Tuesday, February 9, 2016

83 Times Two

Yeah, so as far as the recently played Super Bowl goes:

1) it was really dull. In fact, it might have been the worst Super Bowl ever

2) the introduction of the Super Bowl MVPs was cool

3) it went about as poorly as it could have for Cam Newton, who played poorly, didn't go after a fumble because presumably he didn't want to get hit again and then bailed immaturely on the postgame press conference after eating up every possible press opportunity before the game

4) the commercials were nothing special. The halftime show went poorly for Coldplay, at least if Twitter is to be believed. Did the Super Bowl really need three big-name acts at one time? Can something involved with the game be toned down a little?

5) what was Peyton Manning thinking with the Budweiser plug? Was he really going home to drink beer, in which case, what kind of message does that send to young fans? Or was he merely endorsing Bud in some fashion, in which case, what kind of message does that send to young fans? It seemed wildly out of character for someone who comes across as very concerned about his image

6) and while the subject is Manning, hopefully he doesn't play again. He clearly has nothing left as a player. In fact, TigerBlog can't imagine that Manning gave Denver the best chance to win, as opposed to Brock Osweiler, who could actually move and throw. It's actually sort of shocking that a team would be willing to lose a Super Bowl because of someone's name, rather than his ability. And TB is a Manning fan

7) can someone get through to today's athletes that this is the Super Bowl and as a result it might not be the time to get personal fouls for unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness? The state of modern professional sports could best be summed up by the one situation where the Denver player got a first down, stuck the ball in the face of one of the Panthers' players, did a "look at me" dance and then was rewarded with 15 more yards when the Panthers' player slapped the ball away. Whatever happened to giving the ball to the ref and then going back to the huddle? Yes, the Carolina player shouldn't have slapped the ball away, but the Denver player provoked the whole thing

And that's it.

TigerBlog wasn't really into the Super Bowl anyway. His friend Eddie Timanus of the USA Today was tweeting only in Haiku for the entire day, and TB reached out to Timanus with this contribution:
Kick off already
Super Bowl, yeah, whatever
Lacrosse has started

The Super Bowl was Sunday obviously. Today is the New Hampshire Primary.

TigerBlog meant to ask his colleague from Dartmouth Rick Bender what it's been like to be in New Hampshire the last few weeks. TB has been to Dartmouth in enough election years to know it's wall-to-wall politicians there until the primary - and then it's over in a day, and on to the next states.

TigerBlog saw Bender at Jadwin Gym Saturday night, when Dartmouth was here for men's basketball. TB saw both games this weekend, against Harvard and Dartmouth, both of which were big Princeton wins.

It took 7:33 of the game against Harvard for Princeton to build a double figure lead, and the Crimson would never get within 10 the rest of the way. Princeton then needed just 3:30 to get a double figure lead against Dartmouth and 9:44 to make it a 20-point lead.

Princeton would beat Harvard 83-62 and Dartmouth 83-70, meaning Princeton did something this weekend that hadn't been done by a Princeton team since 1974, which is 36 years ago.

Back on Feb. 1 and 2 in 1974, Princeton defeated Columbia 90-47 and Cornell 92-56. Prior to this weekend, that's the last time Princeton reached at least 80 points in both games in an Ivy League weekend.

The Ivy League season has not yet reached its mid-point, but it's looking very much like a three-team race right now.

Yale is currently unbeaten at 6-0, followed by Columbia at 5-1 and Princeton at 4-1. Penn is next at 2-3. Everyone else is either 2-4 or 1-5.

So yes, barring a big run by Penn, it's looking like it's three teams. For Princeton, every game is huge, but there are some, well, "huger" ones on the near horizon.

The Tigers will be on the road this weekend, at Cornell Friday and Columbia Saturday. Then, the following Friday, it's Yale at home. That's at Columbia and home with Yale in consecutive games, six days apart, after a tough game at a Cornell team that pushes the tempo and then the long bus ride back to New York City.

Princeton was very impressive this past weekend. Steven Cook, especially, lit it up, with 21 against Harvard and then 27 more against Dartmouth.

Princeton shot better than 50% in both games, and it was 25 for 53 from three-point range for the weekend. TigerBlog hasn't looked that up yet, but he's guessing that 25 threes in one weekend might be a record.

There's more. Princeton had 31 assists and 19 turnovers, outrebounded both opponents and had no player go more than 32 minutes in either game.

Yale beat Columbia Friday, meaning Yale has beaten both Princeton and Columbia - on its home court. The race doesn't really have a favorite until one of the three loses at home, TB supposes.

The first two of six Ivy weekends have gone by. The next two definitely have those, you know, huger games.

Will the last two? TigerBlog suspects they will.

It makes for an exciting few weeks of Princeton men's basketball.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Six For Six

TigerBlog watched the Princeton-Harvard women's basketball game on TV yesterday.

Princeton desperately needed a win, and it got one. It wasn't easy. It took five extra minutes.

It was a win nonetheless.

Princeton defeated Harvard 92-83 in overtime yesterday in Cambridge, completing a weekend sweep that began at Dartmouth Friday night. Princeton has now swept 36 of its last 39 Ivy weekends.

The game was even at 72-72 at the end of regulation, which made it a pretty high-scoring five minutes. The game was basically over when Princeton scored the first eight points of the OT, getting them from four different players, starting with a nice Vanessa Smith drive and then including Amanda Berntsen, Michelle Miller and Alex Wheatley. Those four, plus Annie Tarakchian, all finished in double figures.

