Opening weekend of the tournament has come and gone. In four days the field has been narrowed from 64 to 16. This was one of the best opening weekends in recent memory for hoops fans. Stephen Curry’s run is going down as one for the ages. Tennessee and UCLA survived legitimate scares. And Gyno…..we love you buddy.
It’s hard to believe but we’re coming up on the 5 year anniversary of my generation’s greatest moment in Syracuse University history: "The Block", 81-78, National Champions, One Shining Moment. All of those words hold a special place in the hearts of Orange fans.
To me the 2003 tournament run goes down as the single greatest sporting event I’ve been fortunate to be part of. Road trips to Boston and Albany were capped off with Final Four partying at one of the Idiots’ favorite Armory Square gin mills. It’s a true sign you’re getting old when 5 years doesn’t really seem that long ago. Collectively it was the greatest three weeks of my life as a sports fan. For those of you who have never hit the road for NCAA Tournament games, you are missing one of the great environments and scenes in the sporting world.
Selection Sunday 2003: Syracuse fans learn that their road to New Orleans would be I-90. Boston and Albany were the destinations. Early in the week the Russianator gave me a call: he had tickets to the Boston regional. We tried like hell to get fellow idiot Boss to come up to join us, but something about work kept getting in the way. Thursday night I made the fun trip down the NYS Thruway meeting up with the Russianator in Albany. Ready to go, we woke up the next morning and powered by McGriddles and Foo Fighters started the journey east. One particular song was getting us fired up, the Foo’s “All My Life.” The lyrics just seemed appropriate for a Cuse tournament run:
All my life I've been searching for somethin'
Somethin' never comes, never leads to nuthin'
Nothin' satisfies, but I'm gettin' close
Closer to the prize at the end of the rope
A few rest stops later we rolled into Chowda City. We strategically stayed at the Government Center Holiday Inn. First, it was a short walk to the then-named Fleet Center. Second, it was a short stumble to our night-time destination: Faneuil Hall.
The street outside the Fleet became a sea of fans wearing their teams’ gear. This was the first year of “pod play” so we ran into fans of Pitt, Indiana, and Penn. Due to Boss being unable to meet up with us, Russianator had some extra tickets to unload. No one, and I mean no one scalps tickets below face value like the Russianator. Seriously, I love the guy but he’ll never make it as a ticket broker.
First up in our crosshairs: Manhattan, led by the fiery Bobby Gonzalez. Now growing up attending games at the Carrier Dome there is one thing we take for granted: the ability to buy an overpriced draft beer while watching hoops. To our disappointment Russianator and I quickly learned what we had previously read was true: no alcohol sales at official NCAA sponsored events. Damn Puritan country.
Blatant celebrity name dropping: as we found our ways to our seats, we passed ESPN analyst Dr. Jack Ramsey on our way in and quickly spotted Boston columnist Bob Ryan at courtside. The latter, by the way, was wearing a REALLY bad shirt.
Final: Syracuse 76, Manhattan 65.
There’s only so many Diet Pepsi’s you can suck down during an afternoon of hoops. After the game, we beat the crowd into a watering whole across the street from the arena. We actually bonded with a few Boston College fans (FULL DISCLOSURE: this was pre-ACC fiasco) who admittedly were pulling for Syracuse as a fellow Big East school (insert Alannis Morrisette "Ironic" sound clip here).
The plan was to grab a few drinks, maybe some eats and then head back into the Fleet Center for the nightcap of hoops. My friends, every once in a while the stars align and the gods smile upon you. We’ve all met “characters” while out at a bar. Well we were about to hit the goldmine. While ordering up another round of adult beverages a guy approached us at the bar complimenting Syracuse. Our Cuse gear gave us away, but screw it…on an NCAA road trip you have to break out the gear.
He introduced himself as “Wally.” For the next couple of hours we were trading rounds, and talking about hoops. The beverages continued to flow. We learned that Wally owned a “truck leasing” company in Boston and after enough shots we even agreed to meet up with Wally and his wife SheWally this summer in Saratoga to bet on some ponies. More shots and beers were poured down our collective throats.
