An old friend is being forced into semiretirement this winter and Hoyas everywhere are grieving.

The McDonough Memorial Arena, for three decades the rank, dank home of Georgetown basketball, has been dealt the ultimate ignominy. Georgetown has forsaken McDonough's homely charm to play the vast majority of its home games in the sterile spaciousness of Capital Centre. Georgetown, the consummate city team, is splitting for the suburbs.

Gone are the days of claustrophobic tribal chanting and zonked-out delirium. Gone are the days of point-blank referee baiting. Gone, alas, are sweaty days and even sweatier nights of cup after cup of 50-cent beer. A hangover gleaned at McDonough was the cheapest and most satisfying in town.

In their hearts, even the most rabid McDonoughphiles will admit that Georgetown's athletic department had little choice. Hoya basketball is big time now; the move to Capital Centre was inevitable, as such moves have been elsewhere. De Paul, for example, recently moved its games from tiny Alumni Hall on Chicago's North Side to the Horizon in suburban Rosemont.

But in a way such moves are sad. McDonough is the victim of its own success. After years of tireless nurturing, Coach John Thompson has reached the pinnacle of his profession by creating something extraordinary.

In doing so, though, he has irrevocably, and perhaps ruefully, altered Georgetown's image.

The Hoyas are no longer everyone's favorite anomaly -- the underdog Jesuit school with the black coach who keeps things in perspective while thrashing rivals in a postage stamp-sized gym. By recruiting Patrick Ewing and Anthony Jones, Thompson has thrust his program into the maelstrom of big-time collegiate sports.

The perspective has changed. Big things are expected; big dollars to be made.

In the process, Georgetown basketball has lost the innocence that McDonough embodied.

Going to a basketball game at McDonough was more than just an act of faith. It was more like a rancorous revival meeting. Thompson, towel draped over his shoulder, tie invariably askew, was the preacher, stalking the sideline and exhorting his heart-attack Hoyas.

A McDonough crowd didn't merely get into a game; it became the game. Spurred on by Preacher Thompson (and sometimes ungodly amounts of cheap beer), McDonough disciples would punish the unwashed with deafening cries and abject revilement. Hell hath no fury like a McDonough crowd with 30 seconds to go in a tight game.

Yet, despite its intensity, a McDonough game was also an exercise in sweet nostalgia. No matter how incredible the competition or inspired the play, a McDonough game was never too far removed from the coziness and fond memories of high school.

Where else but McDonough would a college athletic director dash onto the court to break up a brouhaha between Georgetown's bulldog mascot and the Boston College eagle?

Where else but McDonough would a former vice presidential candidate (Sargent Shriver) sidle up to the St. John's bench during a timeout, stick his head into the Redmen's huddle, and be permitted to tune into Louie Carnesecca's adjurations?

Where else but McDonough would a bleacherful of lawyers and accountants, uniformly decked out in three-piece suits, get into an infantile beer-throwing fight with some Providence undergrads?

Some sports teams are indelibly linked with the places they play. Without Fenway Park, the Red Sox would have never inspired such a raucous and romantic following. John Updike's paean to Fenway, "a lyric, little bandbox of a ballpark," is, in fact, an apt description of McDonough. Georgetown's move out to Landover is the moral equivalent of the Red Sox setting up shop in Foxboro, Mass.

But take heart, gentle McDonough fans; all is not lost. The Hoyas will, after all, play four games at McDonough this season, including a nationally televised encounter with Missouri.

It's fitting, somehow, that the entire nation will have the chance to glimpse the love and lunacy in our little gym. That notion will be at least some small solace, as we sit in the distant bleachers of Capital Centre, sipping $1.50 beer.