Miller had a huge game, with 28 points while playing all 45 minutes. And Wheatley? Her layup to make it 80-72 gave her 16 for the day and 1,000 for her career.

That's a lot of points, 1,000. Only 24 women's basketball players and 30 men's basketball players - of all the players who have ever played at Princeton - have reached 1,000 points. So congrats to Wheatley. And Miller, who got there earlier this year. 

Princeton had no choice but to win this game. Penn is 5-0 and atop the league standings, and Princeton needs to make sure it doesn't require any help from anyone else in the league to catch the Tigers.

This coming weekend will be interesting, as Cornell, who is 5-1, is at Princeton Friday night and Penn Saturday. Since every other team in the league has at least three losses, it's looking like a three-team race for now. That number could change based on this weekend's results.

As TigerBlog says, Princeton couldn't have won the Ivy League title yesterday but it could have lost it.

Princeton has won five of the last six Ivy League championships in women's basketball. This year's race still has several weeks to go.

Other winter sports have already crowned their champs for the 2015-16 year. As a matter of fact, in this current athletic year starting in the fall of 2015, there have been seven women's sports that have already had the championship decided, and guess what?

Princeton is 6 for 6. Six women's sports. Six Ivy League titles, either won outright or shared.

Princeton won three Ivy League championships this past weekend, including one by a men's team. The women's hockey team defeated Cornell 5-0 Saturday, clinching the outright Ivy League championship.

Then, while the women's basketball team was getting its big win yesterday, the women's and men's fencing teams both came away with shares of the Ivy League championship at the Ivy fencing championships at Cornell.

For the year, that's seven Ivy titles for Princeton.

As for the women, that's six - outright titles in field hockey, cross country, soccer and hockey and shared titles in volleyball and fencing.

No school had ever swept all of the championships in one gender in a season before Princeton's women did it in the fall.

The highest number of Ivy League championships that Princeton's women have ever won in a calendar year is eight, something Princeton has done twice, in 1981-82 and 2010-11. Princeton needs two more this calendar year to tie that.

TigerBlog likes the fencing format, where all of the round-robin matches are played in a single weekend. Both the men and the women had a loss Saturday, and both came back with perfect Sundays to earn their shares.

The championships marked the fifth time that Princeton has won both the men's and women's championships in the same year.

As for hockey, the ECAC is the actual league, but the Ivy League takes the results of the games played head-to-head among the six league schools who play in the 12-team ECAC and uses those results to create Ivy League standings. It's a fairly creative way to crown the champ.

Because the teams are playing off the ECAC schedule, not every team has played the same number of Ivy vs. Ivy games. Princeton played its 10th and final game Saturday against Cornell, who was playing its sixth.

The Tigers had a disallowed goal early, but that didn't matter. Princeton shut out the Big Red and tucked in two empty net goals for the 5-0 final and the Ivy title, even though Cornell still has four Ivy vs. Ivy games left.

As for the ECAC, Princeton is currently sitting in third with four games to play.

Quinnipiac is in first with 29 points, followed by Clarkson with 26 and Princeton with 25. Next is Colgate with 23 and Harvard with 22.

The top four teams get home ice for the ECAC playoffs. The second and third finishers avoid Quinnipiac in the semifinals.

Princeton is home the next two weekends, against Clarkson and St. Lawrence this weekend and RPI ad Union the following weekend.

Goal No. 2 is to be playing at home the weekend after that.

Goal No. 1 was the Ivy League title, which Princeton salted away this weekend, making it six for six for the Princeton women this year.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Super Yawn

TigerBlog can't remember a Super Bowl that he cared less about than the one this Sunday.

He's not even excited about the commercials, which have been non-creative in the last few years. You know, trying way too hard to be funny and failing.

It's nothing against the Panthers and the Broncos. It's just that he's not as into the NFL as he used to be.

He has watched less and less NFL the last few years, with an all-time low this year.

This, of course, makes him about 180 degrees removed from the general sports populous, which cannot get enough of the NFL. Ratings have skyrocketed to all-time highs, even as the NFL over-saturates the market with games in as many different windows as it can manage.

TigerBlog has watched not one second of Super Bowl preview on TV, and he's listened to none of it on the radio. It just doesn't interest him.

He'd like to see Denver win. Maybe. On the one hand, it would be good to see Peyton Manning win in what hopefully is his final game. On the other hand, it's also good that Eli Manning has won two Super Bowls and Peyton has only won one.

TigerBlog thinks Carolina has the better team, but Denver's defense is really good. So maybe it won't be high scoring.

Going back to the summer, TigerBlog's preseason Super Bowl prediction was Baltimore and Philadelphia. They went a combined 12-20, so that wasn't a good pick.

For the game Sunday, how about Denver 21, Carolina 17, with Manning the MVP even though he doesn't do much?

So that's Sunday night. Maybe TigerBlog will watch. Maybe he won't.

Between now and then, it's a big weekend in Princeton athletics. From this morning through kickoff Sunday night, there are 34 Princeton Athletic events, with, if TB counted right, 16 different teams.

There will also be Ivy League titles award, as the men's and women's fencing round robins will be held at Cornell tomorrow and Sunday.

The women's hockey team plays its final Ivy League game of the year tomorrow at Cornell, and a win would clinch at least a share of the league title for the Tigers. Princeton lost 2-1 to the Big Red back in November at Baker Rink, but the Tigers are 17-5-1 overall and 7-2-0 in the Ivy League.

