Georgetown-Syracuse: A rivalry for the ages, and a new generation

Charles Smith and Coach John Thompson celebrate the Hoyas' victory over Syracuse in the final of the 1989 Big East tournament.
Charles Smith and Coach John Thompson celebrate the Hoyas' victory over Syracuse in the final of the 1989 Big East tournament. (Associated Press File Photo)
By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 25, 2010

John Thompson III recalls sitting at the family dinner table and listening to the radio broadcast as Georgetown mounted the furious comeback that toppled second-ranked Syracuse, 52-50, nearly 30 years ago.

Just as vivid are his father's notorious words that touched off the rivalry that has raged since.

Grabbing a microphone, Coach John Thompson declared after his Hoyas snapped Syracuse's 57-game home winning streak: "Manley Field House is officially closed."

It was a final indignity on a night Syracuse had billed as a glorious farewell to its venerable gym before moving into the Carrier Dome. And in the view of the longtime coach's son, now 43, it was possibly the most memorable moment of a memorable clash.

No one needs to explain to members of Georgetown's current team what's at stake Monday when the Hoyas travel to the Carrier Dome for the next installment of a rivalry that pre-dates their births. Four of the Hoyas' starters are Washington area natives and, as a result, well versed in the Big East's defining grudge match.

"It's evident," says junior guard Chris Wright, who is from Bowie. "The battle we're going to be in Monday is something that's been happening for a long time. We all understand that. And we have to understand that we're carrying on a tradition, and we have to honor that and play our hearts out for that game."

Georgetown undergraduates understand it, too, adopting an enmity toward all things Orange as a rite of orientation on the Hilltop. But for those still tweaking their game face, the Web site offered advice this week on insults that might be hurled by Hoyas fans attending Monday's game. Among the tactics suggested: Stressing the superiority of a Georgetown education and harping on the dreariness of Syracuse's climate.

But all the razzing is sure to be drowned out by the orange-clad throng at the Carrier Dome, which is expected to top 30,000 for one of the more anticipated confrontations in the wildly competitive Big East.

Syracuse (19-1, 6-1) is reveling in success few anticipated after losing its top three scorers (Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris) from last season's 28-10 squad. With junior transfer Wes Johnson leading the high-octane offense (Johnson averages 17.3 of the team's 84.1 points per game), Syracuse has climbed to No. 5 in the nation and, in the view of ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, represents Coach Jim Boeheim's best chance of reaching the Final Four since the Orange claimed the NCAA title in 2003.

Georgetown (15-3, 6-2) has surprised as well, sloughing off the disappointment of last season's 16-15 campaign to climb as high as 11th in the rankings. Now 12th, the Hoyas made a strong case for a spot among the top 10 by toppling ninth-ranked Pittsburgh on the road last week.

For Thompson, there is a personal mark at stake Monday, too. With a win, he'd collect the 200th victory of his coaching career. That's still well shy of Boeheim's 818 -- all earned at Syracuse, his alma mater, where he has been head coach since 1976.

Asked if he viewed Boeheim, 65, as a rival of his father's or of his own, Thompson demurred. "Maybe I'm a little twisted," Thompson said, "because right now I've got [15] rivals in Big East play. He's the next one."

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