Friday, October 24, 2014

Tigers, From Then And Now

TigerBlog has spent some time of late putting together some highlights of the 1964 Princeton football team, to be played on the videoboard at Princeton Stadium tomorrow at halftime of the Harvard game.

The occasion is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 team's perfect season. The Tigers were pretty good that year, outscoring its opponents 216-53 overall and 197-46 in league games and posting four consecutive shutouts in midseason. Princeton finished 13th in the final UPI national poll and second in the Lambert Poll for the best team in the East, behind only Penn State.

Cosmo Iacavazzi, the captain of that team and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, gave TigerBlog a DVD with three year's worth of highlights on it, covering 1963-65.

Princeton went 24-3 in those three years, winning the Ivy title outright in ’64 and tying in ’63. The Tigers won 17 straight at one point, from opening day 1964 through the final day of the 1965 season. Princeton lost to Dartmouth to end 1963 and 1965; the only other loss was to Harvard in ’63.

TigerBlog didn't see much of those teams play live, as he was busy with more pressing tasks at the time, such as being potty trained and the like. The DVD, though, put him right into Palmer Stadium and the other Ivy venues that he would come to know so well.

The highlights show Princeton in the single wing that it played under head coach Dick Colman. It was a powerful offense, led by the bruising Iacavazzi and with a strong supporting cast.

One thing that really struck TB from these highlights was the extent to which players then would celebrate in the end zone after touchdowns. They wouldn't dance and thump their own chests, but they would spike the ball, toss it up in the air or in the case of Iacavazzi not once but twice against Yale, fire it into the stands.

They'd also jump up and down wildly in celebration, seemingly spontaneously, to the point where TB thought a few of them might have blown out an ankle or knee or something.

There was another pretty cool thing about the highlights. The narrators.

The first two years were narrated by Marty Glickman, who is as good as an announcer as who has ever lived. The last was narrated by Chris Schenkel, another Hall of Fame broadcaster.

TigerBlog can't believe the number of people he works with who have never heard of either.

Anyway, if you played football during that era, then you're probably in the range of 70 years old right now.

And so it will be a group of 70-ish men who will be on the field at halftime tomorrow, while their highlights play on the videoboard.

Here is a sample, if you have 17 seconds to invest.

The halftime show will be part of what figures to be 1) a close game and 2) not as high scoring as last year, or even the year before.

It'll be hard to match the dramatics of the last two years as well, though TB would have thought it impossible for last year to match the year before, and in some ways it exceeded it.

Two years ago, Princeton defeated Harvard 39-34 after trailing 34-10 with 12 minutes left. Last year it was 51-48 Tigers in three overtimes behind six Quinn Epperly touchdown passes.

If you're a Harvard fan, you know your team is 26-1 against all other teams and 0-2 against Princeton its last 29 games. Harvard has been waiting 52 weeks for this chance.

And the team that comes here is a good one, 5-0, 2-0 in the league, 21st in the rankings.

Princeton is 2-0 as well in the league, though 3-2 overall. Not that any of that makes a difference.

If Princeton is going to win a second straight league title, it's going to have to earn it, just as whoever wins will have to do so. By tomorrow night, there will be four teams in the race - Princeton, Harvard and Dartmouth who are all 2-0 and whoever wins the Yale-Penn game tomorrow, who will then be 2-1.

Princeton still has to play all four of those teams, as does Harvard.

As for the game tomorrow, here are some important numbers to keep in mind.

First, there is Harvard's 191.4 rushing yards per game against Princeton's best-in-the-FCS 61.0 rushing yards per game allowed.

Then there's Princeton's 36.0 points per game on offense against Harvard's 11.2 points per game allowed on defense, which is best in the Ivy League and third nationally.

Harvard has the top overall defense in the Ivy League. Princeton has the second-best offense in the league.

What will come of all this?

Well, it can't possibly be the game it was the last two years, right? Every year can't be a classic, right?

And it won't be as high scoring, right?

Who knows.

TigerBlog does know the weather will be perfect, and the matchup is two old rivals who have taken their rivalry to a pretty high level in recent years.

He's looking forward to it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Princeton Hosts Harvard - Times Four

TigerBlog has written about Oscar Pistorius before.

If you don't want to click on the link, TB will give you the gist in one paragraph:

TB couldn't believe it when he saw the news. And he was mad at himself, mad for once again believing in an athlete, holding that athlete up to be more than he was, to be a great international citizen, when all he really is is a murderer who can run fast on fake legs.

That was from Feb. 15, 2013, right after it came out that Pistorius - the South African double-amputee turned Olympic runner - had killed his girlfriend, the beautiful model Reeva Steenkamp.

Now Pistorius sits in the medical wing of a South African prison. His sentence is five years, but it appears that he'll be out in 10 months. And he'll serve his time in the medical wing, with other disabled prisoners.

Less than a year. For murder.

What strikes TB about it most now is that Pistorius is in the medical wing, and not the most worse main area of the prison, because of his disability, the very thing he fought against being labeled with when he wanted to run in the Olympics, or, in other words, he's disabled when it suits him.

And yes, TigerBlog read how Pistorius suffers from depression. Unfortunately, that's not as serious as Steenkamp, who suffers from being dead.

This entire story from the beginning has really affected TigerBlog, probably because of how much he allowed himself to admire Pistorius during the last Olympics. Never again. TigerBlog will never again look at a professional athlete with that kind of admiration.

