Not again, thought Virginia coach Dom Starsia. Not another overtime.
With 13 minutes remaining in Monday's NCAA championship game against Syracuse in College Park, Md., Starsia had been calm. As calm, that is, as a man who had already lost two title matches in sudden death could be under such circumstances. "We wanted the game to be over," Starsia, whose Cavaliers suffered Memorial Day overtime losses to Princeton in 1994 and '96, would say later, "but we knew that it wasn't."
Virginia midfielder Hanley Holcomb had just scored to put the Cavaliers ahead 10-4, a lead that appeared to signal an "over and out" for the Orangemen's hopes of winning a sixth championship in 12 years. Then Syracuse exploded, scoring five goals in the next 10 minutes. Suddenly the score was 10-9 with more than three minutes left. Starsia was getting a nasty case of d�j� vu, and the Wahoo! cheers of the Virginia faithful were in danger of being drowned out by boo-hoos. "You don't even want to consider that type of loss," said Starsia, "to miss out on a golden chance for a championship ring three times."
Not now, thought Marty Curtis. Not my ring. Early in the fourth quarter, Marty, the mother of Virginia All-America defenseman Ryan and the wife of former Baltimore Colts linebacker Mike, noticed that her wedding band was missing. "It either came off when I was washing my hands or when I was celebrating a goal," she said as she kept an eye on the game—and an eye on family and friends who were crawling under the bleachers and emptying rest room garbage bins, looking for her ring.
Marty was calm, though. As calm, that is, as a woman whose son was playing in the biggest game of his life and whose husband's NFL nom de guerre was Animal could be under such circumstances. "I'm seriously stressed," she said, "but I can't miss this finish. You can always get another wedding ring."
Dom Starsia and Marty Curtis, two people in search of a ring. Thanks mostly to Ryan's defensive bullying, Starsia got his. Virginia outlasted Syracuse 12-10 for its first national tide since 1972. All afternoon Ryan Curtis hounded Ryan Powell, the Orangemen's leading scorer this season (37 goals and 44 assists) and the younger brother of Syracuse's alltime leading scorer, two-time national player of the year Casey Powell. Monday, the younger Powell got only five shots, good for two goals and two assists. "Our Ryan did a terrific job," Cavaliers assistant coach Chris Colbeck said. "The best thing he did today was keep his cool. You know, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
Colbeck was referring to Ryan's dad, a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker with the Colts between 1965 and '75 who played with reckless abandon—and occasional insanity. During practice he had no qualms about hitting the Baltimore quarterback, a guy named Unitas. He's also remembered—fondly by many—for clotheslining a fan who had the temerity to run onto the field at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore in 1971.
"Ryan's a mellow guy," says Cavaliers All-America attackman Tucker Radebaugh, Curtis's roommate. "He's a religious studies major, you know. Then again, on the field he's a nutbag."
Curtis, a 5'10", 180-pound junior, waged a one-man holy war against Syracuse. Clamping down on his blue mouth guard, he patrolled the area in front of the Virginia goal with the swagger and menace of a middle linebacker. He deflected shots, intercepted passes and made bone-rattling hits. Late in the second quarter, when a Syracuse attack-man ventured into the crease, Curtis clotheslined him with his stick. That drew the first of his two penalties on the day. Like father, like son? "No," said Ryan. "I was just trying to ensure that today would be our day."
Before the match, fate seemed to wear orange. In round 1 of the playoffs Syracuse, seeded eighth, defeated three-time defending champion Princeton. In the quarterfinals it eliminated the nation's top-ranked team, Loyola—in the process beating a top-rated goalie who has a name familiar to Orange lacrosse fans: Jim Brown.