This week, the TNIAAM crew has taken a look back at Syracuse's previous Final Four appearances. I took a look at the 1975 team, Jared wrote about the 1987 squad and Jeremy remembered watching the 1996 group.
Today we look back at the 2003 team, perhaps the most magical of all because they're the ones who won the National Championship. Unlike the previous incarnations, this team is unique in that most everyone on the site was either a student or a fan or an alum of Syracuse at that point. So everyone has their own memory and appreciation of the spectacle.
I asked various TNIAAM folks to chime in with their memory of the team or one of the Final Four games or anything else they think of when they think of the 2003 National Champion Syracuse Orange(men). Share your memories in the comments below...
I was there, man. New Orleans, that is; not 'Nam. That fact doesn't mean that I remember much from the trip, though. In fact, I only vividly remember a few things:
- Before the Texas game, we were drinking at some place on Bourbon Street. The bar had a patio in the back and we were out there -- enduring an afternoon storm if I remember correctly -- talking to some Texas fans. I was apparently pretty abrasive with one, who thought I was going to be impressed that he went to Cornell for something. Whatever. I theoretically put my balls on his face, Hakim Warrick did it functionally just a few hours later.
- I remember drinking at Pat O'Briens and breaking up a fight with Sean McDonough. That was weird.
- I remember Billy Edelin doing shots at some place we were at on Bourbon Street after Syracuse won the title. That wasn't weird.
- I remember giving both Jim Boeheim and Pittsburgh's Ontario Lett -- who was a huge human being -- a high-five on Bourbon Street after the championship. I have no idea why Lett was there, but whatever.
- I remember, after the championship, trading my "Real Men Wear Orange" shirt -- which probably hadn't been washed for four years -- to a bartender at Pat O'Briens for a hurricane. It was either that or get the shirt hung up in the Smithsonian, and free booze won that battle.
I'm sure there's other stuff, too, but those were the highlights. What is noticeably absent is that I have zero recollection of the games. We were in the building for both the semifinal and final (we got tickets through Marquette; that was neat), and there's just a void there. I have an idea of where we were sitting -- in the upper tier on the baseline side where Warrick would make his block -- but I can barely tell you what happened in those games. I have only a halfway decent memory of the championship as I finally watched video of it, for the first time, before the Seton Hall game this year. I did not see myself on television, so I am kind of disappointed. But I was there, man.
Two things stick out in my mind from our crowning moment.
First, my own pre-game health regimen. You see, back in 1996, I had tickets to the Final between SU and Kentucky at The Meadowlands. Spirits were high as I woke up on that Monday morning, yet following a lunch that consisted of a dodgy West Village tuna fish sandwich,, I started to feel ill. Like a gamer, I tried to honor my contract, but by the time I arrived at the game 60 minutes before tipoff, the only thing I was honoring was the mens' room toilet. I found my way to the infirmary inside the arena, and proceeded to wretch violently with food poisoning the entire game. Never saw a second of the game (and haven't to this day). Fast forward to 2003, and I spent the 48 hours prior to tipoff boiling drinking water, bathing in hand sanitizer, and basically avoiding anything that could possibly cause salmonella.
Second, I just remember feeling terrified at halftime with an 11 point lead...We had just basically shot the lights out, yet Kansas made a mini-run to close the half was still very much in the game. The law of averages had me feeling that we couldn't possibly keep up the scoring pace, and sure enough, the second half was a sphincter-tightening affair. The Warrick swat and final buzzer were pure magic, and I remember staying up into the early hours of Tuesday morning just watching ESPN News play the highlights over and over, as if it were a dream...
A weird sense of confidence mixed with worry; that's how I remember feeling after Selection Sunday, 2003. I was confident that Syracuse was talented enough to get back to New Orleans -- and win it all.
I was worried, though, that the Orange, a group relying on a lot of youth, would sleep walk through its early game against Manhattan, or that it would underestimate a team like Oklahoma State.
That game against the Cowboys is one I'll never forget about that run, too. Down 17, the Ok. State bench just falling over itself, thinking it was over. But obviously it wasn't, and when it was, with Syracuse moving to Albany and the Sweet 16, I lost the worry -- I was 100% confident.
Of course that didn't change the surreal feeling of actually seeing Jim Boeheim and Syracuse players cutting down the nets. Making up for 1987 and '96. In watching it all, I had to call my dad, a fellow long sufferer, and, without saying hello, ask if that really just happened.
But the real long-lasting impact? How that title changed my perspective. I had always wanted to see SU win, but I don't think I ever really let myself go down the road; what would it really be like? But honestly, it changed things, how I watch and react. I obviously still live and die, but I always, we all always, have the Hakim Block, the McNamara Threes, the Melo Domination, and Boeheim's goofy bat. Things are still different for me...for the better.
