Orange juiced up
Hundreds of fans welcome back national championsPosted: Tuesday April 08, 2003 6:40 PM
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- Unable to contain themselves until an official university celebration planned for Thursday, about 200 Syracuse fans staged an impromptu welcome-home party Tuesday for their newly crowned national championship basketball team.
Syracuse fans ignored the damp cold as they waited more than an hour in the parking lot outside Manley Field House for the bus carrying the Orangemen home from the airport. Syracuse defeated Kansas 81-78 Monday night to win its first NCAA basketball title.
"Growing up here in Syracuse, this is the biggest thing to ever happen. This has made the whole community feel good," said Michael Schine of Syracuse, explaining why he turned over his deli to an assistant and took his 12-year-old son out of school early to come greet the returning team.
"Who knows if it will ever happen again, so we're going to enjoy every second of it," said Schine.
Karen Graf, Gina Cravedi and Jenia Ustinova brought homemade sugar cookies they had decorated with orange frosting and each player's number. The three Syracuse students said they were missing classes to welcome home the players.
"The school should have declared the day a holiday," said Cravedi, a sophomore from Worcester, Mass. "Everyone is still celebrating."
"We brought the players a treat because they have treated us to the greatest season ever," said Graf, a sophomore from Bedford, N.H.
Jerry Burke, a retired salesman from Syracuse, suffered through Syracuse's three previous Final Four appearances in 1975, 1987 and 1996 -- all of which ended in losses. He wanted to personally thank the Orangemen for an exciting season.
"This definitely takes away the pain, especially the Indiana game," Burke said, referring to Syracuse's 74-73 loss to the Hoosiers in the 1987 title game, a game the Orangemen led nearly the entire way but lost on Keith Smart's baseline jumper with 4 seconds to play.
"I've waited a long time to celebrate something like this. I wasn't going to miss this," Burke said.
Waiting fans weren't disappointed. They broke into a cheer as soon as they heard the sirens of the police escort accompanying the Orangemen's bus.
The bus pulled behind the field house and moments later the team emerged, led by head coach Jim Boeheim, who was wearing an oversized orange sombrero and hugging the national championship trophy, which still had a Superdome net around it.
"I got this hat on Bourbon Street, about 4 in the morning," a hoarse-voiced Boeheim said as fans crowed about his hat.
"I said when we left here we'd bring this thing back, so here it is," Boeheim said, hoisting the trophy over his head.
Boeheim said the championship was not only for the players, but for all Syracuse fans, who "have been so good for so long."
Kueth Duany, Syracuse's senior captain, also thanked the fans.
"Before each game we huddle and say, "Together," and that's how we accomplished this. We wouldn't have done this without all of you," Duany said.
The university plans an official tribute to the team Thursday night in the Carrier Dome.
On Monday night, more than 11,000 fans watched the game at the Carrier Dome on three jumbo television screens.
Thousands celebrated on campus afterward, shooting off fireworks, starting small fires and climbing trees. Syracuse police arrested three people but there were no serious problems reported.