Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Men's College Basketball [Print without images]

Saturday, March 9, 2013
A father, a son, a classic rivalry over

By Dana O'Neil
ESPN.com

WASHINGTON D.C. -- The two bookends sat in the front and back of the room, one tucked behind the television cameras, the other before them.

It's been that way for some time for John Thompson Jr. and John Thompson III, though the roles have reversed over the years. The son used to hang in the background, the little kid watching his dad at work.

Now it's the father in the shadows, propped on a table, while his son prowls the sideline and talks into the microphone to earn his paycheck. Except there is and always has been an inherent difference between the two.

Thompson
John Thompson Jr. embraced his son after Georgetown's most lopsided victory over Syracuse since 1985. The Hoyas won a share of the Big East.

No one puts John Thompson Jr. in a corner.

"He's calm, more like his mother," Thompson the elder said of his son. "I let you know how I'm feeling."

And so on this day where history, tradition, realignment and championships hit the intersection of past, present and future college sports, Thompson Jr. was the one not only able, but willing, to speak the truth.

While John Thompson III tried to explain what Georgetown's 61-39 win over Syracuse -- the final regular-season conference game in the storied rivalry between the two teams and a win that clinched a share of the Big East regular-season title and a top seed in the Big East tournament -- with polite deference, his father interrupted from his back corner seat at the news conference.

"Kiss Syracuse goodbye," Thompson Jr. said.

After the chuckles died down, he deadpanned, "Oh, excuse me."

While his son did the rounds of one-on-one interviews in the hallway, answering each question with thought if not bluster, his dad held court in the press room. He said everything his son would not or could not.

He called the football schools that caused the fracture of the Big East "pimps," saying "They came in and used us and left us. Who does that? A pimp," and sent out the line that Georgetown fans had been waiting for.

"We officially closed Syracuse," he said, paraphrasing his classic line that started this bitter rivalry, "and now we kiss them goodbye."

Fitting to this rivalry where there is no love lost, this game was no love peck.

This was a kiss-off, the Hoyas winning the game by as much as they wanted to, thoroughly dismantling Syracuse in a way that rarely happens when these two get together. The 22-point differential was the most between the two since 1985, when Patrick Ewing was a senior, and only the third time Georgetown has beaten Syracuse by 20-plus points.

The Orange's offense was ineffective to the point of useless, 1-of-11 from the 3-point line, committing 13 turnovers and not even able to cross the 40-point threshold, the fewest points Syracuse has scored in Jim Boeheim's 37 years as head coach.

It was a byproduct of both its own issues and Georgetown's defense.

Jim Boeheim
On Saturday, the Orange scored the fewest points in the Jim Boeheim era.

"We're better than we showed here the last few games," Boeheim said. "How much better, I'm not sure. We've lost a little confidence offensively."

But this wasn't about one game, even though this one had deep meaning in the moment for Georgetown. A team picked fifth in the league, a team that lost one of its starters as an academic casualty in the beginning of the season, is now the top seed in the Big East tournament. And that is certainly worth celebrating for Hoya fans.

Except that's not why the students stormed the court or why the Verizon Center set an attendance record for a college basketball game in the Washington D.C. metro area.

That all happened because it was Syracuse and it is over. The two schools likely will pick up a home-and-home series at some point, but it won't be a conference game, so it won't be the same.

"I'm sad to see it go," said Ewing, a central figure in so many of those games.

There have been plenty of traditions, rivalries and geographic identities that have gone by the wayside thanks to conference realignment. They've all been properly mourned or railed about.

So this is, in some respects, nothing more than just another piece of the carcass on the side of the realignment highway, piled next to Duke-Maryland, Kansas-Missouri and all the rest.

To those in it, though, it is more. There is not a coach -- no matter his stature or Hall of Fame status -- who doesn't still speak reverently about Dave Gavitt, his vision and his daring to form the Big East. And there is not a Big East coach, former player or administrator who is happy about what is happening.

Even Boeheim, whose school started the dominoes by bolting to the ACC, was reflective after this one. He spoke at length and with admiration about the beginnings of the league and his sadness to see it end, or at least to move on and re-form without Syracuse.

"When Dave put this thing together, nobody thought it could be anything close to what it became in two years," Boeheim said. "It's sad. It's a sad time. It's sad for me because I've seen the beginning and the end. I have nothing but great memories. There have been a few heartbreaks, but if you don't have a few heartbreaks, you don't have the great moments."

In its beginning, the league was about its coaches and players, but like any good conference, it needed a pot stirrer.

Enter Georgetown and Syracuse.

As soon as Thompson Jr. fired the first shot, unceremoniously closing Manley Field House, it was on.

Nothing has softened it, not the new nature of the one-and-done era of college basketball, not the ebb and flow of the two programs' successes.

Thompson-Porter
At the end, JT3 and Wooden Award finalist Otto Porter met in celebration.

When the Amtrak train pulled into Union Station on Saturday morning, the conductor took to the PA system to announce the train's arrival and finished with "Go Hoyas," earning a chorus of boos from Syracuse fans aboard.

During introductions, the Georgetown student section unfurled a banner that let the Orange faithful know they may be gone but are not forgotten. "Our hatred is eternal," it read.

And it occurred to Thompson III that a Thompson began and ended this rivalry for Georgetown.

But he is not the type to let any game, let alone one of this magnitude, be about him. He is neither that self-indulgent nor that arrogant, so the significance of the bookends didn't really hit him.

"I haven't really thought about that," he said. "But I'm glad I was sitting on the Georgetown bench today."

A few weeks earlier, the man he calls Pops let me in on a little secret. We were sitting in Thompson Jr.'s office at McDonough Arena -- he still has one, a cramped space stuffed with photos, memorabilia and a little-used computer-- and he was talking about the history of the league, as well as the history of the Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry.

"It took a little time for my hate to build against Syracuse," Thompson Jr. said. "It took a little time for my hate to build against St. John's, and you cherish that. You pass that on. My son will come off the floor in certain games and say, 'I don't want to let them beat me.' I say, 'You got that right.'"

Yes, he did.

Even if he didn't want to say so himself.