Orange Watch: Memories of Syracuse basketball captured in new Big East book

Jim Boeheim
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim reacts to a play in the first half. MANDATORY CREDIT: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports.

Item: Longtime college hoops writer Dana O’Neil released a captivating look at the 40-year-old plus conference this week in a book entitled, “The Big East, Inside the Most Entertaining and Influential Conference in College Basketball History.” For Syracuse and college basketball fans, the 252-pages make for a quick read.

We’ve known Dana O’Neil as a media colleague for the majority of her career, from when she first made her mark covering college hoops for the Philadelphia Daily News beginning in 1990, around the same time we relocated from Syracuse to the Philly suburbs. She’s also been a guest on The Juice podcast hosted by our managing editor Wes Cheng.

Dana currently lives with her family some 30 minutes from us in Newtown, Pa., and her husband George is a longtime member of the Princeton University athletic training staff in our hometown of Princeton, N.J. where we rooted for Tiger teams while growing up in decades far removed.

We’ve also been close personal friends with Dennis Brogan for almost 40-years, beginning when we both worked in Syracuse radio in the 1980s as he quickly rose to national fame as the Dome Ranger, and to this day we talk several times a month.

So, it was fantastic to read Dana’s accounts of Dennis’s exploits after she talked with him extensively in 2020 about the birth of the Dome Ranger and his longtime antagonizing of the rival Georgetown Hoyas, and in particular John Thompson, Jr.

Big East Book
The Big East: Inside the Most Entertaining and Influential Conference in College Basketball History

One of Dennis’s most treasured possessions from his masquerading years, and its acquisition is spotlighted in the book, is the signature white towel bearing a John Thompson inscription and signature that Thompson gave him at the end of his full-time ‘Ranger’ career in 1990.

“To the Dome Ranger, thanks for all the great memories,” it reads. A fitting tribute.

Despite the heated nature of the rivalry, and the hate that the Hoyas install in the majority of the Syracuse fan base, we always got along great with the Georgetown crew.

From former athletic director Frank Rienzo, one of Dave Gavitt’s most trusted allies from the very beginning, to Thompson especially in his favorite haunt Las Vegas, to Patrick Ewing in his playing days, and radio broadcaster Rich Chvotkin, now in his 48th season calling games, it was always friendly banter.

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Now while we didn’t speak with Dana as she was researching the book, if we had, we would have listed the following Top Ten memorable moments (in chronological order) involving Syracuse basketball that we covered in one form or another, and remain distinct to us during its Big East history from 1979-2013:

  • 1980 – John Thompson, Jr. declares, “Manley Field House is officially closed.”
  • 1981 – The tension-filled 3OT win over Villanova in the Dome to win the Big East title.
  • 1984 – Pearl Washington “announces” his arrival with a midcourt swish against B.C.
  • 1984 – Pearl dazzles in NYC vs. Georgetown but SU falls in OT upsetting Jim Boeheim.
  • 1986 – Dome crowd serenades Pearl to stay “one more year” shocked by Navy in NCAA.
  • 1987 – Winning two straight in NCAA Rony Seikaly “washes” the jinx off Boeheim’s back.
  • 1996 – The ‘Cuse is in the House, and all the way to the NCAA championship game.
  • 2003 – That championship season with Melo, and Orange Nation celebrates for a week.
  • 2009 – The 6OT classic vs. UConn played from 9:36 p.m. March 9 to 1:22 a.m. March 10.
  • 2013 – John Thompson III laments “for a few dollars more” rival Syracuse leaves for ACC.

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About Brad Bierman 779 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.