The demise of the Big East was like a movie series pumping out sequels and prequels ruining what was a perfect masterpiece. Godfather III, meet the Big East that stretches from central New York to Wisconsin.
Or maybe it was more like a loved one battling an eventual fatal disease. What was once strong and proud was weak and withered; not an instant death, but one that slowly takes with time.
Okay, I apologize if that hits a cord for you. I am probably over the top here.
But, for me a ton of my Big East memories, watching Syracuse and Georgetown and St. John's and Pearl and Alonzo and Sealy, they aren't just games, they include the people I watched them with, too. And with time, I have kind of combined the old Big East with "the way things used to be" for me. And is there anything as comforting and at the same time as haunting as the way things used to be?
So many great times; so many things changed.
I remember watching the Orangemen taking on Boston College in the late 80's and pestering my dad with questions.
"Syracuse has 18 fouls?!"
"No, the announcer said '8 TEAM fouls,' Matt."
That one still makes me laugh and, inevitably, go down a wormhole of memories with my dad -- someone, a superhero to me, felled far too soon. The old Big East is a road trip in my mind with my dad.
But there are plenty of other people in the car with me.
Remember the time Syracuse played Seton Hall for the Big East championship in '93. Wheeewww, that game was UGLY. SU unable to play in the NCAA tournament because of rules violations, so the game with the Hall in the Garden became a de facto Big East/NCAA title game for the Orangemen. SU ended up getting rocked, with the game essentially being over in the first half. But what I remember is watching every last second with my to-this-day best friend Quinn, who never once complained about watching a 20/30 point slobber-knocker. He just sat and waited for it to be over before saying something like, "Welp, that sucked. Let's go do something fun."
So, needless to say, the Big East, the real Big East that faded many many years ago, is something special to me. And when this Requiem for the Big East, a 30 For 30 ESPN documentary, was announced, I knew it would be must-see T.V. I was excited at the thought of someone telling the story of the conference and retelling a big portion of my life. Two hours of reviewing and replaying some of the best sports-related moments in my lifetime? Yeah, count me in!
And then I watched it...and then I tweeted about it...
Listen, I love the Big East, I grew up with the Big East, but don't try to pretend that the Big East wasn't screwed from jump.— Matthew McClusky (@MatthewMcClusky) March 17, 2014
And then I tweeted some more about it...
The Big East was shortsighted and the basketball "only" schools were too proud to just concede some of the money.— Matthew McClusky (@MatthewMcClusky) March 17, 2014
And then I decided to give my official unsolicited review of Requiem For the Big East:
My Requiem For The Big East review: You'd have to be a child to believe that bullshit.— Matthew McClusky (@MatthewMcClusky) March 17, 2014
There were just so many flaws to me. Too many flaws.
I mean, the notion that the original Big East was a group of ragtag nobodies fighting against the world in 1980 is naive. And to gloss over how badly the Big East underestimated the role football played and would play is wrong. Oh, and what about the mid-90s when Connecticut basketball saved everyone's ass? Hello? The list goes on and on for me.
Did Mike Tranghese direct that thing?
It's not that I expected or wanted the creators of this documentary to rip apart the Big East, but I just felt that it came across as more fairy tale than reality, as a story interrupted. So I sat down and started typing a post about where Requiem for the Big East went off the rails, where it kind of betrayed the viewer by giving a fairly one-sided account of 30-plus years of complicated history.
But before I could hit "approve and publish," I received a few tweets and even more emails from friends, from strangers. All of whom wondered why I was trashing the documentary on Twitter. And while none of the tweets or emails were argumentative, they all essentially disagreed with my reaction and asked why I was so bitter sounding. Most of the exchanges acknowledged issues with Requiem, but pointed out how the documentary pointed that Syracuse, "our" team, was apart of something bigger than maybe any of us realized at the time, and for two hours ESPN paid homage to all of that history.
Huh. I guess that is true.
And at some point it hit me: the Big East's dying didn't just threaten all that I knew, my memories, it was about everyone's former way of life. It was a "loved one" to you all, too. I have my memories of watching games with my dad and my friends and my wife, which is probably just like you...and you...and you...and you. I can't explain how that relates to my anger with Requiem, but I do understand that the Big East wasn't exclusive to me.
That's not to say I can't write a column devoted to Requiem's issues. Which maybe I have done here in a passive aggressive way. But In all reality, being upset with the documentary probably had to do more with the fact that those highlights are really pieces of life stuffed in a closet in a box I'll never find, no matter how hard I look.
I don't know, but I do know I was happy watching Jim Boeheim throw chairs, yelling at John Thompson Jr. and laughing at Rollie Massimino's cartoon-like antics and Lou Carnesecca's anecdotes. Maybe ripping the piece is some defense mechanism for me here -- the story being told wrong means the story didn't really end, right?
Really, whatever ESPN put up on screen, I probably would have picked it apart. After all, it is someone else giving the eulogy for something, consisting of so many someones, that was near and dear to me...I mean, to all of us.
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