Hopes were high.
Stores were selling shirts, fast.
My dear wife Karen and I were up on the Syracuse University hill to catch the spring football game Saturday — more on that here tomorrow — so we ducked into a couple of stores on Marshall Street to see for ourselves what was hot. We walked out with one each for ourselves, wonderful daughter Elisabeth and significant George Three, and terrific son Daryl.
Inside the Carrier Dome, even more varieties were displayed, on the walls and on the fans. Karen and I wore versions we’d previously taken on our backs rooting for football squads past.
But knowing what was to come later, we made sure to soak in what the Orange squad of 2003 had accomplished in the Final Four in New Orleans, when freshmen Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara carried Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim to his national title.
Saturday night, we thought we were going to watch the game at our favorite Syracuse city neighborhood of Eastwood sports bar, Chadwick’s.
We headed out for the two-block drive an hour before game time. The parking lot behind the joint left us one spot in the back row. Yeah, many people had the same idea we did.
The bar was full. All the tables were full. We decided we did not want to stand and watch the game. When we returned to the lot, a driver in a circling car gratefully called out to reserve our spot.
We endured the 83-66 loss to Atlantic Coast Conference rival North Carolina in the Little Bitty.
Syracuse did itself proud, a No. 10 seed playing hard to the end against the only No. 1 seed that had made it to this Final Four in Houston. The Orange sure as heck played with more second-half juice and pride than Oklahoma, a No. 2 seed that fell by the rather astonishing score of 95-51 to fellow No. 2 Villanova in the previous semifinal.
I turned the widescreen off disappointed, yes, that this last second-half comeback effort could not overtake the too-talented Tar Heels. But my overriding emotion was pride, particularly for senior guard Trevor Cooney, who led the team with 22 points in his last Syracuse game. Cooney never gave up, visibly gassed in the final moments, but trying his best to the end. He’s the only Syracuse player ever to play in two Final Fours. Bravo, Mr. Cooney. Fellow senior Michael Gbinije finished his fantastic three years since transferring from Duke. Touché, Mr. Gbinije. Then there are the freshmen I think should return, flashy Malachi Richardson and sturdy Tyler Lydon. Good start, young men.
The next night we were rewarded with practically flawless play by the Orange women.
I’m so glad that I chose the shirt that honored both Syracuse teams that qualified for their respective Final Fours.
The women looked fabulous while defeating Washington, pulling away to a 80-59 win.
That almost matched the 80-51 pounding No. 1 Connecticut, the undisputed class of women’s college basketball, put on Oregon State in the opening game.
So now Syracuse and its gutsy and talented bunch — Brianna Butler, Brittney Sykes, Alexis Peterson, Condelia Fondren, the Day twins of Bria and Brianna, Taylor Ford, Isabella Slim and Maggie Morrison — must take on North Syracuse native Breanna Stewart and her UConn teammates tonight, with the national championship on the line.
Not many people are giving the Orange a chance. Connecticut is going for its fourth national title in a row for senior Stewart, after all.
But what an interesting story line it is.
If you watched either Final Four, which game impressed you most? Which player impressed you most? What do you think about this season overall?