The Torrington "Crazies". The best darn fan section in the NVL in 2006. The Boys basketball championship series continues.
Torrington: The helped make it THE place to be anytime the Torrington boys basketball team were playing.
I mean, THE place to be. By the hundreds, sometimes make that by the thousands.
There were fans of all ages in the joint, young and old.
It became a social gathering long before the time of Facebook or Twitter or whatever.
The 2005-2006 Torrington boys championship team was not the only team to benefit from this group of crazed fans but they made everything about that season, from game one till the Division II Championship game at Central Connecticut State University something you wanted to be part of.
When you walked into the Connie Donahue Gymnasium on any given night, the far right section was filled to the rafters by a student section so dedicated to their Raiders that they even had a pecking order.
Yes, you heard me right. You had to know your place in the Raiders cheering section and you earned getting promoted by how well you followed the unwritten rules.
One fan, who has since gone on to make his hometown proud with a stellar career that is now flourishing at CPTV, stood out in particular within the fan base.
His name is Francesco Graziano or Frankie as he is known to most.
This is a young man, born and raised in Torrington who put in the time and earned everything he has today through hard work, sweat and a persistency that was the trade mark of many of the Raider teams in those days.
Frankie is that guy who, if you need something, like when I destroyed my knee a few years ago, was one of the first to visit with a massive grinder from Carbone’s Market, a local legendary landmark here in T-Town. I still think there is some roast beef left.
I’ll never forget Frankie out at Fuessenich Park, covering the Torrington Twisters college baseball team in left field after a long game, interviewing that nights star in full suit and tie on a hot and humid summers night without complaining a bit.
His memories of that 2006 title run flowed back like they happened yesterday as we sat and had lunch recently at the Wood “N” Tap in Farmington.
“I remember driving to most games that championship season, my junior year.” Graziano said. “I drove my van to most of those games. I had a 1991 Dodge Caravan that you were supposed to fit seven but we fit eight. I would take everybody. It was the time of my life.”
Having the crazies show up in your gym was never a welcome sight for any opposing team but it paled in comparison to what it was like to come up and visit the Raiders in the “House of Horrors” as it was known in the days of Graziano and company.
“Those guys were part of the team.” Michael Fabiaschi said. “When you were sucking wind or needed an extra boost, they got you over the hump. Nobody wanted to come play us at home.”
Head coach Tony Turina appreciated what the crowds did for the Raiders as well and understood their importance.
“The energy they brought to the gym was second to none.” Turina said. “I couldn’t hear myself think at some points so I know the other team had to struggle with it as well. In those days, it was not just the student section that helped, it was the entire community that came to the gym to catch up with old friends on a weekly basis.”
The era of storming the court came to life back during the Graziano Raider days and became part of the lore that was the 2006 season.
On one occasion, it nearly costs the team the game in a critical portion of the championship run.
In the teams nail biting 58-55 win over Stratford in the quarterfinals, the game most acknowledge as the game that told the team they were not to be denied in their run to the title, the Raiders had taken the lead late on a pair of free throws by Gary Robinson that seemed to clinch the win but time remained on the clock.
Graziano remembers the game and near miss well.
‘It was always about storming the court.” Graziano said. “In that Stratford game, we jumped early. We thought it was over but there was more time left. I always remember seeing Tony T. looking back at us and telling us not yet but it was almost too late.”
Turina remembers the near nightmare.
“It was almost a disaster.” Turina said. “All of a sudden I see the fans start to storm and I’m waving them off before the officials see them and call a technical. We were only up three so I didn’t want to give them (Stratford) another opportunity to score. They ran on, they ran right back off in an instant. We got lucky but our fans were terrific.”
“As a fans we felt we were playing to.” Graziano said. “We had a big impact on what happened in the games. We wanted kids not to ever want to come back to play in Torrington, that’s how much we tried to impact things. The chants we had were creative, we even had a cadence.”
Think about that. These guys took the cheering and supporting of their Raiders seriously every time they played.
We can’t talk about the 2006 championship series without talking a bit about the last game. The third meeting between the Raiders and rival Holy Cross.
Yes, the “Mooning” game. Forget “Deflategate”, Torrington had their own bit of controversy back in 2006.
Was it much to do about nothing? No question.
Should it have led to four starters being suspended for two days from school and the first quarter of the title game? Probably not.
Did their opponent Holy Cross probably wish it never happened? Without a doubt.
What happened when the starters were forced to sit out the first quarter inflamed and motivated an already over the top fan base that took their support to an entirely different level.
The Championship game was held at Central Connecticut State University and was the first game of the day scheduled.
Graziano and the Raider faithful made sure they got there early and in mass.
“There must have been 800 of us in the gym long before the game started.” Graziano said. “We were not going to let this team lose if we could help it.”
It was well reported that the only chance the Crusaders had to beat the Raiders (who had beaten them twice during the regular season) had was to get off to a fast start while the Torrington regulars were on the bench.
Well, that didn’t happen.
The Raiders not only held their own but led after one quarter by a 15-11 score, leading to one of the most memorable chants of all time in Raider lore.
“When the first quarter ended and we were up,” Graziano said, “Coach Turina timed the starters going back in just right. We were able to hit them with a chant of ‘You’re in trouble’ and ‘Here they come’. They were toast after the starters came in.”
Torrington would go on to win that day by a 55-40 final and take home the Division II title. A fitting ending to a remarkable season, highlighted by a fan base that treated their players like rock stars and made the Connie Donahue Gymnasium a place no team wanted to come and play.