Almost 25 years ago to the day, my father brought me and my siblings to Syracuse’s Hancock Airport to welcome the Syracuse
Orange Orangemen back from their trip to the NCAA championship game in New Orleans. I don’t remember much about being at the airport, but what I do remember is pretty vivid. It was a mob scene so I was up on my dad’s shoulders. As the players walked through the tunnel of fans it was visibly clear they were still upset about losing and really just wanted to get out of there. But from up on Dad’s shoulders I was eye to eye with Rony Seikaly and was able to get his autograph.
My Seikaly story isn’t all that special though. Growing up in Syracuse, everyone had a personal anecdote from a run-in with an SU athlete. Donovan McNabb accidentally spilled a beer on my brother at a bar. My friend turned a corner and ran face first into Otis Hill at Carousel Mall. And sadly, I’ve met more than one girl who claims to have a girlfriend whom Eric Devendorf has sent compromising cell phone pictures of himself to.
My story is different in that it is a perfect metaphor for my relationship with the team that has given me years worth of tiny heart attacks. What I’ve yet to mention about my Seikaly autograph is that the only thing I had for him to sign was the orange balloon I was holding at the time. So within a week my precious memorabilia had deflated and my new favorite thing was nothing more than a shriveled piece of orange rubber with black marker on it.
With ‘Cuse now eliminated from the tourney, I’ve had a chance to wipe my tears, curse my brackets, and collect my thoughts. And what I’ve realized is that despite their national ranking, their tournament seeding, their incredible talent, and my constant attempts to convince myself otherwise, this season’s balloon didn’t start deflating when Fab Melo was suspended for the second time just before the tourney started. There was a slow leak that started well before then, but we were all too psyched out by the winning streaks and national rankings to really put much thought into it. By no means am I saying that it was a bad season or anything less than a thrilling season to be a rabid fan of the Orange, but let’s be real, as fans there was always the sense of “we can beat anyone,” and rarely the sense of “we will definitely win this game.”
Obviously losing to Notre Dame was a wake up call that SU was beatable without Fab Melo, but when ‘Cuse played Georgetown with Melo is when I first thought, “How the hell have they not lost more than one game yet?” Despite all of Boeheim’s coaching experience and all of the individual talent on the team, they couldn’t run a play to save their lives. Actually, let me rephrase that. They just didn’t run plays, or move at all without the ball.
You know those magnetic boards coaches hold during time outs? The ones that look like tiny basketball courts? I pretty much used one of those as a toy when I was a kid. So maybe it’s the fact that I’m the son of a coach that I can pick up on x’s and o’s or the entire lack of them, but I’m still baffled at the fact that Boeheim was rarely able to get the team to run an offense that consisted of anything more than a failed high-screen followed by a pass to a guard at the 3-line who would shoot or pass it back.
There were definitely highlight reel moments a-plenty. But outside of fast breaks, moments of team greatness were only from time to time. For the most part it was four guys standing and waiting for the player with the ball to drive or shoot. I spent most of the season sounding more like a Marky Mark or a Reel 2 Real fan than a basketball fan. “Come on, swing it!” and “Move!” were repeatedly yelled from my couch and likely the reason that my wife and daughter took 2 hour walks when ‘Cuse was on.
I won’t go as far as saying that Syracuse should have won against OSU. But they definitely could have, and possibly would have if there was a bit more consistency with the whistle. Or maybe they were just destined to lose to another Big 10 school in red 25 years after “the shot.” Who can say for sure?
But regardless of why it happened, there was definitely disappointment in the outcome. I can’t say that I was truly surprised though. Even when I was seven I knew that deep down “my Seikaly balloon would eventually deflate.” I can’t complain too much though, because that kind of season has a much better ring than, “damnit, another Devendorf cock shot!” We’ve had those seasons too.
by Sean Murphy