Six words kick-started the blood feud in the Big East’s inaugural season. They were uttered Feb. 12, 1980, by Coach John Thompson Jr. during the news conference that followed Georgetown’s 52-50 upset of No. 2 Syracuse in the final planned, regular season game at Manley Field House, where the Orange boasted a 57-game winning streak. The Hoyas trailed by 14 at halftime, but with five seconds remaining, Georgetown’s Eric “Sleepy” Floyd hit the free throws that won it. The game gave birth to a rivalry, not just between schools but between two contrasting future Hall of Fame coaches: Thompson, a 6-foot-10 mountain of a man from Washington, and Jim Boeheim, a balding, bespectacled introvert from upstate New York.
John Thompson Jr., Georgetown basketball coach, 1972-99: “You knew the emotion would be high; they’re having a celebration, getting ready to close this place that was very difficult to play in. My nerves were at the highest. [I thought] ‘What the hell am I doing, getting ready to close this place?’ The place was going mad. . . .
“I don’t recollect an awful lot about the game. We probably in those days trailed by 14 a whole lot of times. We probably were too young and too dumb at that point to mind. The atmosphere of excitement, things said to you — I always had a love-hate thing with Syracuse because of the atmosphere. It was competitive dislike, but I respected the fans.”
Mike Tranghese, then the Big East’s associate commissioner: “That was the last Monday night game of the year, and it was a big, big event in Syracuse. What a lot of people don’t remember, when Syracuse had previously closed down Archbold Stadium [its former football stadium, in 1978], there was a full-fledged riot. People were concerned. It was just an incredible, incredible basketball game, but there wasn’t a riot. It was dead silent at the end. Dead. Silent.”
Leo Rautins, Syracuse forward, 1980-83: “That night was weird because I got to the gym, and for whatever reason they were worried about people stealing stuff. All the banners were taken down and everything. So something was different even before the game started. . . . [The rivalry] started with that last game. It then became this crazy, crazy rivalry. Georgetown-Syracuse games, they were nasty.”
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse coach, 1976-present: “We had played well all year and played well in that game. . . . Missed about eight out of 10 free throws going down the stretch. Even our really good free throw shooters missed free throws. Finishing the game and the streak — there was a little extra pressure. Guys got a little nervous at the end.”