Monday’s national title game certainly had all the ingredients for dj vu. Syracuse University and coach Jim Boeheim were seeking their elusive first national championship on the same court where their dreams were shattered 16 years ago. Carmelo Anthony was Derrick Coleman, as he – like the star of the ’87 squad – missed a crucial free throw that could have sealed the title. Michael Lee assumed the role of Keith Smart, as he had a shot from the same spot with the same amount of time on the clock to keep the championship trophy away from Syracuse – at least for another five minutes.

This time, however the “helicopter,” as Hakim Warrick is nicknamed for his gigantic seven foot wingspan, swooped down and made sure that his coach wouldn’t be denied. As the shot flew out of bounds, 11,000 fans clad in a sea of orange at the Carrier Dome erupted in mass hysteria and sprinted out of SU’s home court to join the celebration on Marshall Street with their fellow students.

I watched the game at the dome with Darryl Slater, one of my friends from high school, who happens to be the assistant sports editor of the “Daily Orange” and a beat writer for the newly crowned national champions. Slater and members of his staff had printed out an insert – think “Dewey defeats Truman” – before the game with the headline “SU KO’S KU” and instructed me to hand out a thousand copies of it if Syracuse pulled off the upset. I dutifully responded and felt like a naked Britney Spears in the middle of Times Square – as hundreds of fans flocked to me in hopes of getting their hands on my goods. My stack of inserts was gone in less than two minutes.

Syracuse’s athletic teams haven’t given their fans much to celebrate about – unless you discount the accomplishments of the worthy lacrosse team, who is a perennial powerhouse. Frankly, the number of students that would party heartily after a national championship earned by the SU lacrosse team is about equal to the number of people that read this column on a weekly basis. So for all intents and purposes, this was Syracuse’s first national title since the football team won it all in 1959, 44 years ago. The students in Marshall Street responded by delivering two raucous nights that more than offset the 44 years of futility put forth by their football and basketball squads.

Marshall Street received its first dose of insanity as 10,000 fans flocked to the streets on Saturday night moments after Syracuse upset Texas to earn its first trip to the national title in seven years. On my way to join the commotion, I was shocked and awed by an M-80 that exploded just a few feet away from me. Students took turns climbing high atop telephone poles and swung on tree branches in attempts to knock them down. I don’t think a group of people would have been as happy if doctors announced a cure for cancer.

Despite the 10 degree temperature and four inches of snow, other students sacrificed their shirts to set them ablaze. The eponymous color of the flames showed that Syracuse was on fire literally and figuratively. Riot police intervened several times and were met with belligerence by several hostile fans. When one officer pushed a student in the middle of the crowd, the student pushed back and instantly received a mouthful of concrete as five cops shoved him to the ground and cuffed his hands. In all, 17 students were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

“This is crazy,” Syracuse senior Matt Josephs said. “I can’t imagine what will happen if we win on Monday.”

Given the events that transpired on Saturday night, a number of members of the Syracuse community were concerned about the possible damage the student body would inflict if in fact the Orangemen won. “If you’re 19 and a student at SU, it is okay for you to have a beer or two with your friends to celebrate the victory,” Jim Lersch, host of Syracuse’s Men’s Basketball pre-game show said. “You don’t need to hit your fraternity brother in the head with a cue ball [referring to a notorious incident where one SU student was put into a coma] to have a good time.”

As I entered Marshall Street I turned to a riot officer and wished her good luck. “Thanks,” she said. “I’ll need it.” Surprisingly in comparison of Saturday’s near riot the celebration on Monday night was relatively tame. The students should be commended for not flipping over cars, lighting couches on fire or shattering storefront windows as students in College Park, Maryland did after the Terps defeated Indiana to win the title last year.

One of the more popular chants heard Monday night was “one more year,” in reference to Anthony’s probable jump to the NBA Draft this June. If Anthony decides to leave school next year, a similar scene in Western New York is unlikely to be repeated – unless Seth Hauben leads the Yellowjackets to the Div. III title next season.

Rybaltowski can be reached at mrybaltowski@campustimes.org.



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