Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Cynic Vs. The Optimist

Though TigerBlog has been known to be a tad cynical at times, he's trying to embrace a more optimistic side these days.

It's not always easy.

Today he offers a mix of the cynical and the optimistic, courtesy of the world of sports.

Let's start out with the cynical side.

There was this little tidbit, about the thoughts of some of the current players on a team that is considering signing Richie Incognito, the former Miami Dolphins offensive lineman who was at the center of the Jonathan Martin bullying situation a year ago:
Both quarterback Josh McCown and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said Monday that there wouldn't be a problem in the locker room if Incognito is signed.
"I don't care. As long as he can help us win, that's all I'm concerned about. If there's a problem, then we'll deal with it accordingly," McCoy said. "But as long as he's doing what he's supposed to be doing in the building, then I'm not concerned about anything else."


So what does that mean? That they could care less about the bullying, only about the blocking. Cynical.

Then there was Jerry Jones, one of the big egomaniacs on this planet. The owner of the Cowboys was talking about Josh Brent and how he hoped how Brent spent some of the off-season helped him in terms of discipline.

And what did Brent do this off-season? He went to jail. 

Perhaps you remember Brent from the story in 2012 when he was driving drunk and killed teammate and friend Jerry Brown. And what did Jones say about the matter?

As only outspoken owner Jerry Jones could put it, he hopes Josh Brent can be a better football player when he returns to the Dallas Cowboys because of the time spent in jail for the drunken-driving death of teammate Jerry Brown.
"When you on Monday are given a roll of toilet paper and it's got to last you until next Monday, that's a lesson of discipline," Jones said Tuesday in an interview with 105.3 The Fan. "That's a lesson of life. That's what happened to Josh. "When you have someone next door to you that grabs your plate of food and you weigh 340 pounds but you don't mess with him -- he just looks at you, because you know that guy doesn't care if you live or die -- that's a life experience. I think there's a chance that Josh Brent may come out here and have a perspective that none of us have seen before, especially from Josh."

Was that not enough? It gets way, way worse:
"He's had that [life-changing] experience," Jones said. "He deserved that, and some people think he deserved more, but the point is he has been through some eye-opening days. We could really benefit from that as a football team.
"In a totally and completely different way -- and I'm going to make sure everybody understands it is a completely different way, if you understand what I'm saying, Chad Hennings joined the Dallas Cowboys and he had actually flown in Desert Storm single-pilot jets. Had actually had a crash in single-pilot jets. Chad Hennings had developed a discipline and developed a work ethic that made him a man among boys, and he was a major contributor technically [and] physically but, boy, was he a contributor being an example of work ethic and an appreciation for the job you've got.
"It's a shame that all athletes to some degree can't have some of these life experiences and really have an appreciation for what a great opportunity it is to play in the National Football League. But Josh has had that, I think."

What the? So he compares killing someone in a drunk-driving accident with flying jets in combat for the military, essentially saying that the two provide the same kind of "life experiences." And it's a shame that all athletes can't have these "life experiences?"

Is he insane? Seriously? Is there something actually wrong with him?

Cynical.

Then there is the case of USC defensive back Josh Shaw, who suffered two serious ankle injuries from jumping from a second-story hotel balcony to save his seven-year-old nephew from drowning in a pool. For one day, he was hailed as a great hero, and a great USC hero at that, after he acted in the "Trojan Way."

And now? Well, it turns out that it might not exactly be true.

In fairness to Shaw, nothing has been established yet. But hey, why would it turn out to be true? Why wouldn't it be just another charade, designed to make someone feel good about people, only to have it yanked away at the end?

TigerBlog hopes that it turns out that the first story is true. It's just that he'll believe it when he sees it.

Cynical. Very cynical.

And then there was the report about Michael Sam, the first openly-gay player in the NFL, and his shower habits in the lockerroom. Great. Just what this story needed.

Cynical.

On the other hand ...

There is the story of Louis Marx Jr. from the Princeton Class of 1953, who has endowed foreign travel for the men's and women's tennis teams. Every four years (it's an NCAA rule that these trips can be no more frequent than every fourth year), Princeton's men's and women's teams can make a foreign trip courtesy of Marx.

The men's team went to South Africa in June. The women's team is currently finishing its trip to Sweden, Denmark and Spain.

The gift from Marx has enabled nearly a quarter-century's worth of Princeton tennis players to make an international trip. TigerBlog has been on two - both with men's lacrosse - and he can attest first-hand what a great experience it is for the athletes. It's something they will never forget, and it's a huge part of their Princeton athletic careers.

Optimistic. Very much so.

Then there is the preseason national field hockey poll. Princeton is ranked seventh.

A year ago, Princeton reached the NCAA quarterfinals. Two years ago, Princeton won it all, for the first NCAA field hockey title in program history.