But I do have to add that this run, while not like '96 to me, does remind me a little of '03. Texas then was tough, Michigan now is tough. But unlike Kentucky then, should SU advance to the title game, Louisville (although it does fell like the Cards tourney to lose) is beatable for the Orange. It's there for the taking, and after '03, it's all a little like icing on the cake.
Man, is it bad that I don't remember much detail about the 2003 Final Four? Despite being a student at SU at the time, I wasn't blind drunk the whole weekend or anything. It was just such a blur of, "OMG, we made it to the Final Four!" to, "ZOMG, we just won the championship!"
I remember when the Tournament started that year, I picked Oklahoma. My reasoning was that every title team had that one guy who wouldn't let the team lose. And, in the few years leading up to 2003, it had been true. In 2000, Michigan State won it behind Mateen Cleaves and his sprained ankle. Shane Battier capped a fabulous career with a title and MOP honors in 2001. Maryland had Juan Dixon in 2002. So, to me, "that guy" was Hollis Price from Oklahoma. He had the heart of a champion, as it were. Clearly, I was wrong.
The next thing I clearly remember was the national semi-final game against Texas and The Dunk. Royal Ivey was supposed to be Texas' lock-down defender, but, as we all know, ended up eating Hakim Warrick's scrotum instead. I remember thinking that Syracuse didn't have the size to match up with a huge Longhorns team. They had Brent Buckman and Jason Klotz and a couple other guys who, while not necessarily good, were huge. I figured that, between TJ Ford slicing and dicing the zone, and Texas' bigs working the offensive glass, Syracuse didn't have much of a chance. Clearly, I was wrong.
Then, the title game. They set up the projector screens in the Dome, so I watched the game there. I remember G-Mac's six threes in the first half. I remember Carmelo putting on a clinic. I don't remember KU being so terrible from the FT line (something I've only recently come to see looking back at the box score). And, of course, I remember The Block. I remember thinking of all the times I've watched Final Four games in the past and when CBS cuts to a shot of the students watching the game as they go nuts when their team wins. When Hak swatted Lee's shot out of bounds I remember thinking that, somewhere in that mass of humanity shrouded in the darkness of the Dome, CBS was showing me losing my shit along with everyone else.
Post game is just a blur. Again, not because I was impaired at all, but because it was so surreal. It was as if every student in the University had gathered on Marshal Street. You could hear the roar of the celebration far and wide. My aunt and uncle live on Garfield Avenue, maybe a 5 minute drive from M Street, and they could hear the celebration at their house.
I can't say I've been a part of many championship celebrations. I don't really follow any professional teams, so I don't get overly excited if this or that team wins the Super Bowl or the NBA finals or the Stanley Cup. And, Syracuse only has the one title in my lifetime (LAX doesn't count. Sorry). But I feel like that's how it goes. You don't remember the whole thing. You're to busy soaking up the experience to really catch every little detail. I find myself wondering how it'll feel when Syracuse wins the title this year. Will I jump up and down line an idiot (I did when they beat Louisville at the Yum! Center)? Or will I just give a silent fist pump and haul my ass to bed since it'll be close to midnight and I have work in the morning. Only two more W's until I find out.
The 2002-2003 season was a strange one for me as a Syracuse basketball fan.
I was living and working in Knoxville, Tennessee, which is a great city but not exactly a basketball hotbed. Well, women's basketball maybe, but men's college hoops is a definite third banana behind King Football and ladies' hoops. Growing up in Central New York I was used to seeing most SU games on TV each season, so it was a culture shock to have to find a sports bar to catch the Orange on satellite TV. But it was totally worth it.
Watching from afar, I remember being impressed with the development of Carmelo Anthony from phenom to superstar in the span of only about 30 games. I remember his debut at MSG vs. Memphis. I remember Billy Edelin sitting out for playing in a church league or some crap like that. I remember the win over Missouri, because a co-worker of mine was a Mizzou alum and we went back and forth for days over who has the better basketball team - and journalism school. I remember Hakim Warrick starting to show off the dunking ability that would be come his signature over the next two years. I remember the Michigan State game, perhaps the most exciting regular season contest I have ever watched. I remember Syracuse winning the unofficial Big 12 title by beating five of their best programs. I remember Royal Ivey's face in Warrick's crotch. And of course I remember the Kansas game, which SU and Jim Boeheim finally broke through and I stayed up long into the night talking on the phone to anyone and everyone back home.
They say you'll always remember your first. I'll always remember the 2003 national championship season for the reasons mentioned above, and many more.
I was living in Manhattan Beach, CA at the time (the southern, beachy tip of LA) and my go-to bar, Sharkeez, was just around the corner. Sharkeez was a necessary evil to me.