On this Veterans Day in the waters off of Coronado, Calif., just a hop, skip, and a jump from downtown San Diego, pre-season top-ranked North Carolina and Michigan State make history by playing their season opener on an aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, and thus the game’s name: The Carrier Classic.
Each time we’ve heard that name announced this fall we can only think of the original Carrier Classic.
It was an idea orchestrated by the Orange Pack office in 1977 as a way to bring a top intersectional program and two lesser-name teams to first, Manley Field House, then the Dome, and give Syracuse an early-season, two-day event to rival the other similar tournaments being hosted by top-tier programs around the country at the time.
Those days, and the original Carrier Classic, are long gone, replaced by eight team mega events at tropical locales (Maui, San Juan, St. Thomas, Cancun) or other fun destinations for teams to attend (New York City, Alaska, San Padre Island), which fill hours of TV programming on the multitude of sports networks we all enjoy.
Discontinued after the 2000-01 season, SU moved towards a pretty consistent non-league scheduling philosophy, and lo and behold, New York’s College Team has earned its way to seven early-season appearances at Madison Square Garden in the ensuing 10-year span, and could be 8 for11 this year with expected wins in the Dome next week against Manhattan and either Albany/Brown.
That’s what happened to the Carrier Classic. The games that essentially replaced them on the schedule are now contested at Madison Square Garden.
In light of tonight’s Carrier Classic in Calif., here are just two of many moments to share from the original Carrier Classic:
1977-The first Classic championship game was a doozey in front of a packed house of 9500 plus at Manley. Michigan State with a freshman named Earvin Johnson (believe it or not, he was not widely known as “Magic” in Dec. 1977) and many of the other components of the Spartans team that won the NCAA title a season later, fell to SU and its leading scorer Marty Brynes 75-67.
After Johnson was named tournament MVP despite being held to 12 points and forced into 9 turnovers instead of the home team’s Brynes who finished with a game-high 18 points, second year coach Jim Boeheim vented his anger at local media members (sound familiar?) in the building’s front hallway as late departing spectators watched in awe.
1980-Following Syracuse’s first night win over Kent State in the first Classic played in the Dome, as a talented Maryland team was beating up on Wagner in the nightcap, athletic director Jake Crouthamel was introducing an unknown Cleveland Browns linebacker coach to the local media as the next Orange football head coach in a press conference on the opposite side of the building.
It was the first opportunity of many thousands over his career for Dick MacPherson to schmooze the media exactly to his liking.