This year, Princeton finds itself seventh - as it chases its 20th Ivy League title in 21 years. The Tigers trail Maryland, North Carolina, UConn, Duke, Syracuse and Virginia. That's five ACC teams and the defending champ (UConn).

It's easy to take for granted the overwhelming success of Princeton field hockey, or any Princeton team for that matter. Every now and then it's worth taking a step back and seeing the schools that Princeton competes against year after year, and with such stunning results.

Optimistic.

Then there's Corey Okubo. He'll be a freshman at Princeton this year - just as soon as he returns from the Junior Pan-Pacific Games in Hawaii.

Okubo most recently finished 10th in the 400 IM and 12th in the 200 fly at the U.S. Senior National Championships and from winning 200 fly at the Junior National Championships. Again, it's easy to take for granted that national-caliber athletes like Okubo choose Princeton to compete in college, knowing full well that they do so with an eye on a top education and a top athletic experience.

And they've been doing this for decades and decades.

Optimistic.

Lastly, there is Cosmo Iacavazzi, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and one of the great football players Princeton has ever had. It's been 50 years since he led the Tigers to a perfect season in 1964.

There he was yesterday, talking to this Princeton team after one of its first practices before a season in which the team is the preseason favorite to win the Ivy League title, which it did a year ago as well.

It's about more than wins at Princeton, though. It's about the loyalty and lifelong relationships that are formed as Princeton athletes, and that is on display clearly when someone like Iacavazzi comes back to talk to the current players.

Optimistic.

And the moral of all of this?

You're better off reading goprincetontigers.com than espn.com.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Party At The Surace's

TigerBlog has finished "Lilyhammer" and is halfway through "Happy Valley" as his Summer of Netflix winds down.

Oh, and one thing about the Emmy Awards: Is that really the best they can do? It's just not funny. And does everyone who won have to act like it's the most shocking thing that's ever happened, something so beyond the pale of their deepest innermost thoughts that they are so absolutely completely stunned speechless that that they won?

Okay, back to Netflix. "Lilyhammer" turned out to be really good, with Season 2 much better than Season 1. "Happy Valley" is only one season of six episodes, of which TB has watched three to date.

It's not about Penn State. It's a British police show, and a really good one. The main character is a policewoman whose daughter committed suicide, and she's on the trail of the man who drove her to do so, unaware that he has conspired with four others in a kidnapping plot. It's a really good show.

So if you're keeping score, TigerBlog has watched 26 episodes of "Orange Is The New Black," 26 episodes of "House Of Cards," 16 episodes of "Lilyhammer" and three of "Happy Valley." That adds up to 71 episodes, which, granted, would put him most of the way through "Breaking Bad," something he hasn't started yet.

One more Emmy note. TigerBlog was rooting against Robin Wright in the Best Actress in a Drama category because her character on "House Of Cards" is such a bitch that TB figured she didn't deserve to win. Now that's a good acting job. It made her worthy of winning, which unfortunately she didn't.

Of course, there's more to life than Netflx. There's football, for instance.

TigerBlog was taking a Netflix respite Saturday when he stumbled upon high school football. He wouldn't have stayed with it long, except that the play-by-play man was Eamon McAnaney, who does a ton of lacrosse. Plus, it was the first "real" football game - as opposed to NFL exhibition games - that he'd seen this year.

Eamon actually said something really funny early on. The color commentator mentioned that the coach of one of the teams gets up at 4 am to go running every day, and Eamon mentioned that the last time he'd been up at 4 am was to catch a plane.

TigerBlog didn't watch much of the high school game. He also didn't watch much of the first "real" college game of the year, Eastern Washington vs. Sam Houston State on Eastern Washington's distinctive red turf.

This game was played Saturday. Eastern Washington won 56-35.

The game was played one day before Princeton's team met for the first time. In fact, it was two days after head coach Bob Surace had his preseason picnic for the football coaches and others, TigerBlog included.

TigerBlog doesn't go to too many events that make him feel better about Princeton Athletics and Princeton University than the picnic that Coach Surace has.

It would be easy for the head football coach to want to be above everyone and everything at a university, let alone an athletic department. After all, isn't that how it works in that profession?

Look around the country at the Power Five conferences and elsewhere. The head coach is a step below God, which still makes him a few steps above anyone else on the campus. The head coach makes millions. The head coach is revered. The head coach in many cases feels he's above the law.

Bob Surace? Hah. Hardly.

He's about as down-to-earth as you can be and still be a college football coach. He doesn't think of himself as above it all. He thinks of himself as a member of a team.

He's completely engaged in Princeton's other teams, in much the same way that John Thompson used to be when he was the men's basketball coach. He stops in daily just to say hello and see what's up. He proves that someone doesn't have to be a jerk to be a football coach, that you don't have to look down on everyone else to be a football coach, that you don't have to be a phony tough guy to be a football coach.

