Chapter three: No signs of cooling off

With more than a decade’s worth of fiercely contested games as a foundation, the rivalry maintained its intensity, even as the college sports landscape continued to shift. The Big East’s interest in raising its football profile saw new conference members come and go, making games against old basketball rivals even more special. Players who hadn’t been born when the Ewings and Washingtons were playing took up the mantle, and in the 2004-05 season, a Thompson returned to the Hoyas’ sideline.

Gerry McNamara, Syracuse guard, 2002-06; current assistant coach: “When you look at the players and the success — from Big John and now, who passes it on to his son — that is storied. And Coach [Boeheim] has been here through all of it. We got to play through it. I got to watch it as a fan prior to coming to college. You just respect both programs, even though you hate each other when you play each other.”

Lawrence Moten, Syracuse guard, 1991-95: “We beat Georgetown in the [1992] Big East tournament for the championship. They had Alonzo Mourning, and it was just amazing. Being a freshman, winning the Big East title at Madison Square Garden and beating Georgetown? I can remember after the game we flew home to the Syracuse airport, and there were thousands of people waiting for us. That let me know how serious this rivalry was . . . how strong our fan base was, and how strong the Big East was.”

Vinnie Perrone, former Georgetown beat writer for The Post and a producer of the 2013 documentary “The Bayou: D.C.’s Killer Joint”: “Syracuse, which seemed to have an advantage inside, lost both its centers [in a 1997 game at the Carrier Dome, won by Syracuse]. They both fouled out. . . . Boeheim has no big men to insert, and so who comes in off the bench but Donovan McNabb? . . .

“Obviously I had known of McNabb through his quarterbacking Syracuse for his first couple seasons. I kind of expect this sort of lanky, languid, really athletic looking dude to come off the bench, and here comes McNabb, and he’s got these avocado biceps, this thick chest. . . .

“All he did inside was rather than jackhammer his way through, he became a scalpel. He dissected Georgetown inside. . . . I think he had totaled 13 points for the season up to that time, and he ends up with 10 points. He hit two big free throws with seconds left to seal the deal.”

Sean Keeley, proprietor of the Syracuse-based blog “Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician”: Few Syracuse fans would admit it but in the late ’90s and early 2000s, U-Conn. briefly replaced Georgetown as our most-hated rival. Around the end of the John Thompson Era and during the [Craig]e Esherick Era, the rivalry was still there but there wasn’t as much behind it. With Georgetown down and U-Conn. emerging as a Big East powerhouse, our games against the Huskies were the ones we saved our most passionate responses for. They just meant more. When John Thompson III took over, the rivalry came back with him. Obviously, being John Thompson had something to do with it, but it also didn’t hurt that both teams were playing meaningful basketball again.

Andrew Geiger, proprietor of the Georgetown-based blog “Casual Hoya”: “When the Hoyas started winning again [under John Thompson III], the games against Syracuse became more intense as there was actually something at stake in the outcome of the games other than school pride.”

John Thompson III, Georgetown coach, 2004-present: “I personally remember [his first game in the Carrier Dome] possibly better than any of the more storied Georgetown-Syracuse games. So we go up there, first year. We had a group of guys trying to figure out how were going to skin the cat here, and we played pretty well. It comes down to the end, Brandon Bowman hits a shot. We were down two. Years later I can laugh at it. His toe — his toe was on the line. I thought it was a three[-pointer]. So the ball goes in, I go running out on the court and I grab Ashanti Cook! He’s looking at me like I’m crazy. He goes, ‘Coach, we got overtime.’ I turn and look [at the scoreboard], and back to the bench we go. They ended up pulling it out in overtime. But we got the shot we wanted for who we wanted it. His foot was on the line.”

McNamara: “Of all those games in the 2006 Big East tournament run, the Georgetown game [a one-point Syracuse win] was my favorite. And it was my favorite because we were down 15 at halftime. It was kind of the never-quit, never-say-die attitude: ‘Now is the time!’ We just chipped away, and we didn’t lead until nine seconds [remained] in the game the entire game.”

Thompson III: “ We pretty much controlled the [2006 Big East tournament game], let’s say, until the last six minutes when Gerry McNamara just went unconscious, and we couldn’t control him. So we went from controlling the game to losing. And he proceeded to do it two or three nights in a row.”


Liz Clarke, A.J. Chavar, Camille Powell, Barry Svrluga, Gene Wang and Jayne Orenstein conducted the interviews for this story.