Not again, thought Virginia coach Dom Starsia. Not another
With 13 minutes remaining in Monday's NCAA championship game
against Syracuse in College Park, Md., Starsia had been calm. As
calm, that is, as a man who had already lost two title matches in
sudden death could be under such circumstances. "We wanted the
game to be over," Starsia, whose Cavaliers suffered Memorial Day
overtime losses to Princeton in 1994 and '96, would say later,
"but we knew that it wasn't."
Virginia midfielder Hanley Holcomb had just scored to put the
Cavaliers ahead 10-4, a lead that appeared to signal an "over and
out" for the Orangemen's hopes of winning a sixth championship in
12 years. Then Syracuse exploded, scoring five goals in the next
10 minutes. Suddenly the score was 10-9 with more than three
minutes left. Starsia was getting a nasty case of deja vu, and
the Wahoo! cheers of the Virginia faithful were in danger of
being drowned out by boo-hoos. "You don't even want to consider
that type of loss," said Starsia, "to miss out on a golden chance
for a championship ring three times."
Not now, thought Marty Curtis. Not my ring. Early in the fourth
quarter, Marty, the mother of Virginia All-America defenseman
Ryan and the wife of former Baltimore Colts linebacker Mike,
noticed that her wedding band was missing. "It either came off
when I was washing my hands or when I was celebrating a goal,"
she said as she kept an eye on the game--and an eye on family and
friends who were crawling under the bleachers and emptying rest
room garbage bins, looking for her ring.
Marty was calm, though. As calm, that is, as a woman whose son
was playing in the biggest game of his life and whose husband's
NFL nom de guerre was Animal could be under such circumstances.
"I'm seriously stressed," she said, "but I can't miss this
finish. You can always get another wedding ring."
Dom Starsia and Marty Curtis, two people in search of a ring.
Thanks mostly to Ryan's defensive bullying, Starsia got his.
Virginia outlasted Syracuse 12-10 for its first national title
since 1972. All afternoon Ryan Curtis hounded Ryan Powell, the
Orangemen's leading scorer this season (37 goals and 44 assists)
and the younger brother of Syracuse's alltime leading scorer,
two-time national player of the year Casey Powell. Monday, the
younger Powell got only five shots, good for two goals and two
assists. "Our Ryan did a terrific job," Cavaliers assistant coach
Chris Colbeck said. "The best thing he did today was keep his
cool. You know, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
Colbeck was referring to Ryan's dad, a four-time Pro Bowl
linebacker with the Colts between 1965 and '75 who played with
reckless abandon--and occasional insanity. During practice he had
no qualms about hitting the Baltimore quarterback, a guy named
Unitas. He's also remembered--fondly by many--for clotheslining a
fan who had the temerity to run onto the field at Memorial
Stadium in Baltimore in 1971.
"Ryan's a mellow guy," says Cavaliers All-America attackman
Tucker Radebaugh, Curtis's roommate. "He's a religious studies
major, you know. Then again, on the field he's a nutbag."
Curtis, a 5'10", 180-pound junior, waged a one-man holy war
against Syracuse. Clamping down on his blue mouth guard, he
patrolled the area in front of the Virginia goal with the
swagger and menace of a middle linebacker. He deflected shots,
intercepted passes and made bone-rattling hits. Late in the
second quarter, when a Syracuse attackman ventured into the
crease, Curtis clotheslined him with his stick. That drew the
first of his two penalties on the day. Like father, like son?
"No," said Ryan. "I was just trying to ensure that today would
be our day."
Before the match, fate seemed to wear orange. In round 1 of the
playoffs Syracuse, seeded eighth, defeated three-time defending
champion Princeton. In the quarterfinals it eliminated the
nation's top-ranked team, Loyola--in the process beating a
top-rated goalie who has a name familiar to Orange lacrosse
fans: Jim Brown.
This put Syracuse into the Final Four for the 17th straight year,
another good omen. It won 13-9 over Georgetown in the semis, but
its good fortune ended when it faced Virginia, another squad clad
Syracuse said bye-bye to Byrd Stadium while wahoo-ing Virginia
fans scrambled for souvenirs. Parents yelled at their
sons-in-armor to pose for pictures as children begged for a
keepsake, be it a stick or a T-shirt. Marty had a very special
memento--a trash bag filled with rest room detritus. She hoped,
she said, that her ring was within. As she said that, an earring
fell off. "I'm not having a good jewelry day," she said with a
smile, "but I'm having a great lacrosse day."