His picnic this year was like his other ones, except that it didn't rain, which TB thinks is a first for the event. Mostly it's just a preseason gathering, the calm before the storm, in his nice - but not ridiculously over the top - backyard, with a bunch of people who all contribute to Princeton football in some way, some big, others small.

It's like going to a block party or a Christmas party at a neighbor's house, the nice neighbor who says "hi, how are you doing, what's new?" and really wants to hear the answer.

If TB had to sum it up in one word, he'd use "warm."

Meanwhile, while the NFL is less than two weeks away from the regular season and the rest of the football world is in game week (college, high school, youth), the Ivy League is just getting going for practice.

This year is a bit different for Princeton, the preseason favorite in the Ivy League. The Tigers come off an 8-2 year that saw them set Ivy records for points and yards in a season.

The lineup has some holes to fill, for sure, but that's the nature of college athletics. Mostly, Princeton has experience and depth, especially on offense. It has the leader of last year's onslaught, quarterback Quinn Epperly.

It has a lot to be excited about as practice gets started. The season is still three weeks away, with the opener in San Diego Sept. 20 and then the home opener against Davidson Sept. 27.

The season will fly by. It always does. In a blink, it'll be mid-October, and the defining moments of the season will be here.

For now, it's the first practices.

And the memory of another picnic at the head coach's house, a head coach who has done more than turn around the fortunes of the football program.

He's proven that you can do that and be a good guy all at the same time.

In this day and age, sadly, he's a rarity.

Monday, August 25, 2014

What Does Mo'ne Davis Say About Women's Athletics?

TigerBlog ate at the Olive Garden Saturday night.

It's not his usual first choice of a place to eat. He's not a big fan of chain restaurants.

Still, in fairness, it was better than he thought it would be. The salad and breadsticks are the draw, of course, and his meal was pretty good too - a grilled chicken with vegetables and cannellini beans.

Miss TigerBlog wanted to go there to celebrate her recent birthday, and she brought six of her friends with her. TigerBlog was not invited to eat with them, though he was invited to pay the bill.

About the only permissible conversation that TB was allowed to have involved television. One of the girls - Nell - is binge-watching "Grey's Anatomy."

Oh, and the coming of the school year. All seven girls are a few days away from the start of their freshman years of high school, and they have the usual anxiety that would be expected from 14 year old girls who are about to go to high school. You know, what to wear, where to sit for lunch, that sort of stuff.

Nell, a bit more low-key than the average ninth-grade girl, said it's just the next year of education, in an effort to downplay things. Amy, speaking for the rest of the group, said that she was okay with the education but would prefer that it started two hours later each day.

Five of the seven girls are already fall sport athletes, even before their first class. Nell and Amy are field hockey teammates of MTB's, and oh, by the way, in the interest of being factually correct, MTB has scored all three of her team's goals in its two scrimmages.

One subject TB tried to engage them in was the recent success of Mo'ne Davis at the Little League World Series and what if anything they as young female athletes took from it. TB got nothing back from them.

Maybe it's because it's not something they were focused on. Maybe it's because they didn't watch or really care. Maybe they did have strong opinions but didn't really feel like sharing them with TB. Who knows.

TigerBlog is fascinated by the whole Mo'Ne Davis story. First of all, she was a dominant pitcher, that's for sure. Whether she can or wants to continue in baseball is not the point. As a 13-year-old on the Little League level, she was at times untouchable.

And she has great poise. Think about what she became in a short time. She went from just wanting to play baseball to being the biggest story in the country, with her every move chronicled by ESPN and her picture on the cover of "Sports Illustrated."

TigerBlog hates the Little League World Series, precisely because of where all those kids are right now. It's possible that the highlight of all of their lives is already behind them, and it shouldn't be that way when you're 12 or 13.

And TB hates what television does to the event. Year after year, kids who are not ready to handle that kind of spotlight are thrown into and then discarded when their team loses or when it ends, thrown back into the word of middle school, some having to face their classmates after last being seen crying and breaking down on national television after an error or strikeout or a loss.

This year was different though, and it was because of Davis. When TB was in Conte's last week, the game that Davis pitched and lost to Nevada was on the television. The group of late teenagers - mostly males - was watching intently.

So was TB. Maybe not intently, but it was the only part of the LLWS he watched. And it was because of Davis. And he wasn't alone: Davis drew record ratings to ESPN.

And it begged the question - was it because she was a girl?

TB isn't sure.

He's read a lot about the gender issue and Davis, including a column from Sally Jenkins in the Washington Post that seemed to TB to miss the point of everything and have an incredibly silly thesis. Her point seemed to be "neanderthal men continue to keep women's sports from being relevant," which TB can't disagree with more.