As for the ECAC, Princeton is tied for third with Colgate at 10-5-1, for 21 points, one behind Clarkson for second (Quinnipiac is first with 27). Harvard is in fifth with 19. The top four teams in the league earn home ice in the ECAC playoffs.

The men's team is home against Colgate tonight and Cornell tomorrow. Princeton has five wins on the season, which means this year will be an improvement over last, and the Tigers are tied with the Raiders for 10th place.

Home ice for the ECAC playoffs goes to the top eight, leaving Princeton five points behind. But that's not what's important for this year. No, Year 2 under Ron Fogarty has been about improvement and progress, and Princeton is clearly moving in the right direction.

As for basketball, the women are on the road this weekend, with a game tonight at Dartmouth and then Sunday afternoon at Harvard. Princeton is 2-1 in the league, a game back of Penn, who plays at Harvard tonight and Dartmouth tomorrow night.

The Harvard game can be seen on American Sports Network. HERE'S the list of outlets showing the game.

As for the men, they're home tonight against Harvard and tomorrow against Dartmouth. The game tonight is on ESPNU at 7, while tomorrow's game is at 6.

Harvard might be 1-3, but sell the Crimson short at your own risk. There is a long way to go in the Ivy race, and the game tonight is one of the defining games in the league as the race shapes up.

Who else is home this weekend? The whole schedule is HERE.

Apologies to anyone TB is overlooking, but there is home men's and women's swimming and diving, men's tennis and men's and women's squash. Admission to those events is free.

Oh, and there's also a home men's lacrosse scrimmage at 1 tomorrow against Monmouth. Men's lacrosse scrimmage? Hey, there are nine actual regular season games this weekend already.

So who needs the Super Bowl with all that going on.

Remember, TigerBlog has it Denver 21, Carolina 17.

Nah, that doesn't sound right.

It'll be more like Carolina 28, Denver 14. Yeah, let's go with that one.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Spencer Weisz Of The Daily Princetonian

One of TigerBlog's favorite parts of paying the bills each month - you know, other than the sheer joy of spending all that money - is to see how many minutes on the phone and text messages TigerBlog Jr. and Miss TigerBlog have combined for in the preview few weeks.

This past month? It was more than 3,000 text messages and a total combined of 15 minutes on the phone. TigerBlog Jr. with five minutes. MTB with 10.

That's not a lot of time on the phone. For TBJ, TigerBlog will assume all five of those minutes were spent ordering pizza or something.

The thing about the text messages is that TigerBlog also thinks they spend as much or more of their time communicating via Snapchat, something that isn't tracked on the cell phone bill.

What can be learned from this?

Well, for one thing, it's that the generation of people who are, say, 25 or younger don't need to communicate with people directly and as such never really learn to do so. They can carry on whole relationships with people with whom they rarely if ever actually speak and get used to conversing in abbreviations, or incomplete sentences, or poor grammar. And that's not even counting the whole 140-character thing.

Or the way a group of, say, four 15-year-old girls can be in the same car at the same time, all of them on their phones, none of them speaking, all of them laughing at the same time. TigerBlog is fascinated by this, and he's experienced this more than once as he's driven MTB and her friends around.

They're clearly connected to each other on their phones. None of them are speaking. And they're all laughing at the same exact time, which means at the same exact thing. It's weird. And normal. At the same time.

On the other hand, TB thinks that kids become more sociable, rather than less, because they maintain relationships with so many more people and on a much more regular basis. He sort of wonders how he would have done with it had all of this been the case when he was 15 or 18.

Is all of this good or bad for the future of the world? Both, TB supposes.

There are lessons in here for college athletic marketing, too. You know, in the best ways to reach students to let them know about games and promotions and such.

Of course, another way to let them know is to simply send a bunch of the athletes out onto the campus with a microphone, a videographer, a mascot and some t-shirts.

That's what Princeton athletic marketers Carolyn Cooper and Caroline Kelly and videographer Cody Chrusciel did Tuesday afternoon. They sent men's basketball players Spencer Weisz, Mike Washington, Amir Bell and Devin Cannady - and the Tiger - in and around the Frist Campus Center to let their peers know that Princeton is playing Harvard tomorrow night.

The game is at 7. There will be free pizza for students. One student will get a chance to win $1,000. And the game is on ESPNU.

That was the message that the four players were getting out. And they did it fairly humorously.

They were all very comfortable behind the mic and talking to the students who were walking in and out of the building. They were pretty funny, actually.

Weisz, for instance, introduced himself to most of the students he spoke with as "Spencer Weisz of the Daily Princetonian," and not one of them questioned this. Maybe it's because he was wearing a purple sweater as opposed to the Princeton Basketball gear the other three were wearing.

Either way, maybe the funniest moment wasn't caught on camera. That was when Washington said to Weisz "you were the Ivy League Rookie of the Year two years ago. You'd think somebody would recognize you."

Anyway, they had fun with it for a half-hour. You can see the video on goprincetontigers.com.

And who knows, maybe they've helped drum up some students to come to the game who otherwise might not have.

The game against Harvard is followed by one Saturday against Dartmouth.

As incredible as this sounds, Princeton still hasn't played a home league game yet. Let's pick a few other teams at random and see how many home league games they've played:
Georgetown: five
Denver: five


Princeton still has all seven home Ivy games left. It comes into this weekend at 2-1 in the Ivy League after its loss at Yale last weekend.

