Monday, March 18, 2013

Zoo Review

Here's a story from the distant past that seems appropriate to tell on this particular night.

When I was a freshman at Syracuse, I eagerly anticipated the start of basketball season. This was only partially because the football team was rather awful. The basketball team was coming off an NCAA tournament season, and had a great showman as the star in Dennis DuVal. The games were played at Manley Field House, remembered for its intimate surroundings and its dusty floor that made it difficult to breath - especially for those playing.

We sat in the student section, better known at the time as "The Manley Zoo." The students sat right behind one of the baskets, and had developed a reputation for rude and obnoxious behavior. These were the polite good old days, when it was considered improper to wave one's arms during opposing free throws. It was something of an issue at games in the early portion of the season.

On the night of January 23, 1974, Bucknell came to Syracuse for a game. In those pre-Big East days, Syracuse scheduled anyone that was willing to drive on an Interstate to get to a game and pick up a check. Army, Colgate and Holy Cross also were on the schedule that year.

Coach Roy Danforth finally got tired of the Zoo's act, so he took matters into his own hands. Well before the game, he walked over to the student section and asked them personally to tone it down a bit. Danforth was well received, and then as I recall, he started to walk away. Then he turned around and added a postscript. It went something like: "And if we score 100 points tonight, I'll come over and lead the cheers myself."

The Syracuse-Bucknell game went as could be predicted. It was well in hand by the second half, as DuVal had 18 field goals. As the Orangemen rolled up the points, most of Manley's fans were either relatively quiet or searching for their coats. The student section, however, was getting louder. They wanted 100 points, unbeknownst to the rest of the crowd.

Syracuse went past 100 with a few minutes to go, setting off an explosion of noise in the student section. It was followed by chants of "We want Roy!"

Would Roy fulfill his bargain? Indeed. He walked down the sideline past the opposing team, and yelled, "Come on, let's go Orange!!" Then he walked back to his team, while the students chanted "Roy's all right!"

Bucknell was led by a promising young coach by the name of Jim Valvano, who was stunned that an opposing coach would turn into a cheerleader. He later wrote about the experience in his autobiography: "Walks right by me, leads them in cheers, walks back. Is this a fun profession or what?"

Valvano had the last laugh. He didn't come to Syracuse a year later, his last at Buckell. From there it was on to Iona and North Carolina State, where he won the national championship in 1983 in one of the greatest upsets in the sport's history.

A documentary on Valvano aired on ESPN tonight. It will be re-run down the road. It's worth your time.

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Jeff Hodge '76 said...

I remember the night - I was there. My recollection is that Coach said he would lead the cheer if the Orange reached a 50-point lead, and of course they did. Regardless, that was probably THE most memorable night in the Zoo. "Sweet D" Dennis Duval would conclude the pre-game warmups with a dunk (which was special since it was not allowed in games at the time, I seem to recall). And then there was our beloved center, Bobby Dooms #50 (DOOOMMMMMMMSSSS !) who couldn't dribble without hitting his own shoes and couldn't rebound, but was a big man for those times and maybe clogged up the defensive middle a bit. Rudy Hacket (#55, later #45) with the 'fro. Some others including brothers Jimmy Lee #10 and Mike Lee #25. Those were the times!

Jeff Hodge said...

I forgot to mention, though, I had no idea that opponent's coach was Jimmy V.