She also wrote about a marathon in Minneapolis in which the top woman finished 45th overall and therefore beat thousands of men, but the men of the world deemed it unworthy to mention that fact, only that she was first among women. Is she trying to say that women should compete directly against men, without any separation by sex? In that case, who would ever care who finished 45th in a marathon?

If anything, it's the separation by sex that makes women athletes relevant, not the other way around. Yes, maybe there are a handful of Mo'nes out there who can compete with their male counterparts head-to-head, but there aren't many.

Niveen Rasheed is one of the most exciting athletes TigerBlog has seen at Princeton. Had there just been one basketball team here, instead of a men's and women's teams, she never would have had the chance to show how exciting she could be.

TigerBlog has never understood the logic that says that women's sports won't be truly accepted until the male audience agrees that the women's athletes are as good as the men's athletes or that women can compete head-to-head with men. Why would that matter in the least?

A column like the one that Jenkins wrote downplays how far women's athletics have come in the last 40 years or so. Go to a Princeton women's basketball game this fall and see for yourself. Count the number of men and boys in the stands.

For that matter, women's basketball here outdraws 16 of Princeton's 20 male sports (football, hockey, basketball and lacrosse all outdraw women's basketball). What does that tell you?

It tells you how far women's athletics have come in the consciousness of the sporting public. That they're not 100 percent equal with men's sports in terms of national interest? Feminists can drive themselves nuts bemoaning that aspect of it, in much the same way that TigerBlog can tell Major League Baseball fans that lacrosse is a much better sport to watch and not have it matter to them. 

If anything, Mo'ne Davis shows how rare it is that a female athlete can compete head-to-head and beat her male counterparts, and that's a big part of why it became such an event. But so what.

It's not about that. It's about opportunity.

There are so many women athletes who didn't have the opportunities that MTB and her friends take for granted, and the ones who competed here decades ago who paved the way for the girls who play today are real heroes.

TigerBlog was at MTB's scrimmage the other day. The game was scoreless in the second half, and the play was down in front of her team's goal. Someone whacked in down the field, and MTB outran two defenders on the other team to get to the ball first. She pushed it ahead a few times and got it into the circle. Then she drove it past the goalie, with the resulting crack of the field hockey ball against the back of the cage.

It required speed, coordination, strength and determination to pull it off. Does it matter that boys her age are faster and stronger? Not in the least.

TB has watched way more girls' and women's sports than most people - probably, he'd guess, than Sally Jenkins even. You know what's missing from them?

Nothing.

If Mo'ne Davis is better than most boys her age, that's great. If a small percentage of women's athletes are the same, great.

It doesn't take anything away from the rest of them that they're not, anymore than it takes away from the fact that more people watch baseball than men's lacrosse.

So stop whining about it. Go play. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Guest TigerBlog - Emily Benhcke's Thoughts On Shacks

In the entire history of Princeton Athletics, how many people have been a head coach for at least 20 seasons? What would you guess?

It turns out the answer is 24, including two – Richard Vaughan and Jimmy Reed – who coached at least 20 seasons with two different teams. Or so TigerBlog thinks, assuming that the same Richard Vaughan coached hockey and sprint football and the same Jimmy Reed coached soccer and wrestling.

Some of the names on the list are obvious. Pete Carril. Cappy Cappon. Larry Ellis. Betty Constable. Eddie Donovan. Louise Gengler. Glenn Nelson.
 
Princeton has six active coaches who have coached here for at least 20 seasons: men’s track and field coach Fred Samara, women’s track and field coach Peter Farrell, women’s swimming coach Susan Teeter, men’s swimming coach Rob Orr, women’s squash coach Gail Ramsay and women’s lacrosse coach Chris Sailer.

Princeton will have a 25th coach and seventh active coach join that list, but she will go no further than 20 seasons here. Julie Shackford, the women’s soccer coach, announced today that the 2014 season at Princeton will be her 20th and final one.

Shackford is 196-106-26 in her first 19 seasons at Princeton, so she obviously needs four wins to reach 200. The next-best total by a Princeton soccer coach is 136, by Reed, who spent 29 seasons coaching the men’s team. Shackford is 238-130-30 overall with her four years as the head coach at Carnegie Mellon added in.

Her resume also includes six Ivy League titles and eight NCAA tournament appearances, the most by an Ivy women’s soccer coach. She is one of two Ivy coaches to go 7-0-0 in women’s soccer twice, something she did in 2004 and 2012.

Speaking of 2004, she did something that year that no other Ivy women’s soccer coach has ever matched, taking Princeton all the way to the NCAA Final Four. In fact, it’s the only time an Ivy League team has reached the Final Four of a 64-team NCAA tournament.


On the day that she announces her retirement, TigerBlog turned to Emily Behncke, a two-time first-team All-Ivy League selection, the 2005 Ivy Player of the Year and one of the stars of the 2004 Final Four team, to talk about her head coach, whom her players almost exclusively call "Shacks":


It's impossible to express in just a few words the profound impact Shacks has made on the Princeton soccer program.