Yale and Columbia are both 4-0 in the league, and they play tomorrow in New Haven. Since that game is at 5, the Bulldogs will have played four home Ivy games before Princeton plays one.

Only Princeton has one league loss. Cornell has two; every other team has at least three.

A Princeton sweep this weekend and even one Cornell loss and the race might start to look like it's between three teams - Princeton, Yale and Columbia. On the other hand, Harvard - now 1-3 - can get right back into the thick of it with a sweep of its own.

Either way, this is the weekend where the league race will really start to come into focus. Only five times in the last 25 years has a team with at least three league losses won at least a share of the men's basketball championship.

So that's what's riding on the game tomorrow.

Maybe there will be a few students there who have a new orange t-shirt who will be wondering why the kid from the Daily Princetonian is starting for the men's basketball team.

Hey, that was all fun and games.

Tomorrow night it's just the game, and it's a serious one at that. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Spartan Shield

Sam Cila has a way of getting your attention.

Maybe it's the direct, pull-no-punches, nothing-sugar-coated way he speaks. Maybe it's the deep, powerful voice, the one that intimidates and challenges at the same time. Maybe it's the way he doesn't want to hear what you might think he wants to hear and instead turns that back around on you, challenging you to actually dig deep and find the right answer.

Maybe it's the tattoos that he has on both arms, sticking out from under his shirt, the one that says "The Program," with the circular logo with a warrior inside.

Or maybe it's just the tattoos on his left arm. They're the ones that end at the stump, where his hand used to be, before he was injured in Iraq more than a decade ago, before he had 40 surgeries on his injuries, before he had to have the hand amputated.

Or maybe it's what he says.

He talks about his injuries openly, and yet there's not one piece of him that wants sympathy. In fact, that would probably just anger him.

He talks about the three most difficult things he's had to do in his life: 1) tell his wife and children that he was going to war, 2) have a friend and teammate die in his arms in war, and 3) tell the doctor that finally it was time to amputate his hand.

This is one tough man, and there is not one ounce of BS anywhere in his body. So yes, when he talks, he gets your attention.

Early yesterday morning - before the sun came up, at 4:40 a.m. - Sam Cila was on the pool deck of Dillon Gym. The people he was talking to at this moment were the members of the Princeton men's lacrosse team. TigerBlog was able to observe - and learn.

The program - officially called "The Program" - is designed to build teamwork and leadership and accountability. It's a challenging program, and it was from the first moment Monday when Cila lined the Tigers up on the end line on Sherrerd Field.

Oh, and a little more about Sam Cila. He was a high school wrestler. He has a wife and two children. He had a career with the Department of Corrections before 9/11, when he decided that he would enlist. If it's good enough for someone else to fight, he said, then it was good enough for him.

He went to Iraq in the late summer of 2004. Nearly a year later, on of all days July 4, 2005, Cila was almost directly on top of an IED when it was detonated, ripping into his left side.

Today his biggest regret appears to be that he could not continue his military career and finish the fight he signed up to fight. He owns a CrossFit gym and has put his other time to good use, what with his experience climbing some of the highest mountains in the world and doing triathlons on the international level.

And he does "The Program."

Princeton's first day of practice was Monday, but instead of lacrosse sticks and helmets, the Tigers got a lot of running Monday evening and a lot of swimming Tuesday morning.

Cila set the tone early Monday and it stayed that way until the very end. TigerBlog watched it, and he saw the evolution, as the team figured out that Cila's version of a straight line and most people's version of a straight line weren't exactly the same thing. By the end of "The Program," they understood.

They also understood what it meant to be a team, what their responsibility was as a teammate, how they needed to be strong and confident in their individual selves at the same time. It was pretty fascinating to watch.

The two days ended with a drill that saw the players wear their gray Princeton lacrosse sweatshirts, swim out into the pool, take the sweatshirts off, hold them up in the air, trade them with a teammate and then put the other one on. All while treading water.

At the end, Cila gives an award to the one member of the team who has done the best. It's a cherished award, one that is well-earned in every way.

And what is it? It's a gray t-shirt. It has the logo, but it's not a circle. It's a shield, Cila says, the Spartant shield.

And why?

Spartan soldiers were sent into battle with a shield and a spear. To lose the spear was acceptable. To lose the shield was not, since it exposed not only you but also your fellow soldiers.

The winner was Jack O'Brien, a junior face-off man.

TigerBlog might not have wanted to get up at 4 am yesterday, but he's glad he did. He's glad he got to see "The Program," and to meet the man who was running it.

It'll be awhile before TB forgets Sam Cila. He's pretty sure the Princeton men's lacrosse players feel the same way.

Sam Cila is heroic, even if he doesn't think he did anything special - and TB believes that his modesty is genuine. And here he was, someone who had given so much of himself in a war that he didn't have to go fight but chose to, talking to a group of young athletes who hopefully will never have to experience what he did.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Pinning The Groundhog

TigerBlog understands that not every movie made is trying to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. In that vein, he's never understood the complete disdain so many people have for the movie "Groundhog Day."

TB saw it in the movies when it came out in 1993, and he's seen it about a thousand times since. It's a perfectly harmless, funny, at times charming, certainly inoffensive movie, and yet there are so many people who flat out hate it.

As an aside, TigerBlog was always confused as a kid by Groundhog Day, as six weeks after Feb. 2 takes you to March 16 (or March 15 in a leap year), which is still winter. He never quite understood the whole "six more weeks of winter" thing. Shouldn't it be more like 10 more weeks of winter if the point is that figuratively speaking spring will be late to arrive?

