul in the closing seconds. And I remember yelping louder than Bill Raftery when Gerry McNamara's running 3-pointer fell and a group of guys running out into the hall and celebrating.

Of course, that was just the start. I remember him doing it again against Connecticut, feeding Eric Devendorf for the game-winner against Georgetown and I remember the Orange beating Pittsburgh and McNamara donning the "Overrated?!!" shirt after his triumph. Fittingly, ESPN's theme for the tourney was "Remember the Name," which will always be referred to as "Gerry McNamara's Music" in my neck of the woods.

That was the most memorable tournament but the Syracuse-UConn matchup three years later was my most memorable game. Eric Devendorf (why do so many of my Big East memories revolve around Devo?) appeared to cap a regulation thriller with a miraculous 3-pointer, jumped on the scorers table and ultimately had his shot waved off. Nearly one full game, several missed UConn buzzer-beaters, what felt like at least 20 Paul Harris missed layups and a memorable appearance by walk-on Justin Thomas later the Orange had a victory in the wee hours of the morning. 


I'll remember the shock I felt when I found out my parents were still awake when it ended, as well as making it in to work by 7:00 the next morning. Perhaps what I'll remember most is discussing the game with complete strangers at the gas station. I'm not the easiest person to get along with at 6:30 a.m. with a full night's sleep so it's usually pretty bad when I don't get half a night's sleep. But this morning was different and I wasn't alone.

Certainly, there were other memorable teams, games and names over the years, Kemba Walker and Kevin Pittsnogle being two of my favorites (names, of course).

The biggest constant throughout the years was at the end of every Syracuse run my dad would say "one year, I'd love to make it down for the Big East tournament." Every year he said it and every year I thought I'd be there with him. Not anymore.

Sure, there will probably be some magical moments for Syracuse in the ACC tournament but will Dad say someday I hope to get down to Greensboro for this tournament? Will I want to go with him? Will we find someplace to eat that isn't Denny's?

For now nobody knows, but I'm sure it will never have the same mystique as MSG on a mid-March Saturday night.


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