TigerBlog has not yet watched a pitch of the World Series. He has watched very little NFL football this year. He watched almost none of the NBA and NHL regular seasons or playoffs last year.

He did watch a lot of the World Cup, and clearly those guys aren't saints either. So why that event? Maybe it's the fact that the players aren't being paid additionally for competing, that they're doing it for love of the game and because of the great respect the event has earned?

It wasn't until today that TigerBlog wondered if part of the reason he watches so little of the major sports leagues now is because of Pistorius? Maybe TB just reached his breaking point?

Anyway, no segue today. Let's just get to the four Princeton-Harvard matchups Saturday, going in chronological order:

* Field Hockey at noon

Unlike most years, this current Ivy League field hockey race is actually just that, a race. Princeton, winner of 19 of the last 20 Ivy titles in the sport, is in a dogfight with five teams.

The Tigers, who lost earlier this year to Columbia, are one of four teams at 3-1, along with the Lions, Cornell (whom Princeton plays next week) and Dartmouth (whom Princeton has already beaten). Harvard is 2-2 and still hoping to get back into the hunt, though a loss to Princeton would pretty much end that hope. Harvard did deal Cornell its first league loss of the year a week ago.

Princeton, after playing Harvard Saturday, will host Connecticut Sunday at 1 in a matchup of the last two NCAA champions.

* Football at 1

There are three 2-0 teams in the Ivy League, and two of them play here Saturday at 1. The last two times these teams played, the results were wild - a 29-point fourth-quarter rally for a 39-34 Princeton win two years ago and a 51-48 three OT win for Princeton last year. The winning points in both came from Quinn Epperly to Roman Wilson.

Couple all that with the nearly perfect weather forecast, and TigerBlog is hoping to see a huge crowd in the stands Saturday.

Princeton, Harvard and Dartmouth are all 2-0. Yale is 1-1, with a loss to Dartmouth. Penn is also 1-1, and the Quakers play the Bulldogs Saturday in what amounts to an elimination game. If one assumes that Princeton, Harvard, Dartmouth and Yale are the main contenders, then the schedule is a great one, since only one head-to-head game among that group has been played to date.

As a little added bonus, Harvard is 26-1 against all other opponents and 0-2 against Princeton in its last 29 games.

* Women's soccer at 4

The Ivy League women's soccer picture will be much clearer come Saturday night.

Harvard is currently 3-0-1 in the league for 10 points. Princeton and Columbia are 2-1-1, with seven points. Dartmouth is hanging around at 1-0-3, which adds up to six points. In addition to Princeton-Harvard, Columbia hosts Dartmouth Saturday.

There could be a three-way tie for first with wins by Princeton and Columbia should both win. On the other hand, a Harvard win and Dartmouth-Columbia tie would mean that the Crimson would be five points ahead of the Lions and six points ahead of the Tigers and Big Green. Dartmouth is rooting for a Princeton win to go along with its own win, which would mean Harvard and Princeton with 10 points and Dartmouth with nine.

Dartmouth takes on Harvard next weekend.

* Men's soccer at 7

As is the case on the women's side, Harvard is the lone Ivy unbeaten on the women's side, at 2-0-1. Also like the women, the Princeton men would tie Harvard with a win, though unlike the women, that wouldn't guarantee first place.

Dartmouth and Penn are both 2-1. Columbia and Brown join Princeton at 1-1-1. In other words, one week behind the women's race, the men's side is a bit more crowded.

The bottom line for Princeton is that a win would be huge, not that anyone needs TigerBlog to tell them that.

Harvard opened the year at 0-3 and then won eight straight before tying Brown last week.

And there you have it. Princeton vs. Harvard, four times, on Princeton's campus, on a perfect fall Saturday.

Of course, just how perfect remains to be seen, depending on the results.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Better Today Than Saturday

The outside temperature gauge on TigerBlog's dashboard as he pulled into Lot 21 read 53 degrees. As he got out of his car, the first thing he had to get was his umbrella.

That's the kind of morning it is around here.

As he started the short walk into the building, TigerBlog had one thought: Better today than Saturday.

When his colleague Craig Sachson walked in, the first thing he said was this: Better today than Saturday.

In between, TigerBlog talked to one person, Ryan Yurko, whose exact title is either "Assistant Director of Athletics For Finance and Administration" or "guy who has something to do with money." And what did Yurko say?

Right. Better today than Saturday.

The unanimous thinking in Jadwin this morning seems to be that it's worth it to have a rainy Wednesday in exchange for Saturday's forecast, which is this: Sunny, high 67, zero percent chance of rain.

And that makes today not that big a deal.

What's going on Saturday? A lot.

Princeton is home against Harvard in four different events, beginning at noon in field hockey and continuing with football at 1, women's soccer at 4 and men's soccer at 7. Admission to three of those four is free.

All four are huge games in their Ivy League races. Each one will have a direct impact on who wins the championship in each sport, even with several weeks to go for each.

But hey, that's not for right now.

For now, TigerBlog wants to talk about Yurko.

One of TB's favorite words to describe people is "amiable," as in "having or displaying a friendly and pleasant manner." If anyone fits that description, it's Yurko.  

He's a Midwesterner, transplanted here to the East, and he's pretty much what you'd expect from someone from Indiana, which is interesting, because as TigerBlog writes these words, his iTunes is playing the music from "Hoosiers."