Hey, if the weather wants to be like it is on this Groundhog Day, TigerBlog would be fine with maybe 10 more weeks of winter.

Ah, but maybe not. Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow this morning, forecasting an early spring.

And TB was crushed to learn the whole thing is a sham, at least according to a story he read:
The ceremony is largely that: Phil's prediction is determined ahead of time by the Inner Circle, a group who dons top hats and tuxedos and decides in advance what the groundhog will predict.

Still, what could be better than Groundhog Day, a small-town tradition that has such a great little Americana feel to it. Something wholesome, something that hasn't been ruined by commercialism or lack of civility or any of the other ills of contemporary society.

As Phil Connors said: This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather.

Sound familiar? TigerBlog has written that before on Groundhog's Day. And before that. And before that.

You  know, like the movie. Get it? Subtle, yes.

Before the movie came out, Groundhog Dog was all about anticipating spring. Since then, it's become a reference to something that happens over and over and over - you know, like the way Phil kept living the same day over and over. Maybe that's the biggest tribute to the movie, the way it changed an entire meaning of something.

Speaking of things that happened over and over and over, there was the not-so-recent history of the Princeton-Penn wrestling rivalry. Year after year, Princeton woke up, hear Sonny and Cher on the radio, and relived the same outcome - a Penn win.

This went on for 24 straight matches. Then this past Saturday rolled around, when Princeton hosted Penn at Dillon Gym, looking to snap that 24-match losing streak.

Princeton wrestling has made meteoric strides forward under head coach Chris Ayres, and his assistants - Sean Gray, Joe Dubuque and Nick Heflin.

TigerBlog has gotten closer to the wrestling program of late, literally, as the OAC has relocated down to E level of Jadwin, next to the wrestling room. Now TB sees the wrestling coaches more than he does the people back up on the balcony.

TigerBlog will say this about his new neighbors - sometimes they play their music a little loudly. But that's okay.

And they're certainly a friendly group. It's not hard to see why they have such appeal to recruits. They scream "you'd love to be part of this" in basically everything they do.

The results certainly back that up.

Princeton has gone from a wrestling afterthought to a legitimate player on the national scene. There were five wrestlers - a program record - who qualified for the NCAA championships last year.

The Tigers have been even better this year, with strong showings all season that lead up to the Ivy opener against the Quakers. And that little 24-year streak to take care of.

Penn led 15-9 with three matches left, but a major decision from Brett Harner and a decision from Ray O'Donnell made it  16-15 Tigers heading into the final match. This put it all on the 125-pound shoulders of Pat D'Arcy, a freshman from South Jersey who was a state champion a year ago at Holy Spirit High School.

D'Arcy got a takedown in the first and then got one escape to his opponent's two, making it 3-2 D'Arcy and 19-15 Princeton. Final. End of losing streak.

So Princeton is now 1-0 in the league. There's the little matter of Cornell, who like Princeton is also 1-0. Those two, early on, are the lone league unbeatens.

Of course, unbeaten Cornell is nothing new. The Big Red hasn't lost an Ivy match since 2002.

Princeton is at Harvard and Brown this weekend and then Princeton and Penn host Columbia and Cornell on Feb. 13. Cornell will wrestle at Penn at 1 and then drive to Princeton to take on the Tigers at 7 in Dillon Gym.

Cornell is still the favorite, despite how much progress Princeton has made. But hey, all streaks have to end sometime.

Even Phil Connors woke up on Feb. 3 at some point.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Hey Handsome

TigerBlog was walking with his colleague Brad Pottieger before the women's basketball game Saturday night at Jadwin Gym when a female voice in the stands above them shouted out "hey handsome."

Pottieger looked up. The man behind Brad, the one to whom the woman was actually yelling, also looked up.

TigerBlog admires Brad's self-esteem and self-confidence, if not his self-awareness. Just kidding. Just kidding.

Actually, Brad looked quite handsome. He wore a light pink shirt with a perfectly tied bow tie, one that had some pink in it as well.

He was certainly dressed for the night. It was "Play4Kay" night at Jadwin, and the game against Yale featured pink t-shirts, pink hoo rags (TigerBlog would have called them bandanas), pink cupcakes and pink cookies, all in the name of promoting the fight against breast cancer.

Brad, the event manager for women's basketball, clearly was in the spirit. So was pretty much everyone in the crowd, which swelled to 2,109 and saw Princeton defeat the Bulldogs 65-50.

Before he talks about the game, TigerBlog would like to mention two things.

First, he doesn't own anything pink, so when he got there, he took one of the pink t-shirts and wore it underneath his "Princeton Athletics" shirt. It created a nice little pink accessory. He thought about a hoo rag, but that wouldn't have been his best look.

And second, TB cannot tie a bow tie. He learned to tie a regular tie when he was about 6 or 7, but a bow tie? Never. If Brad tied his own bow tie, TB is impressed.

Jadwin Gym had a party atmosphere Saturday night, and it was a celebration of life and those who have beaten breast cancer more than anything else that wasn't basketball related.

Ah, but the basketball part was huge.

Princeton came into the weekend having not played in 20 days, not since a 50-48 loss to Penn in the Ivy opener for both on Jan. 9. The opponents were Brown, a team that went 12-2 out of the league, and then Yale, who had turned around and beaten Brown twice while Princeton was on exam break.