It’s easy to start with the six Ivy League championships, eight NCAA appearances, and magical Final Four run of 2004, but her impact goes far beyond the soccer field. 

My memories of Shacks go back nearly 20 years, from those first games I watched as a middle schooler when my brothers were on the men’s soccer team, to my own years playing at Princeton, to her continued success with the program that I’ve witnessed as an alum. 

What stands out most for me – and what I believe will be her lasting legacy for the hundreds of players who played for her during her 20 years as head of the Princeton women’s soccer program – is her passion for her players' success. Shacks cares deeply for each of her players, and more than anything, is driven to help them realize and achieve their full potential.

She doesn’t back away from some tough love to help her players achieve that goal. For me personally, that led to some seriously sore biceps as a freshman. 

“Behncke, you’re positioning is off… push ups! Behncke, no square balls… push ups! Behncke, you just need to get stronger… push ups!”

But it’s because of Shacks and what she grew that I was able to compete in a Final Four, play professionally in Sweden, and, most importantly, be a part of program that remains almost as much a part of my life now as it was during my four years on campus.

When her players walk off Myslik Field for the last time as graduating seniors, chances are they will have experienced many memorable nights, captured an Ivy League title, and played in the NCAA tournament. But what is most important to Shacks is the progress each player has made throughout her career and the fact that her players can graduate proud of their contributions to the program, without any regrets.

And although she demands a lot from her players, Shacks constantly finds creative ways to keep things fun. 

Our beloved “PGGs” (Pre-Game-Games) got so competitive she frequently had to cut them off so we wouldn’t wipe ourselves out before the actual league game. Blue/White challenges during practice drew some of the fiercest one-on-one battles I’ve seen in college soccer.  “Phantom Menace” pranks amongst the team were encouraged, even though they were largely aimed at the coaching staff. 

And we all still talk about who’s earned the “yellow jersey” – an initiative she implemented after getting swept up in the Tour de France excitement one year.  She really lives her mantra, “it doesn’t get any better than this” and she made us all believe it.  Even after long bus rides home from away games or cold November practices in the rain, we all still felt fortunate to be there, to be part of something that special.   

I now spend more time behind a desk than running around a field, but the lessons I learned from her during my four years at Princeton remain surprisingly relevant. 

Whether you’re nervous about a pre-season run test or your first client presentation, it’s important to remember, "You'll pass out before you die." If you find yourself in a tough game against Harvard with an unforgiving referee or you’re negotiating a new deal, “expect the unexpected.” Have patience – it will all come "in due time." 

And most importantly, whatever stage of life you’re in, "it doesn't get any better than this." 

Shacks has amassed many accolades during her coaching career, most notably as 2004 Division I Coach of the Year. And although she rarely spoke of her own glory days, she has just as many success stories from her playing days at William & Mary, where she was a three-time All America. 

As impressive as those stats are they don’t show the impact she’s had on the hundreds of players she’s coached over the past 19 seasons at Princeton. Despite all of the games her team won, the individual rewards she received, and the six Ivy League championships she won, her lasting legacy to the program and the community will always be that she helped every one of the young women who played for her identify their full potential and continue to strive to realize that potential long after they left the comfort, friendship, and family that she created at Princeton.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Night At Conte's

Zach DiGregorio is leaving for Penn today.

TigerBlog remembers when he went to college for the first time. As he moved his stuff into his dorm - Class of 1928 in the Quad - he heard FatherBlog utter the most sage words he's ever heard from the old man: "When you get hungry enough, you'll figure out where the dining hall is."

Zach is moving into Hill House, which is at 33rd and Walnut, as opposed to the Quad, which stretched about four blocks up Spruce Street, a few blocks up from Franklin Field and the hospital.

Zach is a Princeton High School grad who spent a PG year at the Hun School. Now he'll play sprint football at Penn, and he is listed as a QB/WR/DB on the roster. In reality, sprint football players can play anywhere, since they're all about the same size. It's the whole point of sprint football. Maybe Zach will end up on the offensive line.

He'll be back in Mercer County on Halloween night, when Penn plays at Princeton in the final game of the sprint football season. Princeton is in its first season with Sean Morey as its head coach, and TB can't wait to see if this might just be the year the Tigers get that elusive win.

As for Zach, he's TigerBlog's favorite kind of kid, or young adult, or adult, or whatever kids his age are.

He calls TB by his first name, but not in a disrespectful way. He fits in naturally in a group of people his age, but he can also fit in with the group of parents too, without coming across as a suck-up or phony.

He laughs at all the right times. He speaks enough to let you know he's comfortable making his point but not too much that he becomes a pompous know-it-all, like a lot late teenagers do. He has a strong handshake, and he looks adults right in the eyes.

