Syracuse-Georgetown reaches new heights, tensions flare in 1984 Big East championship
Sonny Spera labeled it “Hoya Paranoia.” Rafael Addison said they were “like the Oakland Raiders of college basketball.” Andre Hawkins coined it a “Georgetown-against-the-world mentality.”
All three had a different, nasty, spiteful term to describe the tough-nosed style of basketball that defined Georgetown in the 1980s, but all of their callous accusations merged at a harsh consensus: The Hoyas were a dirty basketball team.
“The whole ‘Hoya Paranoia’ thing, I think they just fed off that,” Spera said.” I think they just liked to be the dark side of the force. Good versus evil. I think they didn’t mind playing the bad boy role. They loved it.”
That blood-bath, no-mercy, utter-hatred mentality bubbled to an all-time high in the Big East tournament on March 10, 1984, when Syracuse and Georgetown tussled in the championship finale. With four minutes remaining, a game already doused with animosity turned brutal, as Georgetown big man Michael Graham took a left-handed swipe at Syracuse forward Andre Hawkins’ face. Referee Dick “Froggy” Paparo initially ejected Graham, but after discussing the situation with coaches Jim Boeheim and John Thompson, the officiating crew decided to reverse the call. Graham stayed in the game and fueled Georgetown to a win as part of a legendary kerfuffle that epitomizes the SU-Georgetown rivalry.
“You go to Syracuse, you have a friend at Syracuse, you even have a friend of a friend of a friend who goes to Syracuse, you just hate Georgetown,” Spera said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Late in the second half, that hatred reached new heights. Syracuse was up four points and a Big East championship was on the horizon. Then, chaos ensued.
Graham attempted a reverse layup in traffic that skimmed off of the backboard. Hawkins and Graham grappled for possession. Eventually, Hawkins snatched the ball away and fell to the floor. As he took the tumble, Graham swatted at him, barely missing the 6-foot-6 forward’s head.
“He took a huge swing at him,” Spera said. “He took a roundhouse, left-hand, all out punch, but he didn’t hit him. … It’s just a punk move.”
Paparo sprinted to the scene of the crime with a jolt in his step, ready to make a pivotal call. He signaled that Hawkins was ejected, jerking his hand toward the locker room. “He’s out! He’s out! He’s out!” Spera recalls Paparo shouting.
But after the refs convened and reached a verdict, Paparo trotted to the sideline to discuss the matter with Boeheim and Thompson. He reversed the call and Graham, who Spera called a “loose cannon,” stayed in the game.
That meant Syracuse only got two shots, instead of two additional technical foul shots and the ball. In a potentially pivotal twist that could have ignited SU to a victory, just the opposite happened.
Spera doesn’t know why the officials changed the call, but he speculates it was due to Georgetown’s intimidation factor, particularly that of the 6-foot-10, 269-pound behemoth Thompson, who Spera said had his way with Paparo.
Graham had a reputation as “the enforcer.” Addison said he epitomized the physical mentality that defined Georgetown during those years.
“Put it this way: I wasn’t surprised that Michael Graham tried something like that,” Addison said. “I would have been more surprised if somebody fell down and he helped them up.”
Hawkins said he had no idea Graham swatted his fist in his direction until after the game when he watched it on replay. He fell down and was focused on not traveling, his back turned when the punch came.
“If you watch the video, it shows that he took a swing at me, but he never connected,” Hawkins said. “But he did take the swing, which means he should have been ejected, as far as I know.”
But he wasn’t. Hawkins fouled out a minute later as Georgetown sent the game into overtime, eventually coming away with the momentous win. Carried by Patrick Ewing, the Hoyas went on to win the national championship.
Spera said he remembers the brouhaha clearly, but he doesn’t remember much about Georgetown’s late-game push after the bedlam ensued.
“How about that for selective memory?” Spera said, laughing. “The details get a little fuzzy after that.”
Boeheim was infuriated after the game, pushing a chair in disgust in a postgame press conference.
“Today,” Boeheim said, still bewildered and befuddled by the reversed call, “the best team didn’t win.”
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