Carson grad made the right choice — Syracuse
April 11, 2003
When I was a junior at Carson High, I started thinking about where I wanted to go to college.
I knew I wanted to go somewhere outside of Nevada so I could experience something new. I also knew I wanted to go to a school with a good journalism program because my career goal is to be a sports writer. Therefore, the strength of the school’s athletic program was also important.
As a huge sports fan, I wanted to go to a school where I could watch my school’s teams go to bowl games or the Final Four and receive a quality education at the same time. With that in mind, I decided to go to Syracuse University, a college with a distinguished reputation as a top-tier journalism school with an equally strong athletic program.
Needless to say, I think I made a wise decision.
While receiving an excellent journalism education, I also get to see great athletic competition. This year I saw the Syracuse men’s basketball team go undefeated at the Carrier Dome — one of the best venues for college athletics — and go all the way to the Final Four in New Orleans.
I understood the magnitude of this. Only 16 teams will go to the Final Four while I’m in school, so I knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I decided I would do whatever it took to get to New Orleans to see the Orangemen play for the national title.
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Tickets for the event went on sale April 1 at 10 am. Many people camped out overnight for them, but I didn’t have to because I had waited in line a week earlier to get tickets to nearby Albany, N.Y. for the East Regional Final. I guess it’s Syracuse policy to only have a person wait in line once for tickets. It worked out well for me.
I went to the Dome around 9 and was amazed to see that there were only 40 people who went to Albany in front of me waiting to buy tickets. Because of this, I was able to obtain a courtside ticket to the games in the Big Easy. My seat was 25 rows back behind the basket. I couldn’t have been more excited. I found out later that almost all of the Syracuse students received seats in the 600-level, where binoculars were almost a necessity.
Plane tickets to New Orleans were either sold out or outrageously priced, so the only possible way to get there was finding a ride. The distance from Syracuse to the Big Easy is almost 1,400 miles and 22 hours away, so I didn’t know how many people would want to make the trek. I was a little worried I wouldn’t find a way to get to the games because I don’t have a car. Luckily, many of my fellow students realized the same thing I did and wanted to get to the Final Four no matter how long the drive.
I found a ride with two of my friends and on the morning of April 4 we left for our destination. It would be a trip that none of us will ever forget.
Words can’t express how excited I was when I saw the New Orleans skyline in the distance 22 hours later. I had literally taken the “Road to the Final Four.” My journey spanned 10 states, over a half-dozen interstates and two time zones and ranged from the mundane to the bizarre. On the drive I saw licenses plates from 35 different states, Woodrow Wilson’s birthplace, a dog on the roof of a West Virginia house, and a bat nearly fly straight into the windshield.
There was a mob of people in the city, each proudly decorated in their school colors. Everywhere I looked I could see Texas Orange, Kansas Blue, Marquette Gold and, of course, Syracuse Orange. It seemed like Kansas and Syracuse had the most people there, but every school had quite a large following. One thing I did notice was that Syracuse by far had the most students there. Kansas and especially Texas fans seemed mostly made up of alumni. This made a big difference during the games because college students are a lot rowdier.
When game time approached, the area around the Superdome turned into one huge sea of colors, and I rode the wave right down to my seat where I could finally stretch out and look around. I was in awe of the location. Seats were stretched up to the clouds and here I was and there was only 25 rows of seats between me and the basket. Gerry McNamara could have hit a jumper from my seat if the basket was facing the other direction.
All the adrenaline and excitement in me had to be put on hold during the first game, Kansas vs. Marquette. I didn’t have much interest in this game and all I wanted to see was a close game, but that hope was quickly faded. Kansas jumped to a quick lead, and the game was never really close. During the whole second half I couldn’t sit still because I just wanted the game to be over so I could see the Orangemen play. Finally the clock put everyone out of their misery, and the game was over.
Suddenly the Superdome felt more like a rock concert than a basketball game. The Syracuse student section, which ran all the way from my section to the 600-level, erupted in to a “Let’s go Orange!” cheer that almost never stopped the whole game. And this was 30 minutes before tip off. I think all the other fans’ respective jaws dropped at our intensity. One of the workers at Superdome said the Syracuse fans were some of the craziest he had ever seen.
Our game against Texas was well played, with Syracuse having the lead almost the entire game, but the Longhorns constantly knockong on the door. As the end of the game neared, I knew victory was at hand. I was exhausted due to the drive and the cheering, but knowing that we were going to play for the national championship in two days gave me a sudden boost of energy that even a 22-hour car ride couldn’t suppress.
I wanted to go out and celebrate our victory, but I knew that I had to get some sleep. The people I drove with knew a student at Tulane, so we all stayed there for the night. The floor was uncomfortable, but it was a lot better than the back seat of a Hyundai. I slept until almost 3 the following afternoon.
That night I went to the historic French Quarter and Bourbon Street, and that was an experience in itself. The whole street was filled with Syracuse and Kansas fans, so scuffles were imminent. Wherever I went on the street, I wasn’t far away from opposing sides doing signature cheers or arguing over the game. I saw a lot of pushing and even a ‘Cuse fan spit on a Jayhawk. We are a classy bunch.
Not only did we do our fair share of talking off the court, we did it on the court the following night. The game seems more like a hazy dream than an actual event. While I remember it clearly, it just doesn’t seem like reality. I keep replaying Hakim Warrick’s block and Kirk Heinrich’s ensuing airball in my mind, but that is the only thing that really stands out.
When the buzzer sounded, I screamed and jumped around and probably a thousand other things while trying to get down to the court. Everyone else had the same idea, but somehow I made it down to the barricade as the players were coming by to hug their parents. I remember Carmelo Anthony and Billy Edelin giving me a high five as they went by.
I stayed in the Superdome as long as possible and then made my way outside through a screaming orange maze. Everyone was hugging each other and yelling in pure ecstasy. I wish I could have stayed longer, but I had to get back to Syracuse by Tuesday night and didn’t want to be too exhausted for the drive.
My euphoria didn’t make the drive any shorter, if anything it felt longer, but I didn’t mind. I was heading back to Syracuse, the home of the national champions and the happiest Carson High graduate ever. It was an experience I had been waiting for my whole life.
(Editor’s Note: Marty Greenstein is a 2001 Carson High graduate and a sophomore at Syracuse University and has worked as a part-time staff member for the Nevada Appeal Sports Department).