Georgetown vs. Syracuse. So many memories:
Hoyas coach John Thompson Jr. declaring “Manley Field House is officially closed” after a 1980 victory. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim getting on the public address system in 1982 to lecture the Orange fans to treat Georgetown center Patrick Ewing with respect. Pearl Washington beating the top-ranked and defending national champion Hoyas with a last-second shot in the Carrier Dome a year after Georgetown’s Michael Graham was “de-ejected” from the archrivals’ showdown in the final of the 1984 Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
There was Thompson’s three-technical game in 1990, Dave Johnson’s game-winner over Hoyas star Alonzo Mourning in the 1992 Big East final, Gerry McNamara beating the Hoyas for the defending national champion Orange with a buzzer-beater at Verizon Center in 2004 and Austin Freeman leading Georgetown to its first victory at Syracuse in nine years, a year ago this week.
All of this is a prelude to tonight’s renewal of the rivalry between the second-ranked Orange (23-1, 10-1 Big East) and the 12th-ranked Hoyas (18-4, 8-3) in what will surely be a packed house in the Dome.
This will be the 70th Georgetown-Syracuse game since the formation of the Big East in 1979 with the Orange holding a 36-33 advantage. A whopping 14 of those contests have come in the conference tournament. And for the record, the Hoyas are just 8-20 in the Dome.
Sadly, tonight’s game could well be the last for these teams as conference foes. That’s because Syracuse, like Georgetown, a founding member of the Big East 32 years ago, is leaving for the ACC, perhaps as soon as next season.
While Georgetown will continue to square off at least once a season with fellow longtime Big East foes Connecticut, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova, it’s the rivalry with Syracuse that has defined the conference. The intensity has always been a notch higher when the Hoyas and the Orange meet, in part because Boeheim has never left the Syracuse sideline and Thompson was succeeded by assistant Craig Esherick and then by John Thompson III, who was all of 13 when his father ignited the mutual hatred with his slam at Manley Field House.
While Georgetown’s fan base is somewhat fluid in a cosmopolitan city with so many entertainment options, in Syracuse, the city’s sports scene is ruled by Boeheim’s boys. Fans are born, raised and die bleeding Orange.
However, as the rivalry reaches its possible end tonight, very few of the guys in uniform have a true feel for its significance that such former greats as Sherman Douglas and Rony Seikaly of Syracuse and Reggie Williams and Othella Harrington of Georgetown did from playing in so many of the heated battles between the schools.
Only three current Georgetown players – guard Jason Clark, forward Hollis Thompson (no relation) and center Henry Sims – have been around for more than two Syracuse games and only five Orange players faced the Hoyas before last season.
And yet, it’s still Thompson vs. Boeheim and Georgetown vs. Syracuse and if this is their last meeting, as a former beat writer of both teams, I’m going to relish watching it.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March.