That's actually true.

Yurko came up with an idea that TigerBlog thought wasn't too bad. Play the last two Harvard football games on the website in advance of Saturday's game, sort of like ESPN does before a big game. Of course if they were Ivy League Digital Network games (as opposed to ESPN3; TB can't remember), they'd already be archived.

But it wasn't a bad idea.

From there, Yurko went down the path of suggesting a regular feature of old games, and the first one he mentioned was the 1989 NCAA men's basketball game against Georgetown, which he had never seen. TigerBlog suggested that if Yurko did watch the game, he'd come away shocked by how in control of the game the Tigers were and how much it got away at the end.

After that, TigerBlog took Yurko through Ivy League men's basketball of the 1990s, which was a glorious time for the Princeton-Penn rivalry. 

Princeton won in 1989 and played Georgetown, losing 50-49 in the classic 16 vs. 1 game. Princeton also won the next three years, making the class of 1992 the only one in Ivy men's basketball history (since freshmen became eligible in the 1970s) to win four league titles in four years. 

Princeton also lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament all four of those years, by a total of 15 points. The losses were by one to Georgetown, four to Arkansas, two to Villanova and eight to Syracuse.

TigerBlog is still bothered by the Villanova loss in the Carrier Dome. It's one of his five worst losses for Princeton Athletics that he has experienced, maybe even second, behind the loss to Michigan State in 1998 in the second round.

Penn then went 42-0 between 1993 and 1995, with an NCAA win over Nebraska in 1994 at the Nassau Coliseum. Then Penn beat Princeton in the first game of the 1996 Ivy season before the Tigers won 12 straight and the Quakers stumbled against Yale and Dartmouth. Penn beat Princeton on the final day of the regular season to force a playoff, and Princeton then won that historic game, the one at Lehigh on the night Pete Carril quite casually mentioned that he was retiring.

Then it was the win over UCLA. And then two more Ivy titles, as well as a 27-2 record and Top 10 ranking in 1998.

What's fascinating about it to TigerBlog is that there are fewer and fewer people who work here who were here for those days. 
There's a real value to what Gary Walters always called "institutional memory," and it's one of TigerBlog's best things. Writing here every day helps to maintain that. 

TB was a history major at Penn, and he's always loved the historical side of Princeton Athletics. It's how he came across the fact that Princeton Athletics turns 150 next month - spoiler alert - there will be a lot more on this subject in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, TB also tried to get across to Yurko how much he would have loved to have seen what Jadwin Gym was like for some of those games, back before the Princeton Offense was copied and dispersed throughout the entire basketball world and before every game was on TV someplace.

It's sort of like Palmer Stadium in the older days. TB has seen pictures of it. He wonders what it would have been like.

And TigerBlog could probably have talked for 10 hours about those 10 years of Ivy basketball, from 1989-1998. They were really special times in Princeton history, and TB had a front row seat for all of it.
Yurko probably would have listened. That's what amiable people from Indiana do.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Yav At 85

If TigerBlog had been asked to guess the first person he'd see when he walked into Jadwin Gym this morning, he would have been there awhile before he got to the name "John Cruser."

Johnnie Cruser was the head of the grounds crew when TigerBlog first started here all those years ago. Now he's retired, though he looks about the same as the day he left here, which was, well, TB can't remember.

Johnnie was one half of a set of twins who worked on the ground crew, alongside his brother Dave. Davie and Johnnie, as they were always known. Sadly, Davie passed away a few months ago.

Seeing Johnnie this morning took TigerBlog back to when he first began to work in Jadwin, to a world that no longer exists. TigerBlog was much, much younger then. There was no TigerBlog Jr. or Miss TigerBlog back when TB first met the Cruser brothers, and so many other people who retired or left here long ago.

Now, as TigerBlog looks around Jadwin Gym, he doesn't see too many people anymore who were here before he was. In fact, there are just a handful of them in the department.

Not that TB is old. Hey, he has a picture of himself at the 1996 NCAA men's basketball tournament in Indianapolis. Perhaps you remember what happened in that game. Next to that picture is a picture of TB and TBJ from this past summer. TigerBlog looks way better in 2014; take his word for it.

In the picture from 1996, TigerBlog was courtside. To his left are two of his all-time favorite colleagues here, David Rosenfeld and Vinnie DiCarlo. This was before Vinnie stole the sign that said "This is not a public entrance to the RCA Dome" outside of the media area.

The first night out in Indianapolis, TigerBlog was part of something that is pretty standard and something that he pretty much hates - the large group dinner. You've been to these. Everyone goes to the huge table in the restaurant, and dinner ends up taking three hours.

It's not TB's thing. It's definitely not Harvey Yavener's thing. The night after the win over UCLA, TB and Yav were at a much smaller table in a much fancier place, a famous Indianapolis steakhouse that was much more in Yav's wheelhouse.

Harvey Yavener turned 85 years old yesterday. It's easy for TigerBlog to remember Yav's birthday, for two reasons: 1) TB remembers everyone's birthday and 2) nine days after Yav was born, the stock market crashed and the country was plunged into the Great Depression, not that that was Yav's fault.

If you're a current Princeton athlete, or probably most current Princeton head coaches, you have no idea who Yav is. To TigerBlog, that's a huge shame.

