Tale of Two Cities
How the Syracuse guard inspired such a loyal following
Posted: Tuesday January 31, 2006 12:01PM; Updated: Tuesday January 31, 2006 1:16PM
At some moment, the short, spindly Irish boy who grew up in a white-paneled house a few blocks from downtown Scranton, Pa., the boy whose parents worked at the post office, turned from basketball player into phenomenon.
It could have been the time that Gerry McNamara drained nine first-half three-pointers for Bishop Hannon High in the Pennsylvania state semifinal. People bolted out of the gym with their cell phones glued to their ears, gasping about what they had just witnessed. McNamara finished the game with 55 points.
Or it could have been the time that McNamara nailed a game-winning three against Notre Dame during his freshman year at Syracuse. He forced busloads of Scrantonians to swallow their Irish allegiances and cheer for their boy as he led the Orange.
Whenever it was, the moments kept coming. McNamara, now a senior at Syracuse, became a small city's icon and perhaps the most popular basketball player in Syracuse history.
"We've had several players who have been very popular, and he's certainly one of them, for sure," said Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim. "The fans identify with how hard he plays, how much he puts into each game. That's what fans really relate to."
"It's made my career a lot more special than it already was," said McNamara. "My four years have been great, but to share it with thousands of people is even better."
It all started in Scranton, of course, where one denizen said that McNamara is more beloved than anyone else anywhere. Syracuse games have become events. Bars -- most of which have ordered college basketball cable packages just so they could get SU games -- open early, four hours early in some cases -- in order to pack people in for Saturday games.
During McNamara's freshman season, two reporters from the Syracuse student paper traveled to Scranton to do a story on him. The local CBS affiliate caught wind of it, and the pair became the lead story on the 11 p.m. news -- ahead of the then-impending Iraq War. When Syracuse played Towson early this season in neighboring Wilkes-Barre, the Scranton Times ran a 16-page special section.
The love for McNamara is not confined to the city of Scranton. Since McNamara's freshman season, chartered busses have carried Scrantonites to Syracuse, and they've created a formidable following labeled McNamara's Band.
Billy Clark, who operates the bus company Cookies Travelers out of Scranton, estimated that 50 percent of the city has traveled to see McNamara play in the Carrier Dome. Clark guessed that for McNamara's final college home game, against Villanova, about 15,000 of the city's 76,000 people will make the two-hour trip to Syracuse by bus or car.