Syracuse. Indiana. 1987.
You just had a visceral reaction and I'm willing to bet it wasn't pleasant.
Maybe it was a curse word. Maybe it was a certain person's name coupled with a curse word. Maybe you just got that feeling like someone kicked you in the testicles/ovaries. Whatever it was, I'm sure you're not smiling.
I asked the TNIAAM crew to share what the mention of "Syracuse, Indiana, 1987" conjures up for them. And as you probably figured out by now, it wasn't very fun. Some of us watched it as die-hard SU fans. Some of us watched it before we were SU fans. Some of us were too young to watch it live but have seen the evidence. All of us are angry.
Let's wallow in pain together as we start hoping the 2013 version of the Syracuse Orange can get a modicum of vengeance.
I was eight when this game was played and I was literally just started watching college basketball in the weeks prior (as far as I remember). i wasn't rooting for Syracuse yet and I can't tell you if I watched the game or not, I honestly don't remember. So I can only react to it as a latter-day Syracuse fan (since 1996).
When Keith Smart's shot fell, the clock expired and Indiana defeated Syracuse to win the '87 National Title. And despite the fact that Jim Boeheim or Bob Knight had zero control or input into what was happening, their legacies were intertwined and somewhat defined that night.
As it stands, Bobby Knight would win his third title while Boeheim would have to wait 16 years for his one and only. In the meantime, Boeheim would continue to hold on to the stigma that he couldn't win the big one.
If Smart's shot clangs off the rim, think about how different things are. Boeheim has two National Titles. He's considered among the best coaches of all time instead of being on the outside of that discussion. And perhaps, Syracuse is at another level in college basketball, the one Duke and Kentucky call home.
To me, that's the pain of Keith Smart's shot. He didn't just end Syracuse's national title hopes in 1987. He single-handidly changed the course of the entire program. And while we've done quite well for ourselves since, there's always that nagging feeling that we could have been that much better.
And it's 100% Keith Smart's fault we're not.
I've said my peace elsewhere, but this Facebook status update from a friend sums it up:
"I was only 7, but even I know that Keith Smart is an asshole." - Russell Williams, Syracuse fan, TNIAAM reader and wordsmith.
While I was not yet alive when this game took place (born less than a year later), I still manage to hold animosity toward the game's immediate and long-term results. The 1987 final's last play -- a fluke, mind you -- somehow fueled a narrative for Syracuse and Jim Boeheim as choke artists, one which the media still holds on to dearly despite the 2003 title. It created a permanent animosity for Indiana amongst most SU fans (despite how few times we play the Hoosiers).
And most of all, it made Keith "F@!&ing" Smart (yes, that is his actual middle name) arguably the most hated figure in Syracuse sports lore. Coaching the Golden State Warriors 23 years later, he still earned loud boos from me prior to all five games I attended in-person during the 2010-11 season, and again, when he returned to Oracle Arena as coach of the Sacramento Kings during the following year. It didn't matter that I got weird looks from the surrounding fans. As a Syracuse fan, I believed it to be my duty to let him know I'd never forget that play. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way.
The 1987 Final was the first college basketball game I ever watched and one of the first major sporting events I can remember watching. Being a burgeoning sports fan back then was tough. My family lived in a non-sports city at the time, we were poor, had no cable, and just one shitty little tube with a crank dial and no remote. Laying on our shag-carpeted living room, I decided to root for Syracuse because I heard they were from "New York" and I assumed this was the same Manhattan, New York I had been born in. (Twenty-six years later, grown sports pundits still believe this fact is true.)
I like to think I watched til the buzzer, but that surely couldn't have been true--I was only eight-years-old. Though, the next morning, after realizing Syracuse had indeed lost, I was oddly distraught. Nowadays, now that I'm 34 and games are starting after 10 PM E.S.T., staying up til the final buzzer is equally hard, but I've been managing to make it. I'm still distraught like a little child over season-ending losses, but at least a lot drunker to handle them.
I vaguely remember Keith Smart's shot, but honestly I've chosen to ignore every single replay since. Actually, it's not so much my memory of 1987 as much as it is everyone else telling me about that night Syracuse lost to Indiana. I've been told I was despondent - refusing to believe what I saw actually happened. Failing to believe that the bad guys won and the good guys lost.
At five years old, I guess I didn't know basketball wasn't a TV show like the Smurfs, but more like actual life -- where nothing is guaranteed. How could a team that made it so far, that accomplished so much, lose...like that? How could Bobby Knight, evil personified, be a champion?
My family tells me I didn't accept the outcome very well. I believe them, I guess. Yet, I have more vivid memories of the win over Providence in the Final Four (This Rick Pitino character seems like a good enough coach. And boy he really loves his wife.) And since then, losses like Sherman Douglas' last game or the Richmond debacle left more lasting impressions. In a lot of ways it's like 1987 didn't happen for my memory. I was so young and things like Twitter and Pardon the Interruption weren't around. So escaping Syracuse v. Indiana back then was pretty easy -- especially in Kindergarten! Still, it's Smart's shot, and Steve Alford's shots, and Syracuse's waiting FOREVER to call timeout in the final seconds, that made the 2003 title all the more sweeter.
Keith Smart will always represent all the bad rolled into one, And whether you remember it or not, whether you were even born, Indiana's win is in the fabric of every Orange man and woman. Every and all Syracuse triumph since is in some way revenge on 1987, you know, assuming 1987 actually happened.
I'm among those who's too young to really remember Keith F*cking Smart. I was 5 at the time. And, to be honest with you, I didn't even know Syracuse played IU in the '87 final until I came to Syracuse as a student. I've been a fan of SU since I was eight years old, but only to the point of wearing my SU hat just about every day. I didn't grow up in or around Syracuse. None of my family were SU fans, even though my aunt and uncle went there and lived about five minutes from campus. We didn't have TV when I was growing up, so I couldn't really follow the Orange(men) there. And this was in the days of dial-up, so following sports on the Internet wasn't nearly as common as it is now. To me, Keith F*cking Smart is more an Internet meme bandied about by SU fans than an actual person or event.
So, when I think of 1987, it's in the context of legacies and what could have been. Bob Knight has less wins than Jim Boeheim and only a two more championships, yet no one would argue that Knight isn't an all-time great coach. If Keith F*cking Smart doesn't hit that shot whilst falling out of bounds, Knight and Boehiem are tied and two 'chips apiece with Jim B putting distance between Bobby and himself when it comes to total Ws. Really, the only thing Knight accomplished that Jim B likely never will is an undefeated season. That shot in '87 is a tipping point. It's the difference between the general perception of Boeheim as an all-timer and as a really good coach who rode a lottery pick to a championship.