Yav grew up in Newark and attended Rider when it was still in Trenton, before it moved to Lawrenceville.

When TB thinks of Yav, though, he thinks of Princeton as much as any other place. There are not a lot of people out there who have spent more time watching Princeton athletic events than Harvey Yavener. There certainly aren't many, if any, media people who have written more about Princeton than Yavener did.

Yav spent 50 years or so writing for the two local daily papers, first the Trentonian and then for most of that time the Trenton Times.

As an aside, in this day and age, it's incredible that there are still two daily newspapers printed in the city of Trenton, even if the papers aren't nearly the size of what they were in their primes.

It would take TigerBlog way too long to go through his list of favorite Yav stories. There are just too many of them.

Back when TB first started in the newspaper business, Yav was one of the most intimidating people in the Trenton Times newsroom, down on Perry Street in Trenton. It was six years later that TB became Yav's assistant covering local colleges, which is what led him to the job here five years after that.

Those five years of working for Yav were hugely important to TigerBlog's development as a writer, and he wouldn't have had the success in the field that he's had were it not for Yav. As mentors go, it's hard to have asked for much more.

He gave little in the way of positive reenforcement, though in his way he was very encouraging. He set high standards and demanded they be met.

One time, when TigerBlog saw the schedule Yav made and saw he had a day off, he pointed out that it would be his first day off in a month. "Yeah?" Yav growled, "you're about 700 off the record."

Or did he say 7,000 off the record?

Yav worked hard. He did things other media people wouldn't dream of doing back then, most especially covering women's athletics, back at a time when almost no other male writer would be caught dead doing it.

He'd spend hours in the newsroom, writing and rewriting the results of all of the events he didn't cover that day from the five colleges in the coverage area - Rutgers, Rider, Trenton State (now the College of New Jersey) and Mercer County Community College, in addition to Princeton.

And then, when the paper was finished, it was time to eat. Often near midnight. Always at one of his favorite spots in the Chambersburg section of Trenton. And he would always do the ordering.

As far as TigeBlog can remember, the last Princeton athlete Yav ever interviewed was swimmer Alicia Aemisegger. It's only fitting that it was a woman from a sport that doesn't traditionally get the media coverage of, say, football or basketball.

Alicia graduated in 2010, but this might have been a few years before that even. Regardless, no current Princeton athlete has ever experienced the Yav interview, which had almost nothing to do with sports and everything to do with who the person was, what made that person special.

Yav would always get to that point. And then he'd come back, 45 minutes later, beaming about how great the kids at Princeton are.

He's 85 now. He doesn't get around as much as he used to. He hasn't been on campus in a few years.

He prefers to watch sports on his big TV, still in the same apartment near Cadawalader Park in Trenton that he and Polly have lived in since long before TigerBlog met either one of them.

He's from another time here, but he was part of the fabric of Princeton Athletics for a very long time.

And he will always be a special part of the history of this department.

And a special person to TigerBlog. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Passing Lane

With apologies to Peter Farrell, a Notre Dame grad and the only women's track and field coach Princeton has ever had, TigerBlog struggles to root for the Fighting Irish in football.

It's because of the current head coach, Brian Kelly, who is impossible to root for, or at least that's how he comes across. Actually, TB has rooted against Notre Dame way more than he has for Notre Dame through the years. He was never a Lou Holtz guy, for instance.

Still, there TB was Saturday night, rooting for Notre Dame against Florida State in what was probably the best college football game of the year to date. Either that or Ole Miss-Alabama.

In the end, Notre Dame lost 31-27 despite having the lead five different times during the game and almost a sixth with 13 seconds left, before an offensive pass interference call wiped out what would have been Everett Golson's fourth touchdown pass.

Was it a good call? It was close. What TigerBlog wants to know is if the same call would have been made in South Bend.

Here's something else TB wants to know: What does Jameis Winston have to do before Florida State wouldn't let its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback play?

Seriously, has there ever been a player who seemingly had done more than Winston and kept playing? TigerBlog won't go into all the details, because 1) there are too many of them and 2) they're everywhere on the internet.

Yes, Notre Dame's quarterback was suspended last year. He was suspended for an academic violation at Notre Dame, not even for something that was against NCAA rules. He was perfectly eligible to keep playing, and do you think he wouldn't have under the same circumstances at Florida State?

And speaking of Florida State, what was up with its coach, Jimbo Fisher, after the game, whispering in Winston's ear like, well, TB has no idea like what? It was weird. As was his ESPN postgame interview. Who was the guy interviewing him, his brother?

Anyway, Notre Dame lost, but TB came away with a new-found respect for the program there. At least it has some academic integrity.

And Winston, Fisher and FSU? TigerBlog would root for an all-star team of the Yankees and Duke before he'd root for them.

Earlier that day, TigerBlog saw Princeton's record-setting 27-16 win over Brown. Well, sort of record-setting.

Brown quarterback Marcus Fuller set the Ivy League record for pass attempts in a game with 71. As records go, it's not quite one you start out dreaming of setting, but it's a record nonetheless.

Fuller's line for the day was quite interesting: 29 for 71 for 454 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The 71 passes contrast with eight called running plays.

In other words, Fuller threw the ball nearly nine times more than he handed it off. And while he threw 42 incomplete passes, he also averaged nearly 16 yards per completion, which is outstanding.

Perhaps it shows that completion percentage is overrated? He could have completed a lot more passes if he threw short dump-offs but for far fewer yards.

