Just minutes earlier, the Bears’ season and the college careers of Crew, Thurston, and fellow seniors Derrick Woodard, Matt Goldman, and Seth Quidachay-Swan had come to a surprising and disappointing end. After dominating the Ivy League with a 6–0–1 record (10–3–3 overall), the team had entered the NCAA Tournament with high hopes. Instead, it had to swallow a 2–0 opening-round loss to unranked Saint Peter’s College before a crowd of 1,733 at Stevenson Field—only the third time in twenty NCAA appearances that Brown has been knocked out in the first round. When Brown Daily Herald reporter Ian Cropp ’05 asked Crew and Thurston if their disappointment was tempered at all by having ended their college careers on their home field, where they could acknowledge their fans one last time, Crew, the Ivy League Player of the Year and a two-time District I Academic All-American, replied: “I’m glad I played for Brown, but I really didn’t want to end my career at all.”
And no wonder. The Bears, unbeaten since September and ranked eleventh in the nation and first in New England at the end of the regular season, had every reason to believe they might be as successful in the postseason as the 2000 team, which had made it to the NCAA Elite Eight. Some even thought the team had a chance to get to the Final Four, a level last reached by Cliff Stevenson’s 1975 squad. For in the fall of 2003 the Bears, who have now won seven league titles over the past decade, had re-established themselves as the Ivies’ most dominant team after the aberrant 2002 season, which was played largely without Crew, who’d been sidelined early with an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his left knee. Without their leading scorer for eight games, the Bears had finished with a 5–8–4 record, including a 1–4–2, seventh-place Ivy finish.
Coach Mike Noonan had recruited a strong freshman class for the 2003 season, but the key to the Bears’ resurgence was the return of Crew, who had been the nation’s fifth-highest scorer at the time of his injury. “When we realized how serious Adam’s injury was,” Noonan recalled, “I said to the training staff that if it had to happen to someone, it happened to the right guy, because he will be so committed to getting himself back, and he’s so disciplined.” For his part, Crew was eager this season to see how his knee would respond to the rigors of Division I play. “You’re always going to have questions when you come off a major injury,” he said. “But I knew I’d done my rehab well, and I always worked hard.”
Crew and the Bears opened the season by nipping the defending NCAA finalist, Stanford, 2–1 in the adidas-Brown Classic in mid-September before a sellout crowd at Stevenson Field. Two days later, Crew scored two goals in the team’s 4–3 adidas-Brown win against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, including the game-winner with nineteen seconds remaining. (That goal came off a pass from Andrew Daniels ’07, one of several freshmen who became impact players as the season unfolded.) These two victories earned the Bears a seventeenth-place national ranking; they would stay in the top twenty-five for the rest of the year. That first game against national-powerhouse Stanford, Crew says, “gave us confidence for the rest of the season, which we built off of each day, each game.”
After a 2–0 home loss to Boston University on September 30 that left the Bears with a 4–3 overall record, the team did not lose another game for the remainder of the regular season, a span of forty-six days and ten games. After the Ivy League season began in October, the Bears maneuvered through the conference minefield undefeated while adding non-league ties with Providence College and Boston College. First-team All-Ivy keeper Chris Gomez ’05 allowed just two goals over the entire Ivy season, both on penalty kicks. Overall, the Bears’ defense, led by first-team All-Ivy selection Jeff Larentowicz ’05, Honorable Mention All-Ivy selection Matt Britner ’07, and Thurston, posted a sterling eight shutouts.
Coach Noonan later said that his favorite game during the run was the Bears’ 3–1 win over Princeton, but the choice of most Brown fans is likely the 1–1 tie at Yale on November 8 that allowed Brown to clinch at least a tie for the league title. Crew scored 9:29 into the game, his ninth goal of the season and the twenty-fourth of his career, placing him among Brown’s top-ten all-time scorers. Yale tied the game on a penalty kick fourteen minutes later, and fewer than two minutes after that, Brown’s Daniels was issued a red card and automatic game ejection, forcing the Bears to play a man down for the remaining eighty-five minutes of the game. After the shorthanded Bears had successfully defended the tie, an impressed Noonan remarked, “You’re not going to find a more courageous performance out of a team.” A week later the Bears won the Ivy title outright with a 1–0 victory over Dartmouth before an appreciative Senior Day crowd at Stevenson Field. Crew potted the lone goal, his tenth of the season, finishing as the league’s leading scorer with twenty-two points.
“You always need luck,” Noonan said after the Bears had secured the championship, the league-leading seventeenth Ivy title they have won or shared. “Anytime you’re in the NCAA Tournament you need a little bit of luck. We hope ours doesn’t run out.”
It did, against tough, resourceful Saint Peter’s, of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). Despite their relative anonymity, the Peacocks brought impressive numbers to the East Side, including a 17–4–2 record; forty-nine goals scored over the season, compared to their opponents’ seventeen; and a 1–0 score in each of their four losses. Finally, although Saint Peter’s was playing in its first-ever national tournament, it arrived battle-tested, having won three straight MAAC playoff games to win the conference title and advance to the NCAAs.
Brown missed a chance to take the game by the throat four minutes into the contest when a blast by Ibrahim Diane ’06 smacked off the goal’s crossbar. After the Peacocks’ Rinaldo Chambers threaded his way through the Brown defense and scored with 31:47 to play in the game, the Bears turned up the intensity. With 11:35 to go, Matt Goldman’s header sailed wide at the left post, and Brown then had five corner kicks fly off the mark during a span of five minutes. With the Bears pressing in the Saint Peter’s end, the pesky Chambers slipped behind the Brown defense with just under five minutes remaining and unleashed a shot from the left wing that beat Gomez and ended Brown’s season.
“We knew they were a good team, and I think we were prepared,” Noonan said in the postgame press conference. “To be honest, I thought we played well.” Thurston looked past the game to the entire season. “I’m not disappointed at all,” he said, “and I’m not going to remember the game for the near-misses or anything. I’m going to remember this game because we’re seniors and this is one of the most fun teams I’ve ever played with. I’m sad it’s the end of our journey. But everything has to end.”