I muttered "scholarship in action" and grabbed two six-dollar bottles of cheap Riesling from the Liquor City rack. My cohort Ben and I decide to put our hard work in 'beer and wine appreciation' class into motion. Also, we each had barely enough money saved up to make it to and from Storrs, possibly eat something over the next two days, and for me, buy my game ticket. Ben's cousin is a UConn student who gave him his ticket for free. He wasn't as generous towards a strange Syracuse fan. A few six-dollar bottles of wine should prove to be a strong investment.
"There's a cheap gas station off the first exit once we pass into Mass." I trusted Ben, the Massachusetts resident, on this one. Gas in Syracuse is really expensive, nearing $3.90 a gallon, so I'd only put in half a tank. We left Liquor City around 4:15 and hopped right on the highway.
We passed through Albany, my gas gauge rapidly depleting, and we both began to panic. Ben turned on the GPS to try to find the gas station, but it's didn't show up. We crossed the border, and I nearly drove the wrong way through the EZ-Pass...it was dark and I struggle to pay attention to important details while I'm nervous and driving, it's not my best trait. We pulled off the highway at the first chance and found a gas station, with about 12 miles to spare before my tank would have been completely empty. $3.95 a gallon. We'll deal.
We quickly sliced through Massachusetts and into Connecticut, and about four hours and fifteen minutes after leaving Syracuse, we turned onto Hunting Lodge Road- a dark, twisting road that makes up most of UConn's off-campus housing. I described it to Ben as their rough equivalent of Euclid Avenue in Syracuse. "Are we anywhere near campus? Nothing about this looks like a college..."
I pulled into a lot outside a familiar white apartment complex and enter door number six. As a lifelong Connecticut resident, I have no shortage of friends at Storrs. Around 450 kids graduated with me at Stamford High School, and at least a hundred ended up at UConn Storrs, or our local branch in Stamford. Two of my good friends from home, Perry and Noel, are roommates, and we'd be staying at their apartment for the weekend. Neither of them are particularly big sports fans either, so there was no real conflict as Ben and I ran around flaunting as much orange as possible during the weekend.
After some quick pre-gaming, six of us squeezed into Noel's car to head over to campus for a friend's birthday party in a campus suite. It's only a five minute car ride, but Perry didn't enjoy riding on some girl's lap in the passenger seat, and hopped out at a stop sign to catch a bus, which we would later discover didn't stop anywhere near our destination.
We walked into the party, and were quickly introduced to everyone by Noel as his "friends from Syracuse". A group of girls came up to us and inform us that our schools happen to be playing each other in basketball the next night. I fought off the urge to act surprised. Instead, I asked her to get me a drink.
We played the requisite drink games- beer pong, flip cup and the like- and do the whole "I don't really know many people here so I'm gonna stand around listening in on conversations that might sound interesting" thing. The party died down as everyone split off to find bigger events, and we made our way back to Hunting Lodge. Perry had gotten a text about a party near his apartment, so we decided to stop by.
We entered the house, and quickly realized that everyone in the party is wearing plaid. Over a hundred kids... Perry texted a friend to ask what the theme was. "Lumberjack party". We left almost immediately; our non-plaid attire stuck out like a sore, plain thumb. After a few episodes of Archer and about half of the movie Snatch on Netflix, we all passed out.
I woke up to a crowing rooster, and rolled over to check the time on my phone. '11:10'. College Gameday started at 9...yeah, we missed it. Ben, Perry and I decided to take a drive through campus to check things out, pick up my ticket, and stop by the Student Union. As we passed Gampel, Ben stuck his head out the window and started screaming "Let's Go Orange". The crowd flipped us a flock of birds and a wave of boos drowned out the car radio. "Skipping Gameday might not have been a bad idea". Outside one of their major academic buildings someone painted a fancy rock signifying the day's game. In 21 years of Connecticut residency, I've never seen UConn abbreviated as UC, nor have I known one of the school's colors to be yellow, but I'll give them an A for effort, or something.