Princeton's Connor Michelsen had a big day, going 33 for 45 for 367 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. In all, four receivers in the game had at least 100 yards, which has to be a rarity.

Added up, and there were 116 passes in the game, which made it go a tad long. TigerBlog couldn't find an Ivy League or NCAA record for most passes by two teams in one game, but that's a lot of passes.

Anyway, stats weren't ultimately what this game was about.

But talking stats, Brown outscored Princeton 32-3 in the beginning and end of the last two games between the teams but lost both, largely because of that little 63-0 run Princeton went on in the middle of the two, including getting out to at 24-0 lead Saturday.

No, what this game was about was getting the win and looking ahead.

The Ivy League football season is now halfway over, which means two things: 1) only Ivy vs. Ivy games remain and 2) if it was up to TigerBlog, then there would be a league-wide week off right now before play resumed.

Each Ivy team has played two league games, and three teams are currently 2-0: Dartmouth, Harvard and Princeton.

That alone makes Saturday's game on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium between the Tigers and Crimson the second huge game of the year in terms of the eventual league champ, after Dartmouth's win over Yale.

Then there's what happened the last two years between Princeton and Harvard.

The 2012 game saw the Tigers win 39-34 after trailing 34-10 with 12 minutes left. That was a wild one.

Last year might have been wilder, as Princeton beat Harvard 51-48 in three OTs.

Both of those games were won on a Quinn Epperly-to-Roman Wilson touchdown pass. Wilson, of course, has graduated, so this game cannot end the same way.

Princeton's win over Brown was fun statistically, and in the end, it was the win that Princeton needed.

This coming week?

It's much different. Princeton-Harvard. It can't possibly live up to the last two years, can it?

Or maybe it can. Regardless, it's still going to go a long way to shape the Ivy race.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Finally, A Kickoff

TigerBlog isn't sure when he's going to completely give up on "Modern Family." It'll be soon, though.

How can a show go from being as good as it was in Seasons 1-4 and then become what it has become now, which is a show that just isn't funny.

It reminds TigerBlog of another show that was great from Seasons 1-4 and then completely fell apart. That show was the most overrated show in television history - "Seinfeld."

Actually, the issue with "Modern Family" is not that much different than what happened with "Seinfeld." The characters went from being sharp, well-defined and - here's the key word - believable to being vague caricatures of what they once were. What made them funny originally was how they reflected the absurdity of every day life; what they became was merely absurd.

TB isn't sure if it's coincidence that this happened after four seasons of both shows, but the drop-off is precipitous between Season 4 and Season 5.

"The Big Bang Theory" is another show that used to be really funny and isn't what it once was, but this is for a different reason. TB's theory on "Big Bang" is that it's simply out of ideas.

Then there's "Two And A Half Men." As TB said last year, the only one still laughing at this show is Charlie Sheen, for how bad it got when he left. And yet it's still on for one more season?

One show that TigerBlog hasn't seen is "Blackish," but he can't imagine how this show's title ever got approved. Maybe it wasn't meant to be, but couldn't they have come up with something that comes across a tad less offensively?

Most of TB's television watching these days has been focused on "Breaking Bad," which he's seeing on Netflix.

At first, TigerBlog didn't want to start down the path of the show, since it was 62 episodes over five seasons. It seemed like more than he wanted to invest.

Now? He has 48 down, 14 to go. It's a pretty good show, and TB can see why it got all the acclaim it did. It has great characters, and the story is one that makes you think at all times.

Maybe that's the secret. Fewer episodes per season. Fewer seasons per show. Stay true to what made the show great in the first place.

One thing about watching "Breaking Bad" on Netflix is that there are no commercials, so each episode is only 45 minutes, as opposed to an hour. Of course, that means that TB has spent 36 hours watching "Breaking Bad" in the last month or so.

You know what he hasn't watched yet this year? A live Princeton football play.

He's watched pieces of the three away games online. He was at a wedding for the home game.

TigerBlog would have to go back to the 1988 season to have not seen at least one of Princeton's first four football games That's a long time ago.

He will be there tomorrow for Princeton's home game against Brown. 

It's the start of a six-week stretch drive for the Tigers that will see the team play its final six league games. It's also the first of back-to-back home games for Princeton, who will host Harvard next Saturday.

Under the current Ivy League schedule, Brown has the least fortunate annual opener, as the Bears always play Harvard in their first league game. Brown has played Harvard to start its league schedule every year since 2000 (either in Week 1 or Week 2) and is 2-13 in those games - including 0-4 in the last four years.

In other words, Brown almost always starts off in an 0-1 league hole. This year is no different, as Harvard beat Brown 22-14 three weeks ago.

Princeton, on the other hand, opens with Columbia and has every year since 2000. Since that time, Princeton is 12-3 in its league opener, including 1-0 this year after its 38-6 win two weeks ago in New York City.

Brown is used to playing Princeton with its back to the wall, and tomorrow will be no different. The Bears lost to Georgetown and Harvard to start the year but have beaten Rhode Island and Holy Cross since.

And they're playing for their season.

As for Princeton, it's playing to find out what kind of season it'll be. And to get the taste of last week's 31-30 loss to Colgate out of its collective mouths.

Princeton vs. Brown. Kickoff is at 3:30.

TigerBlog will be there. Finally.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

One Time

It has to be so unfair to be a fan of the Baltimore Orioles.