And he's going to Penn, so you know he also has a brain in his head.

Last night was something of a going away part for him, at Conte's, on Witherspoon Street. TigerBlog usually likes thicker crust pizza, but Contes is a Princeton institution and a special place.

Conte's for years was TB's post-men's basketball game destination, largely because it was Pete Carril's and Bill Carmody's and Joe Scott's and John Thompson's and Howard Levy's and of course Marv Bressler's. The conversations there? They were classics, epics, ones where TB mostly listened and learned.

And so it was worth the 45-minute wait or however long it was last night before a table at Conte's was ready. Actually, it was two tables, of 11 each - one for the 11 adults and one of the 11 whatever-they-ares, who ranged in age from 14-19.

Howard Levy was there. He was in charge, actually. He and Digger, Steve DiGregorio that is, Zach's father. Digger is a former assistant football coach at Princeton, and he was something of the host, moving from group to group during the wait to sit and then between the tables to make sure everyone was having a good time or had enough pizza.

But Howard was in charge. He always seems to be in charge of whatever it is that is going on around him. It's an innate quality, TB supposes.

Maybe it's because he's nearly seven-feet tall. Maybe it's because he's a lawyer. Maybe it's just how he's wired.

Howard is a 1985 Princeton grad and the all-time leader in field goal percentage for the Tigers' men's basketball team. He was an assistant coach under Carmody, Thompson and Scott during their head coaching days here, and he's now the head coach at Mercer County Community College.

At Princeton, he played with and coached people who were destined for college regardless of whether or not they were good at basketball. They measured success by championships won, NCAA tournaments, that sort of thing. TB can still hear Carril's voice booming in the background, yelling at his team that "we're trying to win the title here fellas."

At MCCC, Howard is still trying to win. It's just that his voice was most proud when he talked about the guys - if you're a Carril disciple, you say "guys" instead of "players" or "young men" or whatever else anyone says - who have played for him and then gone on to graduate from a four-year school. His offer is a steak dinner to all those who do, and this summer he was on the hook for four such steaks.

Because he was in charge, Howard made sure the tables were split up properly. He ordered the pizzas while everyone was waiting. He surveyed what everyone wanted on their pizzas (TB's favorites there are either peppers and onions or mushrooms).

His son Lior was there. He'll be a sophomore at Franklin & Marshall, on the basketball team. He's a RA this year, and apparently is living in a dorm room that rivals a four-star hotel room.

There were 11 kids in all, including TigerBlog Jr. and Miss TigerBlog. TBJ was a ballboy with Zach and Lior for Princeton basketball a long, long time ago.

Zach's brother Derek, who just turned 17, was there. He was standing and walking, which was great to see, as he continues his fight against Ataxia Telangiectasia, a rare disease that has attacked his body - but not his spirit - since he was a baby. Nadia DiGregorio, their mother, said that Derek had read "Jane Eyre" and, when asked by the teacher to comment, said something along the lines of "she had a terrible life and I have a great one, so I can't relate to her."

Courage? He has a ton of it.

Someone brought a friend that TB had never before. He goes to Yale. TB shook his hands and said "at least it's better than Harvard," though he would have said the opposite if the kid had said he went to school in Cambridge.

Alex Deutsch was there - he is off to Middlebury to play baseball. He and his parents are Ted and Jess, both from the Class of 1991. That's the same class as Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux; Jess was struck by the fact that the AD is now her age, as opposed to 24 years older than she is, like the previous one.

Jess lettered in tennis as an undergrad. Ted played baseball here. He was wearing baseball pants and had to leave for a softball game, but he stayed past when the game started.

It was that kind of night. A fun, nice, relaxing night. A night where waiting 45 minutes for a table or being a little late for a softball game was just fine.

The kids at the next table?

It dawned on TigerBlog at some point that he'd seen most of them grow up literally from the day they were born. They went to nursery school together. They were ballboys in this buildling. They had spent summers together at Dillon camp. They saw each other at countless athletic events here.

They've grown up, that's for sure. None of them are little kids anymore. Of the 11, TB thinks five can drive now. They're not the little kids they used to be - and not just because Lior stands 6-7 or Zach is playing sprint football in college.

What dawned on TB ultimately was that it was, again, a reflection of what a special place Princeton University is. All of these people were brought together here, and all have been touched by this University, had it affect them directly, had it shape them in so many ways, had their children benefit from it.

That's what these 20-plus years have been about for TB.

Yes, as Coach Carril said so many times, "we're trying to win the title, fellas."

But nights like last night?

That's really been the ultimate goal.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Well Written

The first scene of "Top Gun" includes the moment where Maverick and Goose invert their F-14 above a Soviet MiG at a rather close distance.

The two American pilots take a Polaroid (remember those? They were completely wiped out by camera phones) and give an different kind of salute to the rival pilots and then fly away.