As Perry exchanged his computer charger, which had died a few days earlier, Ben and I found a rack of random college apparel. Really random.
We left the Union to the same chorus that greeted us, and went off to grab some food and wait out the long nine hours until tip-off. Around 6:30, we began to put away the remainder of the wine while watching more Archer (I had just started the show the week before, it makes EDSBS all the more enjoyable).
At 7:30 we left the apartment to spend some time at the campus bars before the game. We first try Ted's, which is wall-to-wall with people, so we move over to the uniquely-named 'Huskies'. As soon as Ben and I walk into the bar, we're greeted with asshole chants, fingers, and any number of insults. The crowd in Huskies actually skewed a bit older, and it seemed like townies (in Storrs? Who knew?) outnumbered the students. We only have time for one drink before we head down the hill to Gampel.
Entering the game was definitely the roughest portion of the trip from the road fan's perspective. Bernie Fine jokes (most of which amounted to people just yelling a combination of 'Bernie Fine' and 'pedophile' as loud as possible) were aplenty. They didn't seem to know that Fine hadn't actually been charged with a crime (when we asked what he had been charged with, the best answer was "whatever they charged Michael Jackson with"), or that he had been fired months ago, but those are really just ancillary details anyway.
Our seats were in section 220, about even with the three-point line...very nice seats. This was my first time since I was in middle school. It's much smaller than the Dome, but it is definitely a good place to watch a game. The fans around us were all quite gracious, which was a nice change from the kids we had encountered on the way in.
The UConn student section was at full energy all game. It reminded me a lot of the 2010 game at the Dome against Georgetown, where we fell behind 14-0 to start the game. The Dome was about as loud as I'd ever heard it, and really willed the Orange back into it. Gampel was absolutely electric, even despite the large Syracuse lead at the half. I was even impressed by their flash mob in person, although it was definitely cheesy.
I'll save most of my game analysis for the final regular season Boeheimeter after Saturday's Louisville game, but a couple things stood out. The reffing was pretty bad all game (hi Burr), but I think that we were definitely the beneficiary for once, especially in the first half. I am completely on-board with the "Syracuse winning close games at the end bodes well for the NCAA tournament" theory. I wanted nothing more than to blow out UConn, but I'll take a win any way we can get it, especially in an environment like that. Hostile doesn't begin to describe Gampel last Saturday. The fact that we ran a final play for CJ, as opposed to Scoop or Dion who are the usual guys in that situation, says volumes about Coach's trust in him. CJ wasn't even having one of his better games, but he put the ball on the rim and in the position for the team to take the lead. Fab also came up huge, and while it was close, I think it was a clean putback. On the last play, CJ probably fouled Roscoe Smith, but on the last play of a game like that you need to go up strong with the ball. Kudos to the refs for letting the teams play at the end and decide the game on the court.
We walked over to section 223 after the game and found a number of Syracuse fans, including TNIAAM's own Pinker and HoyaSuxa, and spent a few minutes discussing the game and the atmosphere. We then left Gampel to meet Perry and Noel at the third and final UConn bar, The Thirsty Dog. Thirsty's was definitely my favorite of the three, and was even better with a victory in tow. There were a decent amount of Syracuse fans out celebrating as well, although many of them wore clothes over their SU stuff to avoid scrutiny, which I felt was unnecessary. After a handful of PBR tall boys and the ever-crappy Keystone from the tap (remember, we were broke), we returned to the apartment for a good night's sleep before our trip home.
I spent a night in Storrs after our football loss to UConn earlier in the year, but this trip was far superior for a number of reasons. More than anything, it even heightened my appreciation for the Syracuse-UConn rivalry. While Georgetown will always be the main rival, it would be a shame if conference expansion ends our series with UConn. If the ACC comes by to poach another northeastern team in the next few years, I would much rather they choose the Huskies than most other teams, because the games I've watched our schools play over the last four years have been special. In the words of Wes Mantooth,"from deep down in my stomach, with every inch of me, I pure, straight hate you. But goddammit, do I respect you..."