Thirty-five years ago Thursday, John Thompson Jr. and the Georgetown Hoyas conducted an impromptu closing ceremony at Syracuse’s Manley Field House, complete with an unforgettable quote and several heart-stopping moments that transformed Big East foes into relentless rivals for the next three decades.
“Manley Field House is officially closed,” Thompson said after his team’s upset win, so famously that if you type “Manley Field House” into Google, it will prompt you to finish your efforts with “is officially closed.” There can be no greater measure of historical significance.
For nearly two decades, Syracuse’s Manley Field House hosted Orangemen basketball games (the now-Orange were not yet gender-neutral at that time), but the time had come to abandon that building in favor of the Carrier Dome. The Orangemen had won 57 straight games at Manley at that time. They were ranked second in the nation. With 14 minutes to play in the Manley finale, the favored Orangemen led Georgetown by 15 points.
Then the Hoyas rallied with a 15-5 run to tie the score at 50. Then sophomore Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, who’d had a quiet game for a two-year leading scorer, hit two free throws with five seconds left. A missed shot from Syracuse’s Louie Orr at the buzzer clinched a stunning 52-50 win for the Hoyas.
It was Syracuse’s second loss of the season, first in Big East play that year. Georgetown earned a share of the Big East regular season crown by season’s end — a title Syracuse could have all-but sealed right then and there had the Orangemen won their Manley finale. Mark Asher’s sports front article that day read, in part, as follows:
“Manley Field House is officially closed,” Georgetown Coach John Thompson said a few minutes later. May it rest in peace.”
Joining Asher’s on the front page of the sports section that day was the beginning of another story, one arguably as memorable as the Georgetown/Syracuse rivalry Floyd’s free throws and John Thompson Jr.’s free-wheeling postgame comments cemented.
Beneath the headline “Hoyas Rally to Upset No. 2 Syracuse” was a smaller headline that would grow bigger in retrospect: “Auspicious U.S. Opening: U.S. ties Sweden.” The story it heralded told of the United States Olympic hockey team’s first game at Lake Placid, one in which the Americans trailed by a goal with 27 seconds to go until a 25-foot slapshot from Billy Baker passed by the pipes and in to tie it. The rest of Shapiro’s story that day spoke more about the Olympic scene than any gold-medal hopes for the hockey team. Those, of course, would come later.