Here your team emerges from nearly 20 years of chronically bad baseball. Finally, your team gets out of the shadows of the Yankees and Red Sox, who have won eight World Series between them in the last 18 years, and makes it to the American League Championship Series.

Surely this is an underdog team well worth rooting for, no? So what happens to your team? It finds waiting for it the Kansas City Royals, who are an even bigger underdog Cinderella type, and suddenly every neutral fan is against you.

It's hard to root against the Royals, who have an even bigger record of futility during the last 20, or even nearly 30, years than the Orioles.

Beginning in 1975, the Royals finished first or second 10 straight times and won the 1985 World Series, the only one in franchise history. Since then, though, the bottom basically fell out of a team that had little money and little fan interest.

By 1992, the Royals were in the their third straight year of finishing sixth in the AL West, and attendance dipped below 2,000,000. At no point since has it made it back, including this year.

Kansas City is playing in its first postseason since 1985 - and making the most of it. First there was a thrilling comeback win over Oakland in the wild card game, followed by sweeps over the Angels and Orioles that have put the Royals back in the World Series.

And they're 8-0 in the postseason. How nuts is that?

It's even nuttier when you consider that four of those eight wins are by one run and four of those wins were in extra innings. Of the other four games, two were decided by one run. The last two wins against the Orioles were 2-1 and 2-1.

By the way, here's a list of all Kansas City Royals players TigerBlog could have named before the playoffs began - .........

That's supposed to mean he couldn't have named any.

One thing these Royals have done is make it clear that these days, nothing is more overrated than starting pitching. Kansas City has won basically every game because of three bullpen guys whom TB had never heard of but who are completely lights out. Take yesterday. It was 2-1 in the sixth - and 2-1 when it ended.

The ability to win close games in the postseason is what defines greatness. Of Princeton's nine NCAA lacrosse championships between the men's and women's teams, five were won in overtime.

TigerBlog has been struck by the number of close games that Princeton teams have been playing this fall. Or at least he thought he was.

The numbers don't always back up what is originally suspected, so he figured he'd look.

He researched the football, two soccer and field hockey teams. He wasn't sure what to do with women's volleyball, since no game can be a one-point win but a match can be won 3-2.

Here's what he found:

* the men's soccer team has played 11 games, of which eight have been decided by either one goal or ended in a tie
* the women's soccer team has played 11 games, of which six have been decided by either one goal ended in a tie
* the football team has played four games, of which one has been decided by one point
* the field hockey team has played 12 games, of which six have been decided by one goal - and three have gone to overtime
* the women's volleyball team has played 15 matches, of which six ended 3-2, though it's not quite the same thing as one one-point game

Either way, add that up, and between the five sports, you have 53 games, of which 27 - or one more than half - have been either ties or one-point, one-goal or one-game margins.

If you factor out volleyball, then you have 38 games and 21 one-point margins. That's a lot, no?

TigerBlog didn't add this up, but the men's soccer team has probably played more than 80 percent of its season so far with the score either tied or one team up by one. That puts a ton of pressure on each possession, even in soccer, which has more possessions than any other sport, TB would guess.

Is this an anomaly?  A year ago, Princeton played 17 men's soccer games, and 13 of them were one-goal or tie games. The women had eight in 17 games. The field hockey team had eight in 19 games. The football team had two in 10 games.

That's 31 of 63, or 49 percent, as opposed to 55 percent this year.

What does all this mean? Maybe it's just the nature of soccer and field hockey to play close games.

Maybe it's means nothing.

Or maybe it means that if you come watch a Princeton game, it's likely to go down to the wire. And other than football, it's free.

Yeah, let's go with that. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

UDub, And Princeton Soccer Dubs

BrotherBlog's official title is Associate Director for the Center for Law, Science and Global Health at the University of Washington.

BB has lived in Seattle for a long time. TigerBlog has been there, and as cities go, it's not a bad one, even if it has way more homeless people than TB thought it would and that the smell of a certain weed permeates most downtown blocks. There is water everywhere, and TB recommends the short ferry ride to Bainbridge Island across the Puget Sound because of 1) the island itself and 2) the view of Seattle on the way back.

The Space Needle is a great place. So are the football and baseball stadiums.

Oh, and apparently it rains there a lot, though as TB has only been there in the summer, he has yet to see one drop on any of his trips.

TB has spent some time on the campus of UDub, as they call it out there. It has a great football stadium, one that backs up onto Lake Washington. On the other side of campus, there is a fountain that offers beyond it an unobstructed view of Mt. Ranier.

TB's brother-in-law - himself the MLIS Program Chair in the UDub Information School - jokes that the view of the mountain draws students to the university in the summer and then they spend four years unable to see it because of the clouds that come in from September through June.

So that's a really quick overview of what TB thinks of when he thinks of Seattle.

Here's what he doesn't think of: college men's soccer.

And yet, to his wild amazement, there is UDub, ranked No. 1 right now in the latest NSCAA poll. Actually, the Huskies have had a solid men's soccer program, making the NCAA tournament every year but two from 1995-2007, before having a postseason drought that ended in 2012.

Last year, Washington was 16-2-4 and reached the NCAA quarterfinals before losing to New Mexico.

And TB never knew any of this.

