Ruthie Braunstein/The Hoya Chris Ray (SFS `01) cheers. Chris Ray (SFS ’01) woke up nervous Saturday morning. He rolled out of bed and headed out to the second-to-last home game of his Georgetown career.

The night before, Ray and a friend sat in his messy New South resident assistant dorm room discussing the game. Ray confessed that he needed a win against Syracuse, that his relationship with the struggling basketball team had become unfulfilling for the first time in four years.

Ray has seen almost every Georgetown basketball game of the past four years. He plays the tuba for the band when he can’t afford a ticket to the game. He consults ESPN.com’s college basketball commentary 12 times a day. He fantasizes about bending Coach Craig Esherick’s ear for a while, about sitting down and telling him how to improve the team.

Ray epitomizes the Georgetown fan. For him, basketball games go beyond Saturday afternoons. Devotion to Hoya sports envelops his life, driving him up to Kehoe Field in the fall and downtown to MCI Center in the winter. He loves the passes and rebounds, the shiny wood-floor smell of MCI Center that greets his nose when he enters. Above all, however, Ray savors the fans and their boundless school spirit.

“Basketball is religious in that it’s so communal,” he explains. “The camaraderie attached to a team can be so powerful.”

Persevering through seasons bad and worse, Ray looks fondly upon the Hoyas through defeat and victory as if the giant players were his children. Waking early Saturdays to meet friends and catch a cab at Healy gates, Ray’s basketball ritual mandates a chicken sandwich breakfast from Burger King and an early arrival to secure prime student section seating.

“They have such potential, such brilliant flashes of talent,” Ray says before Saturday’s Syracuse game. He stares glumly into his Diet Coke can. “I just don’t understand why they can’t put it together.”

But Saturday, things changed.

Standing in the student section’s front row before the game, Ray should be relaxed and happy. He was accepted to Harvard Law yesterday. Instead, he’s pacing up and down the bleacher steps. His fingers drum a can of Diet Coke, he taps his thighs. His hands frequently adjust the worn, “lucky” blue baseball cap on his head. His dark eyes shoot around the stadium, scan the student section and concentrate briefly on the Syracuse players’ warm ups.

Students come down to the front row and greet him.

“Chris Ray, what’s up, man.” Everyone knows he is the fan to watch. Today he’s got a hot rumor – Kevin Braswell might be wearing a wrist cast, unable to play.

“People just come to me and tell me things,” Ray said, craning his neck to view Braswell’s arm as he walks onto the court. “I’ll be sitting in The Tombs and 10 to 15 people will see me and want to tell me basketball gossip.”

Ray stands out among the group of Hoya Bluers. He doesn’t have a tinsel wig, and he’s not interested in banners or wearing a cape. The only paint on his body appears when Georgetown sinks the first basket, a friend’s blue-stained fingers streaking his neck in a bear hug. He wears a black T-shirt and notched, frayed jeans hiding cowboy boots- anomalous in the sea of gray and blue shirts and sneakers. But even though he’s not really dressed the part, everyone knows Ray is a fan.

Ray cheers the old fashioned way. When the score margin narrows in favor of the Orangemen he grabs fistfuls of his brown hair anguishing over a missed shot, pacing, worrying. When things are good, he smiles and hugs his friends and starts cheers with a booming Texan voice.

“Hoy-a . Sax-a!” Most of the time, Ray started the cheer.

Ray started that cheer at another Syracuse event earlier in the season. Entering a crowded student bar in Syracuse, N.Y., Ray led 30 chanting Hoyas into the establishment, colonizing it with Georgetown fans.

His sophomore year, Ray was almost expelled from a Syracuse game for his boisterous style. Leaning over the student section’s right railing into Coach Jim Boeheim face as the Orangemen walked in, Ray yelled, “Jim . You’re going down!” Boeheim immediately approached a police officer and pointed at Ray.

“That was one of my all-time favorite Georgetown experiences,” Ray says with glee. “I mean, Jim turns around, and he’s one of the greatest coaches of all time, and he points at me.”

Early Saturday, however, Ray is more subdued. He doesn’t yell epithets. He doesn’t boo. He concentrates instead on the game itself and involving everyone in the cheering and singing. He’s team’s sixth player, shushing the crowd for free throws and rallying cries of encouragement.

As fans pour into the stadium, he eyes the orange shirts dotting the stands, sizing them up. He’s playing man-to-man with each Syracuse fan.

“Watch out,” he warns. “Syracuse fans multiply like rats.”

At halftime, Ray looks like an expectant father awaiting word from the delivery room. His eyes are fixed and he’s not up for small talk. The Hoyas have played a great half, he says, but there’s still another to go. The lead could easily be turned. He’s been supporting the team throughout the game, pointing out the often overlooked Nathaniel Burton, who Ray says plays with a lot of heart. When Victor Samnick misses a free throw Ray quells the groans arising from the section. “It’s OK, he’s just a little nervous. Let him get his legs.”

Ray attributes his dedication to pride – pride in his school, in himself. He says he was “atrocious” his sophomore year, enjoying obnoxious antics. He admits he can take things too far in the name of sports dedication – knocking over furniture in frustration, even breaking up with a girlfriend who did not understand his relationship with sports. In his senior year, however, Ray is collected. Retiring after games to a Village A rooftop, Ray sips a bourbon and Diet Coke and bums cigarettes. If it’s a big win, he’s beyond excited. If it’s a loss, he doesn’t talk about it for days.

In the final seconds of Saturday’s game, Ray poises to rush the court. He sees one of his friends from freshman year, a saxophone player. Without saying a word, the two embrace in a hug.

“This is the perfect culmination of my Georgetown basketball fandom,” Ray says. “You can’t ask for more than a win at home against Syracuse.”

But Ray knows the elation he derives from being a fan can’t last forever.

Saturday, Ray forgoes his ritual basketball Burger King breakfast in favor of a banana and apple stolen from New South, which he eats in MCI Center before the main doors open.

Watching children play basketball before the game, Ray acknowledges the rapidly approaching end of his career as a Hoya student fan.

“I’ll still follow the Hoyas intensely,” he says. “I’m sure I’ll go to a bar in Austin or Boston and watch.”

He looks out from his seat at the nerve center of the student section. “I’ll probably sit at mid-court after graduation, though.” A cloud gathers on his face. “I guess it’s just maturation.”

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