Game time at Chuck's brought amped up energy (and a few spilled drinks)

Commentary: Watching the Final Four game at the legendary campus bar creates lasting memories, despite the 'Cuse defeat.

We didn’t have time to let the Jello shots set. 

“Oh my god!” my roommate Susie squealed from her room as my friend Nik tapped the jiggly contents of one of the orange rinds in our fridge skeptically, “The line at Chuck's is already so long!”

It was only 6:30 p.m. but the Facebook photo of a friend proved that fans had been crowding into the bar for hours.  The line outside looked like it nearly reached South Crouse Avenue.  Suited up in orange and with face paint decorating our cheeks, my group decided that we had to split sans shots.  On our way down to Marshall Street, we passed orange pong tables on front porches and lawns covered in cups, cans and grinning students decked out in school colors: the Final Four journey was about to begin. 

Photo: Emily Brzozowski
TVs at Chuck's were positioned strategically -- including behind the bar.

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When we made it to Chuck's, the line was, in fact, so long.  We spotted a friend near the front who said she’d already waited an hour, and we were herded all the way back by Komachi, even nearly two hours before game time.  Although there were no “Let’s Go Orange!” chants or attempts to start the wave (I considered it), spirits seemed high and by the time we made it inside my friends and I were hopped up on all the buzzy excitement.  Inside, that feeling quadrupled.

Students sing-screaming along with the music, students standing on chairs, students wielding frothy pitchers above their heads while weaving through the packed crowd: awesome ‘Cuse chaos.  My friends and I decided to wedge deep into the madness on the right side of the bar for a view of the giant screen that had been erected for the occasion.  The place was so packed that we grabbed hands and still nearly lost each other as we tried to push and wriggle our way through.  I’ve never been a huge sports fanatic, but was as hopelessly swept up in the energy and excitement  as everyone else. 

When, finally, Syracuse players started strutting onto screens (yes, there were at least a dozen different screens), the bar erupted with cheers.  We screamed the starter’s names.  We went nuts for Jim Boeheim’s face.  We hooted and clapped and jumped up and down.  Every time a play unfolded in Syracuse’s favor, the bar seemed to have one voice that swelled, in triumph, to the ceiling.  I quickly learned the chants, mastered the skyward fist pump, and heartily booed Michigan plays with the best of ‘em. 

As the game went on, the atmosphere got a little more tense. When halftime rolled around though and Cuse was lagging by 11 points, we all still kept the faith.  Fans wearing Syracuse sunglasses shook and grinded on tables in the corner.  We smelled a comeback.  

At this point, making trips to the bar for drinks required patience, determination, and the ability to shove ones head into the bartender’s line of vision before the four people surrounding you did first.  Making a trip back from the bar with a full pitcher required the balance of a tightrope walker.  The incredibly long line for the women’s bathroom inspired innovative ladies, myself included, to run to Marshall Square mall for relief. 

When Cuse started coming back in the middle of the second half, people got even crazier.  With every Syracuse basket, hands soared into the air and mouths widened with joy.

In those last few minutes, we threw arms around each other’s shoulders.  We squeezed hands and some squeezed their eyes shut.  The noise level surged off the charts.  "Let’s go Orange!"

When Trevor Cooney missed that last shot, though, it was like a vortex sucked out our spirits.  The last seconds gone, the score final: a Syracuse defeat.  My friends and I gathered into the biggest, tightest group hug we could manage.  Sad, sloppy kisses smudged the face paint off our cheeks.  All around us, groups of friends tangled limbs, patted each other’s backs, or let a few tears squeak out the side of squinted eyes.  Somehow, amidst all the body-slamming sorrow-hugs and the sniveling kisses, my nose started bleeding (and, as it turns out, I do not actually “bleed orange.”)  

The bar started clearing out fast—people didn’t seem ready to keep throwing back Bud Light pitchers after our defeat, at least not at Chuck's anyway.  With one last hug, my fellow senior friends and I promised that next year, after graduation, we’d get together and watch another game.  Next year, Cuse will make it to the Final Four again.  But next year, we’re going all the way.  


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