He first looked at the soccer standings last week, and he was taken aback by the teams ranked No. 1 and No. 25. Last week, that was Dartmouth, before the Big Green lost to Boston University. Now Dartmouth is in the receiving votes category, while BU went from receiving votes to No. 22.

Harvard is also receiving votes in this week's poll.

On the women's side, no Ivy League team is ranked or receiving votes.

So what does all this mean?

Let's start with the men. It means that Princeton is pretty good. The Tigers lost to Dartmouth 2-1 in overtime in the Ivy opener two weeks ago and are 6-3-2 overall after last night's 1-0 win over Loyola.

Princeton dominated the game against the Greyhounds, outshooting them 19-3, but it wasn't until a late penalty kick on a hand ball that was so obvious that nobody in green bothered protesting.

Next up for Princeton is Columbia in New York Saturday. Princeton, Columbia, Penn and Brown are all 1-1; Harvard and Dartmouth are 2-0.

Princeton got a late goal from Joe Saitta Saturday to knock off Brown 2-1 at home in what was a huge moment of the season. After the Columbia game is an entire week to get ready for a home game against Harvard.

Princeton has scored 22 goals, of which 16 have come from Thomas Sanner and Cameron Porter.

The Princeton women are also relying on a one-two scoring punch, this from Tyler Lussi and Lauren Lazo.

Princeton is 5-3-3 overall and 2-0-1 in the league, tied for first with Harvard. Princeton is also at Columbia Saturday on the women's side.

As for Lussi and Lazo, they have done the men one better, literally. The Princeton women also have 22 goals as a team, and Lussi and Lazo have combined for 17 of them.

Lussi has 11 goals in 11 games, which makes her one of five players in Division I who is averaging at least one goal per game. She also already tied for 11th on the single-season goals list at Princeton (the record is 20, set by current assistant Esmeralda Negron in the 2004 Final Four season), and with two more goals she will tie for 10th all-time at Princeton in career goals scored, despite the fact that she's about two-thirds of the way through her sophomore year.

Lussi scored two more last night in a 3-0 win over Army. Lazo had the other.

The world of Ivy League soccer isn't easy, and it is one of the most competitive top-to-bottom sports the league has. Princeton found out the hard way how subtle things can be, going from 7-0-0 two years ago on the women's side to seventh place last year.

Now Princeton is back in the thick of the league race, with four league games to go. Having two pure goal scorers is a major plus in that chase.

As for UDub's men, they are next at UCLA, who happens to be ranked No. 1 for the women (and No. 14 for the men).

If TB had to guess, he'd say that his brother has no idea about any of this.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Meeting Ian

TigerBlog was driving on 95 and was almost to the exit for Route 31 when he saw the taillights.

Usually, there's almost no traffic on TigerBlog's ride to work. For fun, he listens to the traffic report and wonders how all those people can sit by the Lincoln Tunnel or on the Gowanus Expressway every morning.

The biggest traffic area he has is usually where 95 and 206 come together, if he gets off on 206. Then it backs up for about five minutes until he gets past the Lawrenceville School. Other than that, there's no much to slow him down on a normal morning.

This morning was different. If the traffic on 95 was backed up to 31, then it had to be an accident in a bad location. Hopefully nobody was hurt.

Fortunately for TB, he saw the traffic before the exit, so he got off, went up to Federal City Road and made his way to Carter Road and then 206. Crisis averted.

Others weren't so lucky with the traffic, including TB's colleague Craig Sachson, who sat through the whole wait.

TigerBlog got a text message from Craig at 9:15 saying that he was interviewing someone for his weekly podcast at 9:30 but that he obviously would be late and could TB ask if he could wait around. Sure, TB said.

If you don't listen to Craig's podcasts, you should.

TigerCast comes out every Thursday and is really, really well done. There is a little commentary at the beginning and then two or three interviews with Princeton athletes or coaches, with every sport represented, most multiple times, during the academic year.

At around 9:25, a rather large young man - turns out he's 6-2, 295 pounds - walked into the office looking for Craig. TB put two and two together and figured that this was the TigerCast subject.

TB explained the situation, and the young man said no problem, he could wait, his next class was at 11.

Then he did something most people his age don't do. He introduced himself and shook TB's hand. Most college kids will until they are approached, rather than doing the approaching.

His name is Ian McGeary, a junior defensive lineman for the football team from nearby North Brunswick. McGeary is in his first year as a starter, and he has 12 tackles and a sack through four games, including five tackles this past Saturday against Colgate.

His next game is Saturday at 3:30 against Brown. It's a pretty big game for Princeton, who is playing for a second straight Ivy League championship and is currently 1-0 in the league with six Ivy games with six weeks to go.

This was a Tuesday morning though. The last game was three days ago. The next one not for four days. This was a peaceful moment in between.

It's how football works. It's a very structured, regimented sport, with very little variance from week to week.

And the fury that gets unleashed, especially from a defensive lineman, on a gameday? Well, there was none of that in TB's office this morning.

Nope, there was just a polite young man from Middlesex County.

He talked about how his mother works near Quakerbridge Mall. About the fortunes of the North Brunswick High School football team, and a little about the situation at one of its rivals, Sayreville.

TigerBlog asked McGeary what he wanted to do post-Princeton, and he said he wanted to go to medical school, maybe after a little time off. His ultimate goal is to be in orthopedics.

Bob Surace, the head football coach, stopped in for a second, and coach and player had a nice greeting.