The Tigers, though, showed no rust at all. In fact, Princeton scored the first 13 points against Brown and never trailed in either game, beating the Bears 72-53 before the 15-point win over Yale.

For Princeton, that makes it 28 of its last 29 against Brown and Yale. And in its last 38 Ivy League weekends? There have been 35 sweeps.

The good thing about Princeton is that it has so much experience and so much depth that it doesn't need to count on any one player night after night. Annie Tarakchian (17 rebounds) and Michelle Miller (21 points, nine of which came in the first three minutes of the game) were co-Players of the Game Friday night. Saturday night, it was Alex Wheatley who led the way, with 14 points, including 12 in the third quarter - 10 straight at one point - as the Yale run that cut it to three was turned aside.

So where does that leave Princeton?

Penn also won its two games comfortably this weekend, and the Quakers are now 3-0 in the league and the lone unbeaten. Harvard and Cornell are both 3-1, though neither has played Princeton and Penn.

That'll change this weekend, when Princeton and Penn travel to New England. It'll be the Tigers at Dartmouth Friday night and then at Harvard Sunday afternoon (not Saturday night), as the game will be televised by the American Sports Network.

Penn will be at Harvard Friday and Dartmouth Saturday.

Penn will be at Princeton on March 8 in the final game of the regular season. Though Princeton can't look past anyone between now then, the last thing the Tigers want is to be in the position Penn was in a year ago.

That was when Princeton beat Penn in the opener and was 13-0 heading into the season finale at the Palestra. Penn was 11-2 and out of the league race, because the Quakers tripped up at home against Cornell.

Instead of playing for a shot at a tie and a playoff, Penn was out of it. The Tigers would settle for being 12-1 and taking on 13-0 Penn and taking a shot at getting two straight wins, but that's a long way away.

Princeton has to assume two things between now and then: 1) Penn isn't going to lose (not to say they won't; just to say that Princeton has to play assuming that the Quakers won't) and 2) every team would love to beat Princeton. It'll make the next five weekends really interesting.

But that's for down the road. For now, there was this past weekend, Princeton's first games in three weeks.

The fans - the two games combined drew nearly 4,000 - loved all 80 minutes of it. And why not?

The Tigers looked sharp, confident, athletic, deep and ready.

And Brad Pottieger?

He looked handsome. Yeah, let's go with that.


Friday, January 29, 2016

Thirty Years Ago

TigerBlog was still in the newspaper business in 1986, so he was home on the morning of Jan. 28.

He was watching TV, actually, watching the launch of the space shuttle Challenger. If he closes his eyes, he can still see it, the apartment he shared with his college friend Ed Mikus Jr., the way it was set up, the couch, the kitchen table, the TV.

He can remember watching the 1986 Mets go to the World Series championship, all while he was down with a case of mono. And he can remember watching the Challenger explode.

It's a vivid memory, watching the launch that day.

He didn't watch all of the shuttle launches. They were commonplace by then.

That one, the Challenger launch, was different, because of the presence of Christa McAuliffe, the winner of the "Teacher in Space" contest. She was chosen out of 11,000 applicants to ride on the space shuttle and teach a lesson from space, and the media coverage of McAuliffe's role in this particular mission was extensive.

TigerBlog, like the rest of what was a huge audience, was lured to the broadcast to see the teacher in space. It was a great moment, an average woman from a school in New Hampshire who had trained to fly with the astronauts.

The launch seemed perfectly normal, until 73 seconds later, when the Challenger exploded. At first, it looked like a normal firing of the rockets to send the shuttle into orbit. That only lasted for a second, though, before it was obvious that was not the case.

TigerBlog remembers the voice of the NASA announcer, when he said "the vehicle has exploded."

It was stunning, shocking. Christa McAuliffe, and the rest of the crew, gone, just like that. Actually, maybe not just like that. There has never been a conclusive decision reached on whether or not the astronauts were conscious and alive for the nearly three minutes between the explosion and the impact in the ocean.

The Challenger disaster hit the American psyche hard. President Reagan gave an epic speech, during which he said that they had "slipped the surly bonds of Earth, to touch the face of God."

TigerBlog didn't realize until he saw it in several places that yesterday was exactly 30 years to the day of the Challenger disaster. Christa McAuliffe, had she lived, would be 67 years old now.

For the record, the other astronauts who died that day were: Francis “Dick” Scobee,  Michael Smith,  Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka and Gregory Jarvis.

Thirty years later, TigerBlog still is touched by the memory of that moment.

It takes a special, special kind of courage to get into a spaceship and be launched into space. One of TigerBlog's favorite movies is "The Right Stuff," which chronicles the Mercury astronaut program.

The Challenger astronauts? That's the right stuff.

There's no way to segue from that to Princeton Athletics and show the astronauts who died 30 years ago the respect they deserve, so TB will just go right into this weekend's basketball.

It's a big one for both the men and the women.

The women are at home against Brown tonight (7) and Yale tomorrow night (6). Tomorrow night is the annual "pink" game, so any fans who wear pink will be admitted for free.

Princeton hasn't played in 20 days, not since its 50-48 loss to Penn in the Ivy opener. That's a long time to stew on a loss, and that, combined with going through exams, should have Princeton rested, focused and ready to get at it again.

Brown got off to a 12-2 start this year before getting swept by Yale the last two weekends. Yale, 2-0 in the league, is 11-8 overall.

