SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The line of mourners stretched well outside the double doors of Lehman, Reen & McNamara Funeral Home onto Chestnut Hill Avenue and into Monday’s brutal cold.
They all waited along the snow-stuffed sidewalks, stepping slowly forward every few minutes, wanting to pay their respects.
Former athletes. Current coaches. Coworkers. All friends. All, in some way or another, family.
They all knew Dick Kelley. They all wanted to see him one last time.
Boston College’s men’s basketball team came as a whole. The players knew what they meant to him.
Kelley spent 22 years as the media conduit for BC basketball, but to the program — and to the school — he was more than that. It seemed like every breath he took — up to his last a week ago when he died after a long battle with ALS — was Boston College.
He was the one who would e-mail Olivier Hanlan, not just after games but after class. Hanlan would sit in his office and talk life.
“If you had anything on your mind, you would talk to DK,’’ said Hanlan. “He was just always talking about how to be a great person.”
The next day the team went to the Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola for his funeral.
As hard as the moment was to process. The memories poured out of every player.
“We all got emotional,” Ryan Anderson said. “It’s some of the first time I’ve seen my teammates cry. It was just a trying time for all of us.
“He meant so much to all of us and he would want nothing more than for us to come out and play hard.’’
When they took the court Sunday at Conte Forum against Notre Dame, the weight was heavy enough. The video tribute to Kelley stirred so many emotions.
“That was weird game for a lot of us,” Joe Rahon said. “Just seeing that, getting all emotional, and then all of a sudden we’ve got to go play a 40-minute ACC game. That was tough.”
There was no way for the Eagles to suppress it all on their way to face No. 1 Syracuse Wednesday night. The only thing they could do was channel it.
But getting to Syracuse on Tuesday was its own challenge. What would have normally been a five-hour drive turned into a brutal seven-hour trip through a snowstorm.
They didn’t expect getting to the Carrier Dome Wednesday night to be just as difficult, but it was. With traffic jamming Irving Street, the main artery to the arena, the 15-minute drive from their hotel took nearly an hour.
It took a police escort to finally get them there — an hour before tip-off.
Once they arrived, they were staring down the an undefeated Orange team that had rattled off 25 straight wins.
Halfway through the night, they found themselves in a 13-point hole.
But when they thought about everything that had happened, it didn’t seem that deep. The struggles they had gone through all season — the five-game losing streak they brought to Syracuse along with a 6-19 record — seemed smaller as well.
“When we go through those tough times as a team, I look at DK and what he fought through,” Lonnie Jackson said. “He was always so positive, always telling us to keep going. So I just tried to use his toughness, his positivity going through this tough times as a team.’’
Slowly, the Eagles climbed out of their hole.
After going 2 of 8 from 3-point range in the first half, they drained 9 of 14 the rest of the way. They reined in their 12 first-half turnovers, committing just five the rest of the night.
They found themselves in overtime against the best team in the country. Suddenly all 25 of the wins that Syracuse spent the season stacking up looked like Jenga pieces, and BC had a reason to knocked them over.
They stunned Syracuse, 62-59, and considering the Eagles circumstances, it was easily the biggest upset of the year.
But for BC, the win had a different significance.
“There’s no secret of why we won today,” Anderson said. “It was just DK looking down on us. There’s no luck that goes into it, when you have everything that’s so negative that’s happened to us this week. For something like to beat the No. 1 team, undefeated, in their place, it’s not luck, it’s just him looking down on us.”
When adversity came, BC was calm.
Trailing, 58-57, Syracuse’s super freshman Tyler Ennis tried to loft an entry pass over Jackson, but sailed it so high that it landed out of bounds along the baseline by the Syracuse bench.
The question was whether Jackson got his fingernails on it. It seemed to take the officials forever to answer it. In the end, they ruled that he got a piece of it.
“I saw he didn’t touch it and we were setting up an inbounds play assuming that we were going to get the ball,” said Anderson (9 points, 14 rebounds). “But we also said, if for some reason we get another call to go against us, there’s no way that we’re not going to get a stop right here.’’
It was up to BC to get a stop, and they got it when Syracuse’s leading scorer C.J. Fair (20 points) came up empty on a jumper.
From there, the only thing between the Eagles and their biggest win of the season were free throws.
With Jackson shooting 56 percent from the line this season, the numbers were telling Syracuse to foul him. They were lying, though. He had only taken 16 attempts this season before Wednesday night. For his career, he was a 78 percent shooter.
Jackson went to the line four times in the final 26 seconds, nailing them all and icing the Eagles biggest victory since they knocked off No. 1 North Carolina in Chapel Hill in 2009.
After the final horn, there was hardly a peep as 26,716 fans cleared the dome. The only noise came from a hallway in the nooks of the building where the Eagles were celebrating.
While his team was exploding, BC coach Steve Donahue was still on the floor handling postgame interviews. They settled down when he walked in. Only for a minute, though.
He pointed to the “DK” pin on his lapel and told his team, “You know who this is for.”
“We stormed him, lifted him up, went crazy again,” Rahon said. “After all we’ve been through and after the disappointing start we’ve had to the season, that’s something that we’ll never forget and you can’t take away from us.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.
Correction: Dick Kelley’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.