In the winter of the 2005-06 season, I trudged through the snow into Georgetown University's campus, ready for a fight. It was not a game day. No one in blue and grey was anticipating bad blood. Yet, there I was, wearing a pair of Buff (think Notre Dame gold) shorts, a jersey bearing the number of then-star Pops Mensah-Bonsu, and a giant, bright yellow, foam tri-cornered hat. I was armed with three things: a wicked shiver, a clipboard and a cell phone, and I was going to change the DC college basketball landscape.
As a freshman at GW, I was emboldened by a few fatal flaws: a desperate desire to be liked by the guys who led the college sports talk show I was "interning" on, a flair for the extreme and a passion for Colonials basketball. There were not enough microphones in the basement studio for all the people on the show, and as the frosh in the room, I was delegated to "man on the street" interviews. Our producer wasn't all that adept at transferring calls to the board, or maybe he wasn't all that interested in giving me airtime to the approximately eight people who listened to "In the Zone" from 4-6pm. Either way, the decision had been made that I would march to Georgetown one day and report throughout the show on the status of the petition that I would solicit signatures for, challenging Georgetown fans to say they would want the Hoyas to play the then-sixth ranked Colonials in DC.
The schools' men's basketball teams haven't squared off since 1981, and in the interim thirty years, bad blood remains. Georgetown students cheerfully refer to GW as the "Georgetown Waitlist," and GW students over the years have created t-shirts using four-letter words to express their distaste for their neighbors to the north and west. In a more cringe-inducing moment, our student body president led students in a march on their campus demanding a game. To me, Georgetown was a school still defined by a too-distant past, a team too elitist for its city, treating its program like a basketball Vatican within DC. I hated that.
As I wandered the enemy campus, I offered regular reports back to the guys who could still feel their limbs in the studio, loudly taunting students who had encouraged me to leave them the hell alone. I stormed into McDonough Arena only to find an empty gym. I left an extra unsigned page of my petition underneath John Thompson III's office door. That would show him.
As I began my walk back through the edge of campus and back to Foggy Bottom, I bitterly discussed the lack of enthusiasm of the Georgetown student body with my fellow broadcasters. Teeth chattering into my flip phone, I recounted the side-eyes, the "we don't cares," and the "go aways."
Then the first snowball hit me in the back.
Both nervous about the extent to which it would escalate and thrilled that this would make great radio to my little brother and co-hosts' parents listening in, I crouched behind a bench, ducking as four or five continued to pelt me with snowballs, screaming into the phone that I was under attack. Their aim was poor, and they bored easily, but it was all the proof I needed that the fire, the hate, the rivalry... it still existed.
GW went on to win out its conference season en route to the second of three consecutive trips to the dance. All the while, we complained loudly about how Georgetown was scared of us. It helped us sleep more soundly.
I was mindful of this as I rode the metro to the Verizon Center for Georgetown's contest against IUPUI, my first Hoyas game. I muttered under my breath as Hoya fans, united by their grey "WE ARE GEORGETOWN" shirts and nonchalance for a game against the Jaguars of Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis asked one another how to get to the game. The concourse seemed quiet, bare and mundane.
The Jaguars had scouted the Hoyas right for the first half, owning a lead much of the first twenty minutes. Georgetown players wanted blocks and steals too badly, and were left embarrassingly airborne as IUPUI took easy dribbles off their head fakes and hit mid-range shots in rhythm. Defensively, it seemed that IUPUI knew the Georgetown Princeton-style offense better than the Hoyas, and passing lanes were full of hands. Coach Todd Howard was active on the sidelines, working the referees, and the team was rewarded for its hard work, riding 16 Alex Young points into the locker room at intermission down just a single point.
After experiencing the majority of my college basketball in GW's Charles E. Smith Center, fondly recalling days when we leaned over cheap aluminum railings in wooden bleachers forcing opposing teams to wander further and further toward mid-court so students wouldn't disrupt their huddles, I scoffed at the distance between Georgetown students and the court. I badly wanted more reasons to perpetuate my David vs. Goliath hate. I wanted that Big East team to be the monolith I thought it was so I could dream of our shattering it.
I scanned the arena, far too big for the fans in attendance for the game, and sought out people who would fan the flames of a rivalry that has become more fiction than fact over a generation. As the second half went on, Georgetown picked apart IUPUI with little fanfare. During breaks, a too-fat bulldog attacked a cardboard box with a Jaguars logo on it, and a pilgrim shot t-shirts out of a "Gatling gun" toward newly-awakened fans. No one really seemed to care all that much.
As IUPUI went from playing for a win to playing for some semblance of pride, I found my interest flagging as well. Georgetown inspired far less rage than I'd expected, or even hoped for. My mind wandered toward classic games against teams actually on a GW schedule. Thirty years have indeed passed since the last GW/Georgetown game, but I'm not as sure as I once was of what we we've been denied.
Georgetown was, and remains until the two teams play, GW's rival that isn't. Those snowballs weren't about my GW pride against Hoya arrogance. They were students all-too-willing to give a fight to a dweeb in a foam hat who wanted one. Like the "rivalry," it wasn't really anything at all.
at GEORGETOWN 81, IUPUI 58 11/28/2011
IUPUI 2-5 (0-0) -- B. Beal 7-13 3-6 22; A. Young 4-15 6-7 16; S. Thomas 2-10 1-2 5; L. Gaines 4-8 0-0 8; M. Patton 5-10 1-4 11; I. Chiles 1-3 0-0 3; C. Siakam 3-7 0-0 6; G. Rice 0-2 0-0 0; M. Barksdale 0-1 3-6 3; D. Gibbs 0-0 0-0 0; S. Esposito 2-4 2-2 6. Totals 21-60 13-21 58. GEORGETOWN 5-1 (0-0) -- M. Starks 6-9 1-2 13; H. Thompson 9-15 1-1 21; J. Clark 1-7 5-6 7; N. Lubick 3-9 1-2 8; O. Porter 3-5 0-0 6; H. Sims 6-10 2-2 14; G. Whittington 3-7 0-0 7; J. Trawick 0-2 0-0 0; A. Bowen 1-1 0-0 3; M. Hopkins 1-2 0-0 2; T. Adams 0-0 0-0 0; J. Caprio 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 33-67 10-13 81.
Three-point goals: IUPUI 3-18 (S. Thomas 0-4; A. Young 2-7; G. Rice 0-2; S. Esposito 0-2; M. Patton 0-1; I. Chiles 1-2), GU 5-18 (J. Clark 0-4; H. Thompson 2-5; M. Starks 0-1; A. Bowen 1-1; N. Lubick 1-1; G. Whittington 1-4; O. Porter 0-1; J. Trawick 0-1); Rebounds: IUPUI 34 (A. Young 8), GU 42 (N. Lubick 14); Assists: IUPUI 11 (S. Thomas 4), GU 20 (N. Lubick 5); Total Fouls -- IUPUI 13, GU 18; Fouled Out: IUPUI-None; GU-None.