Princeton is 26-1 in its last 27 games against Brown and Yale. The Tigers, for that matter, are 45-7 in their last 52 games - 43-5 against the rest of the world and 2-2 against Penn.

The Tigers have at least one more game with Penn this year, but that isn't until March 8. Between now and then, Princeton can't really count on too many Penn losses, so each of the next six weekends is critical.

One subplot for this weekend - Alex Wheatley has 953 points, leaving her 47 points away from 1,000. The senior figures to get that this year easily (barring injury), though she'd have to have a huge weekend to do it in Jadwin Gym.

As for the men, they are at Brown tonight and Yale tomorrow, taking on the teams with the worst record in the league (Brown is 5-11, 0-2) and then the second-best record (Yale is 11-5, 2-0). Princeton actually has the best record, at 11-4.

Yale and Columbia are both 2-0 in the league. Princeton is 1-0, after its OT win over Penn three weeks ago. Like the women, the men are now starting out with six straight Ivy weekends and then Penn here on March 8.

 This year's men's race might be the most wide open that TigerBlog can remember. In most years, there has either been a prohibitive favorite or two or at most three teams in the mix.

This year, it seems that basically every game will be a challenge, home or away. What will win the league? 12-2? 11-3?

Whatever it is, teams need to be ready each night.

Starting tonight, with the women here and the men in Providence.

TigerBlog loves the Ivy League basketball weekends. This is the first of six straight.

It'll be over in a blink.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Opening Weekend II

TigerBlog starts today with two small John McPhee stories, one of which involves Clay Kontulis of the men's squash team.

Let's start with John McPhee. In addition to being a legendary writer, Mr. McPhee is also an Academic Athletic Fellow for the men's lacrosse team. When it gets too cold to ride his bike outside, Mr. McPhee rides indoors with TigerBlog.

During a ride last week, TigerBlog relayed to Mr. McPhee that he had recently seen the two-point episode of "The Adventures of Superman" - originally aired in 1953 - where a company in the town of Silsby drills the world's deepest oil well, which goes more than 32,000 feet into the Earth.

And what happens? They drill down so far that they enter into a world of people who live in the center of the Earth, and they come up through the hole that's been dug to see what life's like on the surface.

They are smaller than humans, with giant heads and fur. They mean no harm, though the scare the bejeebers out of the people of Silsby - except for one little girl. Clark Kent and Lois Lane were in town to write about the oil well for the Daily Planet, and now Superman has to save the day from the vigilante townspeople.

Speaking of having the bejeebers scared out of you, TigerBlog was a little kid when he first saw this episode (on syndication, not in 1953) and he was scared out of his mind. And he got in trouble for telling his friend and neighbor Anthony Morelli that the little people would come up in his back yard and go into his house in the middle of the night, and Anthony's mother called MotherBlog to tell her that Anthony didn't sleep all night because he was scared.

Anyway, TB told John McPhee this story. McPhee is an accomplished, renowned (and self-taught) geologist, so TB asked him what the deepest hole ever drilled was. In North America, it's about 7,000 feet down.

And TB then asked him this: "Knowing what you know about geology, what's the odds that there are actually little people with big heads and fur living 32,000 feet down?" Mr. McPhee said he doubts it's true.

Then there was Tuesday. TigerBlog referenced something from "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and it turns out Mr. McPhee has never seen it.

About the same time, a young man wearing a "Princeton Squash" Nike shirt walked by. TigerBlog asked him if he'd ever seen "Raiders," and he said he hadn't either. TigerBlog was shocked by that.

TigerBlog asked him his name, and he said it was Clay. When TB checked out the roster, he found out he was Clay Kontulis, a freshman from Connecticut.

Oh, and since most good stories always get back to this, Clay's dad Charles was a lacrosse player at Princeton in the early 1980s. Or at least, TB is pretty sure, since there was a Charles Kontulis who played lacrosse and Clay's bio mentions his dad is Charles, from the Class of 1983. It'd be quite a coincidence if they were two different people.

TigerBlog told Clay that both he and Mr. McPhee were longtime rec squash players. He also said that he wondered if, on TB's best-ever day, he could take a point from a player on the Princeton men's team. TB said he doubted it. Clay, being a polite young man, assured him he could.

TigerBlog hit a few times with the late Bob Callahan, the longtime Princeton squash coach. Bob would stand right on the T in the center of the court and effortlessly hit shots that TigerBlog to chase all over. At the end of any given point, Bob would say "that was great hustle" or something like that, after he won yet another point without ever having to move and TigerBlog could barely breathe or stand up.

Clay and his squash teammates are among the legion of Princeton athletes who are getting into the thick of their seasons beginning this weekend.

As TB said the other day, there are 31 events scheduled between Friday and Sunday of this weekend. That's an insane amount.

If TigerBlog is counting right, then 16 Princeton teams will be competing this weekend.

Of those 31 events, 11 of them are on Princeton's campus.

Each of the last six weeks or so has its own feel. There's the hit-or-miss of events in mid-December, when some teams play and others don't. There's Christmas, when nothing happens.

There's early January, with its feel of getting everything in before shutting down for exams. There are exams themselves, when there are athletes practicing or in the weight room but with their minds clearly focused on their academics. Their athletic pursuits became a great study break and, TB has always thought, keep them balanced.

And now there's this week. There are no more exams but classes haven't yet started.

There's an excitement and anticipation, almost like it's another opening day. In many ways, that's what it is.