Later on, when they're at Top Gun school in California, they relate the experience to the instructor - with whom Mav sort of predictably falls in love - though they fall all over their words to explain the nature of their salute.

Apparently there was no ambiguity to that same salute when it came from Johnny Manziel Monday night, when the Browns played the Redskin. Manziel, in Goose's words, flipped the bird to the Skins.

Raise your hand if you're shocked that he did that.

Anyway, it led to this great first paragraph on the ESPN.com story:
Johnny Manziel raised his middle finger toward the Washington Redskins bench as he returned to the huddle late in the third quarter. It was one of the few times a Cleveland Browns quarterback actually found his intended target.

Now that's really good.

You want more really good writing? Let's go back to October 1939, after Princeton defeated Brown in football 26-12. This is from the Daily Princetonian:
A docile Bruin squatted on his hams and let a sure-footed Tiger pummel him for most of their four-round bout Saturday afternoon. Pluck, wind and a woeful Princeton pass defense enabled him to register 12 points to Princeton's 26. When Bob Peters took the ball on the first formation and loped 67 yards to the paydirt in the year's most beautifully synchronized pay, many of Palmer Stadium's 15,000 spectators expected the Tigers to stage a wholesale Bear slaughter for the balance of the game.

How great is that?

Early sportswriting was nothing like what it would become. It was flowery, in many cases poetry.

Take "Casey At The Bat," a famous story about the Mudville Nine, which is what baseball teams used to be called.

As an aside, when the Trenton Thunder first became a Minor League team, TigerBlog's colleague at the Trenton Times Mark Eckel used to refer to them as "The Local Nine."

A few decades (four of them, to be precise) after "Casey At The Bat," Grantland Rice wrote this after a Notre Dame football game, in 1924:
Outlined against a blue-gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.

Hey, he's no Mark Eckel, but that's not too shabby either.

Fast forward to today. TigerBlog gets chills reading what Rice wrote about a college football game, still, 90 years after the fact. 

But do people want to read that sort of stuff again today?

What Rice wrote is 489 characters. That's more than three tweets. Who has patience to read that much today?

Suppose you oversaw a college athletic website. What would you think would be a priority for your readers?

Long, well-written postgame stories, with quotes and all? Or some bullet point facts about the game? Or an info-graphic? Or maybe just video highlights? Or something else completely?

TigerBlog has asked this question a million times before, and it's applicable again right now. What do people want to read?

He brought this up to a few of his colleagues and got complete, 180 degree different answers.

His question is simple: When was the last time you read a real postgame story? Do you already know everything that happened in the game from twitter or someplace else, so you don't really need that kind of in-depth recap?

Is it just a matter of providing a few tidbits about a game and them moving on to the next event?

TB isn't sure. He likes the challenge of writing a really good postgame story, but he doesn't want to invest time into something that is out of date.

So what's the answer?

He's still not sure.


Maybe the decline of newspapers hasn't been as much an economic thing as a reaction to the fact that people just don't want to read like they used to. Maybe the market for traditional sportswriting has dried up.

TigerBlog hopes not. He started out in newspapers. He writes this blog every day.

But he's a pragmatist. He'd yield to the wills of the audience - if only he knew how to figure out what those whims were.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Resurgence Of Chris Young

So the Giants are 3-0 in the preseason. Yay.

This record shows how meaningless the preseason is. The Giants haven't exactly lit it up with their first team players and instead of have relied on exciting - if not quite significant - comebacks to win all three times. Undrafted free agent wide receiver Corey Washington, from Newberry College, has caught the game-winning TD pass in all three games.

Of course, Washington isn't listed as a starter. In fact, he's hardly a lock to actually make the team, as he is listed as a fourth-string receiver, which explains why he's in the game at the end to catch the game-winning passes.

TigerBlog watched the end of the Giants-Colts game the other night. It was 26-0 Indianapolis when TB put the game on; the Giants won 27-26. Had this been a regular-season game, it would have been an epic comeback, an all-time comeback.

Instead, it was a bunch of guys trying to make the team.

Eli Manning - TigerBlog's favorite current pro athlete who did not go to Princeton and a two-time Super Bowl MVP - went 1 for 7 for six yards. Ryan Nassib, who has no chance of starting over Manning, went 11 for 15 for 158 yards and the game-winner to Washington.

When the game ended, it dawned on TigerBlog that he had watched more football than baseball since the start of the 2014 baseball season.

Seriously. He'd watched less than one quarter of one preseason football game, and that was more time spent watching football than baseball.

Thinking back to the 2013 baseball postseason, TB hardly watched any of it, and he can't remember watching any of the World Series.

There was a time he'd watch the Atlanta Braves on TBS pretty much every night. Then TBS went away from showing Braves games, and TB got more into lacrosse anyway. Lax? He's watched lots of it on TV.

