On Monday night, I became an Orange Husky.
Let me rewind and explain.
I spent my childhood and teenage years watching Syracuse men's basketball with my dad. I was everything orange.
Growing up in Connecticut, people were not happy with my alliance to the then-Orangemen.
In 2008, I enrolled at UConn. You're thinking I threw away the blinding orange sweats, the plush Otto the Orange, the hats and the T's. You're thinking I went to the campus bookstore and bought myself a whole new wardrobe.
No. My heart was with 'Cuse and I knew I'd stay loyal forever, despite the all-consuming force known as UConn Country. I was adamant about making sure my faith to them did not waiver.
Freshman year I found myself dressed in all orange sitting three rows into the UConn student section at Gampel Pavillion in Storrs, CT. Amidst a crowd of true blue fans, I cheered for 'Cuse. Swears and plastic bottles were thrown at me. Students were not happy.
It's fair to say, I was hated. And still am by many. Fellow students recognize me on campus and boo.
In retrospect, I should have never been in that section. I thought being a die-hard fan meant I needed to flaunt it. It was UConn's home and the students deserved to have a group untainted with my orange apparel. But sports make us crazy and rash. We don't have time to revise our actions in the moment.
I've made amends with most of my haters, explaining to them that you don't just stop rooting for the team that has been with you since the beginning. To me, it was simple rationale. If you are a Yanks fan and you move to Boston, you're heart still lies in the Bronx.
So over the past three years, I've watched Syracuse games in my dorm. I was the lone Storrs resident rooting for a school that is more than five hours away.
Last year, I expected something great from Syracuse. With a solid squad led by Johnny Flynn, I was heartbroken when they were defeated by Butler in the Sweet 16.
This year I watched them start with an impressive 20-game win streak. I became naively hopeful again. But this season of college hoops was anything but sure, and when tourney time came around, 'Cuse fell short in the second round.
But one team kept winning. UConn. It was amazing to see the success of a team projected to finish tenth in the big east. While I watched Kemba Walker with awe as he pulled jab steps and shooting percentages that seemed surreal, I found myself thinking, am I becoming a fan?
When they're not facing Syracuse, I wouldn't root against the Huskies. I'm not that evil. But it was more than rooting for them out of respect and proximity.
While watching each game I found myself getting that that little jolt, that little lift, when you know your heart is into something. I recognized that. They were epiphanic moments. I didn't know what to make of it.
And Monday night, I became entirely absorbed. The atmosphere was a rush. I was happy, proud, excited, thrilled. The words I've always conjured with watching a 'Cuse win, not a UConn one. I was wearing a UConn T-shirt and exchanging high fives with sweaty, shaking hands. I was relishing the moment with the masses.
Syracuse will forever be my team. But Monday night, it was about school spirit. Monday night, I recognized that I had more than just an inkling of pride and connection with the team I had never associated myself with before. I learned that I could root for UConn. The team that truly deserved it.
I may love the Orange, but I am a Husky, after all.
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