Craig showed up right when TB had to step out to go to the weekly event meeting. In all, TB and McGeary spent about 30 minutes together.

In those 30 minutes, TB got an up-close, 295-pound reminder of what Princeton Athletics is all about - the athletes themselves.

The goal is to provide the best possible experience for the athletes. TB says that all the time, hears that all the time in meetings. It's true.

But it's also easy to lose track of the fact that each of these athletes in an individual having his or her own individual experience. And it's easy to lose track of just how incredible some of these kids are.

TigerBlog told McGeary he was the PA announcer at football games. Hopefully, he'll get to say his name quite often this Saturday. Maybe he'll just give him tackles even if he doesn't make them. Nah.

Whether or not Princeton wins Saturday or wins another Ivy title during McGeary's last two years, the big kid who sat in TB's office this morning is having the kind of experience that should be the envy of every college that fields athletic teams.

He plays the sport he loves. He knows an NFL career is unlikely. He has a better career goal than that anyway.

It's not about whether or not Princeton can stay in a hotel the night before a home game or can give him limitless meals in a special athletes' dining room, like the Power Five conferences can't wait to do.

It's about being a real student and a real athlete - and having the right reasons for pursuing both.

TigerBlog didn't need to be reminded of that this morning. He knows it full well every morning, and it's one of the things that has kept him here all these years.

Still, it's always good to have that refresher. This morning, it came in the form of Ian McGeary.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Thoughts From Saturday

TigerBlog saw so many college football games Saturday he can't even keep track anymore.

That's part of the problem that a school like Princeton faces in getting people to its games, by the way. There is no shortage of games to watch on TV.

That's not today's point though.

At one point, TigerBlog had Princeton-Colgate and Yale-Dartmouth on videostream and about 10 games on his TV.

Later on, he watched the end of Baylor-TCU, which ended up 61-58 Baylor in regulation. The game turned on two plays, both of which were about as identical as plays can get, though with vastly different results.

The first was a fourth-down play for TCU just across the Baylor side of the 50. TCU threw for it, incomplete. There might have been a little contact on the play, but no flag.

It was the right call to go for it, by the way. With that way that game was going, whoever had the ball the last was going to win, and that meant keeping the ball away from Baylor.

When the Bears got the ball back, they were faced with a third-and-long. They threw for it, incomplete, with a little contact on that play as well.

This time, a flag was thrown. Pass interference. Then game-winning chip shot field goal.

Then there was Penn State-Michigan.

Michigan was up 16-13. Penn State ball, fourth and about 40 or so, near its goal line.

Penn State wisely took a safety, which meant a free kick, or in this case, an onsides kick. It was the Nittany Lions' only chance to get the ball back, other than hoping to convert on the fourth down.

And so that's what Penn State did. The center snapped the ball into the stands for the safety, 18-13 Wolverines.

Then onsides kick. Recovered by Penn State. Here comes the chance for the great finish.

But wait. No. Flag for offsides.

Doesn't matter that every replay showed there was no offsides.

TigerBlog doesn't understand why officials want to spend 59 quietly going about their jobs and then spend the last minute making awful calls that directly decide games. The two passes between Baylor and TCU were basically identical, and TB says no interference on either. So why one flag and not the other?

And the Penn State game? If you throw the flag for offsides, it better be really clear. So why throw that flag?

Could it be because the games were at Baylor and Michigan?

As for Princeton-Colgate, the Raiders came back from an early hole to defeat the Tigers 31-30. Up in Hamilton there would be no blaming this on the officials.

Nor, TigerBlog will say, could this be blamed on the decision to go two after the first touchdown, after Dre' Nelson ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown for the second time in four games. The two-point try failed, making it 6-0 instead of 7-0 if the Tigers had kicked or 8-0 if it had been successful.

It's easy to say that Princeton lost by one, and that one point was the one from the failed conversion. That's a bit oversimplistic.

First of all, that assumes that every single thing that happened in the game from that point forward still would have happened in the exact same way had Princeton kicked. It wouldn't.

Even if it did for most of the game, the end game would have been different. In a tie game, Colgate wouldn't have played to run out the clock. It would have played to score. Maybe it would have. Maybe it wouldn't.

More importantly, it's a mentality thing.

Princeton's success last year was built on the idea of attacking. Fast and physical. Keep going at all times.

It's that kind of attitude that defines a team. If it backfires every now and then, so be it.

So where is Princeton now?

Unbeaten in the Ivy League, albeit at 1-0. There are six weeks left, with only Ivy games on the schedule. It begins Saturday when Brown comes to Powers Field at Princeton Stadium at 3:30.

After that? Harvard. At Cornell. Penn. At Yale. Dartmouth.

Right now, Dartmouth might be the best team of them all. The Big Green looked good against Yale in winning that one.

Dartmouth and Harvard are 2-0. Princeton is 1-0. Everyone else has a loss. Penn hosts Columbia this weekend, while the other four are outside the league.

Then it's all league games.

If TB had his way, there'd be a week off for the entire league after this weekend, Week 5. But no, they will keep playing straight through, a sprint to the finish line.

Maybe it hasn't been the dominant first four weeks Princeton might have hoped for in the preseason, when it was the league favorite. Whatever, that doesn't matter.

Now it's about the remaining six league games.

Is Princeton still the favorite? Maybe not.

Does Princeton have as good a chance as anyone?