At the time the Russianator and I were both single and unattached. So naturally we hit up Wally for some tips on where to work the ladies this weekend. A conversation to this effect ensued:
Champ: “Wally, where can we go this weekend to meet some ladies?”
Wally: “You guys want to pay for it?”
Followed by more AWKWARD SILENCE
Russianator: “Sure let us know.” I love the Russianator, he’ll always say what everyone in our group is a thinking but too afraid to admit.
Wally: “What you guys want to do is head down to the pier. Take a cab. Slip the cabbie a hondo and tell him to hang out for a while until you take care of business.”
LOOK OF ABSOLUTE HORROR on our faces.
Champ and Russianator: “Uhmmmm, thanks Wally.”
Wally is a trooper. We loved the guy. Five years later he still ranks #1 on the Idiots’ “Characters We’ve Met in Bars” list. And trust me, we’ve spent way too much time in bars over the years.
Sometime after cocktail number……screw it, I can’t remember…..we realized we had better head back over to catch the night games. And then it hit us--- those games were being showed on TV, they had already started. Battlefield decision time….we go with staying in the bar.
Somehow we managed to stumble our way back to the hotel, hitting a Burger King on the way home for dinner, since we never got to the “grab something to eat before the night games” part of our plan . Fine dining in Chowda City. And no we didn’t make it to the piers at any point during the weekend. Sorry Wally.
We woke up the next day with raging hangovers. How better to take care of it? Grease. A quick lunch at Hooters would precede a trip to pick up our Sunday tickets. Note to self: when construction workers come in and POUND beers on their lunch break, be afraid of Boston construction sites. I see why that Big Dig tunnel ceiling collapsed a few years ago.
That afternoon we decided to catch some Saturday games on TV. We found, what appeared to be a casual little sports-pub, Hurricane O’Reilly's within walking distance of our hotel and accordingly stopped in for some hoops and hops. We watched the epic Gonzaga-Arizona game and continued to enjoy plenty of spirits, including trying several of the house signature “hurricanes.” We were about to witness a transformation before our eyes.
The dinner crowd began to slowly make it’s way out. Tables were being moved. A velvet rope was being set up outside. Our initial reaction? Head to the bar.
The place was quickly transformed into an all out dance club. It was like the Seinfeld episode where George went to Forbidden City that was really a meat packing plant. Not exactly our scene, but when in Rome the Idiots will be Romans.
Massive amounts of beverages later, last call arrived and the Idiots were on their way.
Sunday morning, bring on the Cowboys of Oklahoma State. Unfortunately we were also dealing with 2 massive hangovers brought on upon by our usual stupidity.
The first half was an absolute disaster. Cuse was getting out played, outmuscled and beaten bady. BOSS was text messaging me every minute as he was stuck in ACC land and had no access to the Orange broadcast.
Now attending a sporting event hungover is tough enough. But having to deal with an absolute JERK next to you the whole time is just icing on the cake. This clown sitting next to me was a Cuse fan. But not just any Cuse fan. He was “I’m going to scream at the refs the whole game Cuse fan.” The guy literally screamed at the top of his lungs the entire game. I am not making this up. I don’t know if you’ve ever met him, but you’re not missing much if you haven’t.
This guy really thought the refs could hear him and was convinced he had them scared enough to change their calls. An added bonus at one point this guy was ranting worse than when George Costanza lost the T-Bone nickname at work, and he ended up hitting me square in the face.
I really and I mean really wanted to give this guy a WWF-like finishing move and lay a steel chair across his mug. Thoughts of spending the night in a Boston jail discouraged me from pulling a Jake the Snake Roberts on this clown.
Well you know the rest of the game story, Gerry did his Willis Reed imitation, Jeremy McNeil took care of business at the end of the press and refs absolutely swallowed their whistles.
FINAL: Cuse 68 Cowpokes 56.
Everything was falling into place. The next weekend we were headed to Albany, home of the Russianator.
Cue up the Foo Fighters and we’re headed back West on I-90. It’s Sweet 16 time.
Next: Part II: Albany