A huge weekend. Opening weekend II.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hello Addison, Goodbye Tessio

Welcome to the world, Addison Grace Widener.

Addison is the third child of Kelly Widener, Princeton's Assistant Director of Athletics for Compliance. Addison came into the world just ahead of the blizzard - and about two weeks ahead of her due date - joining her two older brothers Michael and Connor and her father Ben.

Congrats to Kelly. She's one of the hard-working people behind the scenes here at Princeton Athletics, and she works in some way with pretty much every athlete in some capacity.

Like most of the people who work here, Kelly's commitment is to the betterment of the student-athlete experience. She works on so many different elements of that, and most of the time the average Princeton student-athlete doesn't realize how much effort people like Kelly are making.

It's not always easy to balance working in athletics with raising a family, and it's not for everyone. For those who do it, Princeton Athletics provides a great place for children to grow up, as TigerBlog can attest to first hand.

And now there's a newcomer to the extended Princeton Athletics family. Addison Grace Widener.

She made her appearance, and a few days later - yesterday to be exact - Abe Vigoda bowed out.

Abe Vigoda was 94 years old when he passed away. According to the obit that TigerBlog read, the cause was "old age" and his daughter said that hadn't been sick a day in his life.

That's the way to go.

TigerBlog is trying to think of Abe Vigoda's third-best role, and he can't think of one. It doesn't matter, because his two best are what defined him forever.

If you know anything at all about Abe Vigoda, it's that he played Salvatore Tessio in "The Godfather" and Detective Fish, first on the epic sitcom "Barney Miller" and then on the spin-off "Fish."

Let's start with Fish.

It's TigerBlog's belief that "Barney Miller" - which ran in the late 1970s - is the most realistic cop show of all time, in that the detectives in the squad room often went out on seemingly dangerous assignments, only to find out that they were nothing - except every now and then, when they really were serious. Almost nobody on the show every drew a gun, let alone fired it, and they spend most of their time making sarcastic comments at basically everyone.

It had great characters - Dietrich, Yemana, Levitt, Inspector Lugar, Wojo, Harris. And Fish.

Fish was as good as any of them. Vigoda played Fish as a detective who was well past his prime, for whom every day provided a challenge just to get out of bed, let alone be a New York City police officer. Every line he delivered was understated, deadpanned - and hilarious.

In fact, TB saw in that same obit a story for the how Vigoda came to be Fish in the first place. From the AP:
He liked to tell the story of how he won the role of Detective Fish. An exercise enthusiast, Vigoda had just returned from a five-mile jog when his agent called and told him to report immediately to the office of Danny Arnold, who was producing a pilot for a police station comedy.
Arnold remarked that Vigoda looked tired, and the actor explained about his jog. "You know, you look like you might have hemorrhoids," Arnold said. "What are you — a doctor or a producer?" Vigoda asked. He was cast on the spot.

As for Tessio, he was one of Vito Corleone's oldest friends and Capos, along with Clemenza, in "The Godfather."

DO NOT READ THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN "THE GODFATHER" AND WANT TO SOMEDAY

TigerBlog will give you one more paragraph to divert your attention. Actually, he'll give you a few.

Before he gets back to Tessio, Princeton Athletics is coming back to full action this weekend, with 31 events - 11 at home - and 16 teams who will be competing. There are Division I teams who do not have 16 teams total, let alone 16 who can compete in one weekend in January

Coming Feb. 1, which is Monday, practice starts for most spring sports, including lacrosse. It's hard to believe, but the first Division I lacrosse games are actually a week from Saturday, and the majority of D1 gets going the following Saturday, Feb. 13.

Princeton starts Feb. 20, with a doubleheader, with the women against Virginia and the men against NJIT.

Before that, there all of these winter teams, as well as men's volleyball - TigerBlog has never figured out if that's a winter or spring sport - and men's and women's tennis who play in Jadwin until he gets warm enough.

Is that enough Princeton for one day? For today, it'll have to be.

SPOILER ALERT - SPOILER ALERT - SPOILER ALERT 
SPOILER ALERT - SPOILER ALERT - SPOILER ALERT
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

It's Tessio who betrays Michael at the end of the movie, which sets up the two greatest lines Abe Vigoda ever uttered in his life. They are Tessio's last two, as it turns out.

Vito, the retiring Don, warns Michael that whoever it is that comes to him to make a deal with Barzini is the one who is actually the traitor. While Tom Hagen muses that he thought it would be Clemenza, Michael says that he knew it would be Tessio, because "It's the smart move. Tessio was always smarter."

Anyway, Tessio doesn't realize he's been figured out until Tom and enforcer Willie Cicci make it clear that they are not going through with all of his arrangements. It leads to this exchange:

Tessio: Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him.
Tom: He understands that.

And then, a few seconds later:
Tessio: Can you get me off the hook? For old times sake?
Tom: Can't do it Sally.


If you've seen the movie, you know just how much Vigoda punctuated the word "hook." You also know how classic, epic, that scene is, not just in that movie but in the entire history of American movies.

END OF SPOILER ALERT
END OF SPOILER ALERT

And now, it appears, nobody was able to get him off the hook.

The news that Abe Vigoda died was probably met by many with "I thought he was already dead." He actually played along with that belief many times on late night shows through his later years.

By all accounts, he was a good guy, one who appreciated his good fortune in life and treated people well.

So goodbye Tessio.

And hello Addison.

Maybe you live as long, healthy and happy a life as Abe Vigoda did.