Rivalries usually don't define a conference. The ACC is more than the Battle of Tobacco Road, and the Iron Bowl doesn't establish the strength of SEC football. The animosity these teams harbor for one another is visceral, but neither serves as the essential element to its conference's success.
And then there's Syracuse-Georgetown.
The enmity these schools share for each other date back to 1980, from the moment Georgetown shut the door on the Orange's 57-game home winning streak and John Thompson declared: "Manley Field House is officially closed."
Those words reverberated throughout college basketball, and set the stage for a bitter rivalry that was second to only Duke-North Carolina in its prime. The names are iconic - Thompson, Ewing, Smith, Graham, Boeheim, Pearl, McNamara - and the memories are forever etched in the minds of Big East faithful, from the conference's incarnation and well through its initial demise.
Syracuse and Georgetown renew their longstanding rivalry on Saturday, nearly three years since they last dueled in the 2013 Big East semifinals. 90 total meetings since 1930, 72 clashes since the Big East was formed prior to the 1979-80 season. Syracuse leads the all-time series 49-41, but the programs are 36-36 even in conference match-ups, including a 7-7 split on the biggest stage: Madison Square Garden in the Big East tourney.
Syracuse and Georgetown ARE the Big East. When the upstart conference needed a marketing chip to gain traction, the personalities of Thompson and Jim Boeheim alone magnetized viewers to their television sets. The friendship between the legendary coaches was ostensible, on-camera at least. The two may share a mutual respect for one another, but once they stepped on the court, they were the fieriest of enemies.
When Georgetown's Michael Graham took a swing at Andre Hawkins and was only given a two-shot foul, Boeheim stepped to the podium after the Hoyas won in overtime and passionately exclaimed: "Today, the best team didn't win." The next year, Pearl Washington's game winner to stun the top-ranked Hoyas was overshadowed by an incident when Thompson, a giant who demanded respect at every turn, pulled his team off the court after a fan threw an orange at a free-throw shooting Patrick Ewing. Then there was 1990 at the Carrier Dome, when Thompson was hit with three techs from all three refs, leading to an excess of free throws for the Orangemen and a 10-point possession. "I'm sure I had a religious experience at that point," Thompson clarified, "but I just expressed it in an awkward manner." With the Hoyas up 2 in the waning seconds, Sam Jefferson fouls Cuse's Billy Owens, sending it to OT where Syracuse would win.
But the conduct of the coaches always gave way to the brilliance of their players. There was Gerry Mac droppin one on G'Town, and his celestial comeback performance in the Big East Tourmanent. There was Charles Smith's scoop under Seikaly, and that time 6'4" Perry McDonald dropped 23 points on the Spin Doctor. Dave Johnson's shot over Zo, Georgetown ruining Jim Boeheim Day, hell even Donovan McNabb is etched in Cuse/GT lore.
And long after the final horn sounded in MSG and the Big East as we knew it dissolved, the rivalry lives on in two of the most passionate fan bases in the Northeast. They begged for more of this good ol' fashion hate. After two long years, they've got it this Saturday.