One Shining Moment: 10 years ago Vermont stunned Syracuse in style
Editor's note: This week, Stewart Mandel is looking back at four "one shining moments" from March Madness history. On Monday, we relived Ali Farokhmanesh's dagger 3 that helped Northern Iowa upset Kansas in 2010. On Tuesday, we celebrated 20 years since Tyus Edney saved UCLA. On Wednesday, it was 25 years since Burrell-to-George saved UConn. We wrap up today with another gem.
The game: March 18, 2005. No. 13 seed Vermont upset No. 4 seed Syracuse, 60-57, in overtime, for the school's first-ever NCAA tournament victory.
The play: With Vermont holding a one-point lead with just over a minute left in overtime, Catamounts guard T.J. Sorrentine inexplicably picks up his dribble and unhurls a three from about 30 feet out. CBS immediately cuts to a shot of exuberant coach Tom Brennan with his arms raised to the sky.
The aftermath: Despite playing in the anonymity of the America East, Vermont enjoyed a plethora of publicity during the 2004-05 season. National writers flocked to Burlington in part to chronicle star Taylor Coppenrath, a local kid-turned national standout who averaged 25.1 points as a senior. But Brennan, the Catamounts' gregarious coach of 19 years, became his own unique story, a Division I coach who also co-hosted a wacky morning radio show.
Ten years later, Brennan, now 65, has a wisecrack ready when recalling that memorable upset.
"When I went to Sorrentine's wedding, he said the reason I felt comfortable taking that shot was because I knew how much coach believed in me," says Brennan. "Well, I believed in Santa Claus for a long time, too, but that doesn't make it a good shot.
"When he shot it, I'm thinking, 'Good god, son, what are you thinking?' People say, 'But you had your hands up.' Well, once he shot it I had to root for it."
Brennan's jubilant reaction stood in stark contrast to the typical, tightly wound coach who remains stark-faced until the final buzzer. Sorrentine's shot didn't win the game. Vermont still had to hold on, and in fact almost blew it when Martin Klimes airballed his second free throw, up three with 19.4 seconds left.
All the while, though, Brennan -- who'd previously announced his retirement after the season -- wore the expression of a guy playing with house money.
Upon arriving from Yale in 1986, it took Brennan five years to record his first winning record at Vermont. Even then he never won more than 16 games in his first 15 seasons. That changed, though, with the arrival of Sorrentine in 2000 and Coppenrath the next. The pair of 2,000-point career scorers headlined a core group that would earn three straight conference titles and NCAA bids from 2003-05.
Knowing the group's time was coming to an end, Brennan achieved something few in his profession ever do: He went out on top. "It was just time," he said. "And then that magic happened with Syracuse."
Vermont's run ended with a loss to Michigan State in the next round, after which Brennan made a seemingly natural transition to television. But ESPN parted ways with him after five seasons. "I wasn't bitter," said Brennan, who admits he was too slow to embrace the Internet and didn't watch enough games. "I didn't work hard enough."
Today he's mostly retired, save for a seasonal analyst role on Sirius XM's College Sports Nation. Brennan gave up the morning radio show in 2008. He and his wife, Lynn, still live in a house on Lake Champlain in Vermont and will forever be delighted to recount that Syracuse game. "When Sorrentine hit that shot," he says now, "I'm thinking, there's no way we're losing now. We're winning."
Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.