Sussex County History Today: Taking on Vermont, Niagara

| 24 Nov 2023 | 09:08

    It is my pleasure to leave the floor open to the Sussex County basketball star Mike Ferrara, describing his success on the court.

    Part 7: 1980-81

    Colgate plays Vermont in the second week of February 1981.

    I have about 15 A/A+ games under my belt this year against some of the best teams in the country so I am ready for these guys. I guess the saying of what goes around comes around is true as I found karma playing a big role in my revenge quest.

    We are in the ECAC North, a scholarship league except for Colgate with nine teams, five or six good ones, and only six teams qualify for the ECAC North post-season playoffs.

    We are in a solid seventh place. Niagara is in a solid sixth place. We are in seventh place because we lost most of our games like the LSU game. Single digits at the end and I am not really getting a lot of help.

    We also had the toughest ECAC North non-conference schedule that year. Vermont comes to Colgate in third or fourth place in our league with about a 15-7 record.

    For us to make the ECAC North playoffs, we must beat Vermont or there is no shot, we drop to eighth place with one conference game left: Niagara. We are done if that happens.

    I knew the Vermont players well from that summer, good guys, good solid players but they weren’t anything I was worried about like the LSU guys. I just hated their coaches, not them.

    Bottom line, 34 points by me and we beat them by six to 10 points. They beat Niagara earlier that month and we beat them. We are still in a strong seventh place after this game, but Niagara is now in a weaker sixth place because of our Vermont win. Mission Accomplished. A performance. Two down, one to go.

    In mid-February 1981, we are playing at the Niagara Falls Convention Center, where we lost by 50 two years earlier when I embarrassed my ancestors.

    We got in two days early and the day of the game, a massive lake-effect blizzard hit Niagara and only about 500 people made the game.

    One of my boys from Niagara, Attila Hevesy, flew up for the game the day before as he was on the Niagara team with me as a walk-on in 1976. He’s another New Jersey guy who Dan Raskin screwed over, so he was seeing red too.

    Here is the setup. I am in warmups serious as a heart attack and some old fat guy right off the side of the court starts screaming at the top of his lungs over and over again every time I touch the ball: “Ferrara, you suck” - that is all he kept saying.

    It was like a broken-record echo chamber in that arena, so it was echoing from wall to wall and very loud, like a megaphone. Everyone there could hear it clearly. There are only 500 people max in this huge area because of the snowstorm.

    This guy actually broke my concentration for a few seconds in warm-ups. I remember looking at him from the corner of my eye. I stayed cool, made out I didn’t hear/see him - poker face.

    Came off the court to start the game. I remember looking at Attila from the huddle, catching his eyes behind the bench before the start, and just nodding at him once and him smiling and nodding back at me. We both had the look and he waited as long as me for me to do this.

    The first 10 minutes of the first half, fat boy is screaming at me every time I had the ball, which was every time we came down court. He is right off the court behind the press tables walking from one end of the court to the other following me back and forth screaming.

    I proceeded to hit my first eight shots. His loud screaming is now down to about half-volume midway thru the first half and he is turning bright red.

    Attila told me with about two minutes remaining in the first half, he was beet-red in the face, and he just exited the arena (Attila also told me after the game he wanted to follow him outside but didn’t want to miss the beating I was giving to Niagara).

    This guy went from a lion’s roar to a mosquito in 18 minutes and flew away. I ended the first half with 25. Broke some arena/Niagara records in the first half.

    We were up 13. I missed two shots. We slowed the ball down again in the second half instead of going at them like we should have but fortunately we still held on for a six-point win.

    This was the first time Colgate had beaten Niagara since the mid-1930s.

    Our coach blew a lot of our close games (Siena, Missouri (#8), Maine, Catholic, maybe Villanova (#10), maybe Syracuse (#12), maybe LSU (#2), maybe Ohio State (#15) to name a few).

    Fortunately, we had a big enough lead this time that he didn’t screw this one up. I had 10 more points in the second half and only took about seven shots in that half because of the slow-down offense once again.

    We won, I ended with 35, we knocked Niagara out of the ECAC North playoffs, and we secured the sixth playoff spot in our last conference game against them. They secured the seventh spot.

    Talk about the stars all lining up. This was the first time in Colgate basketball history that Colgate earned a post-season playoff berth. A little icing on the Niagara cake.

    First, Sports Illustrated did a two-page story on me right after that game on Feb. 21, 1981. They used the Niagara game photo in Sports Illustrated.

    Second, the Niagara Gazette did a fantastic page-one story on me the next day in Niagara/Buffalo, saying incredible things about my game but the nicest thing they said was, “Ferrara had moves reminiscent of Pistol Pete Maravich.”

    Karma is a bitch. I think mission accomplished. A++ first-half/A+ second-half performance. Hat trick - three for three, courtesy of a Franklin farmer.

    Contact Bill Truran, Sussex County historian, at