Had you told TigerBlog 25 years ago that he would watch way more lacrosse and soccer on TV than baseball in a summer, he wouldn't have believed it.

TigerBlog hadn't even checked the Major League standings all season until last week. And what did he find?

The Kansas City Royals are in first place? How did that happen? And the Orioles are 7.5 games in front in the AL East? Again, who knew?

TigerBlog doesn't really have a favorite baseball team. He prefers rooting against the Yankees. He figured the Yankees were right in the thick of it, but it's not looking good for them in Derek Jeter's last season, as they are unlikely to catch the O's and are in fourth place in the wildcard race, three games back of three teams - the A's, the Tigers and the very surprising Mariners.

TigerBlog is all on board the Mariners' bandwagon now. For starters, BrotherBlog lives in Seattle, and TB went to a Mariners' game last summer when he was there.

And of course, there is Chris Young. TB clicked on Grantland yesterday and was greeted by a big picture of Chris Young.

Actually, all pictures of Young are basically the same. He has the same exact look on his face, with his lips tightly pressed together and all of his muscles straining on each pitch. He looks like he just jumped out of an airplane or something like that.

Young is having a great season with the Mariners, and this on the heels of a nightmarish stretch that saw him have 2012 wiped out by injury and 2013 spent in the minors.

After shutting out the Tigers for six innings Sunday, Young is 12-6 on the year for the Mariners, who are 67-57, largely because of their great pitching. The story on Grantland details Young's resurgence largely in the context of sabermetrics, which TigerBlog both understands and doesn't really love.

Yes, they are great predictors of success, way more than the traditional stats. Yes, a team would have be dumb not to embrace them.

No, TigerBlog doesn't love what they've done to sports, which will never be as cut-and-dry as a math test, where it's either right or wrong. Much of the beauty of sport is the intangible side, which can't be measured in advanced analytics.

Still, TB admits they do a pretty good job of explaining the success of a 6-10 pitcher who can barely break 85 on the gun. That 6-10 pitcher used to play basketball and baseball at Princeton, and he remains one of TB's all-time favorites to ever wear orange and black.

Actually, TB's belief is that Young is pretty much every Princeton fan's favorite. There haven't been too many athletes who have come through here who seemed to be as well-liked as Young. 

One of the most startling things in the story on Grantland was that Young is 35 years old. How is that possible?

When TB thinks of Chris Young, he'll always think of what might have been had he competed his final two seasons, instead of signing a professional baseball contract. And first, he'll think of the time Young put a very, very small TigerBlog Jr. on his shoulders on the side court at Jadwin so TBJ could dunk.

Young has had a very successful career in Major League Baseball. The Grantland story suggests that he's a leading contender for the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award.

And, of course, he's a major reason why his team is in the thick of the wildcard race.

TB is rooting hard for the Mariners.

If they get to the postseason, TB might actually watch it.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Friends, Old And New

Miss TigerBlog celebrated a birthday over the weekend.

Her best friend, Wiki, made her a card. It said on the front: "She is my best friend. If you break her heart, I will break your face." That's Wiki in a nutshell.

Actually, TigerBlog took it as a big victory when MTB told him that, when he takes her and five of her friends out to eat to celebrate, he will actually be permitted to eat in the same restaurant - though clearly at a different table. This was a change from the original proclamation that he would not be permitted in the same restaurant and would have to find someplace else to eat, though someplace close, since he needed to provide 1) transportation and 2) financing for their meal.

Speaking of MTB and Wiki, TigerBlog recently found an old box filled with pictures. There were some in the box that dated back to when he was a kid even. He had great hair back then. Oh well.

Mostly, there are pictures of TigerBlog Jr. and Miss TigerBlog. Year after year, birthday and birthday, there is MTB - and there is Wiki next to her, in every single picture.

There are more pictures of MTB and Wiki than there are of any other combination of people. There they are, at the pool, both on their chaise lounges, both wearing their shades. There they are, no more than four or five years old, hugging each other while playing some sort of dress up game. There they are, on the first day of school last year at the bus stop.

In fact, there's a picture of them at the bus stop every year, starting in kindergarten and running until this past year. There won't be one of them this year, as they are going their separate ways for high school at least, as MTB will be going to the public school while Wiki will be going to a Catholic school.

They'll still be neighbors, and presumably - hopefully, actually - best friends.

TigerBlog Jr. had three best friends when he left middle school. He then went to a private high school, while the other three went to the same public high school that MTB will be going to. Now, three years later, TBJ is still best friends with one of the three - but hasn't really stayed in touch with the other two.

When TigerBlog got to high school, it was mostly all the same kids he had been with since kindergarten. In MTB's case, her high school feeds from three middle schools, which feed from 12 elementary schools.

In other words, when she went to middle school, she was with kids from four different elementary schools, which means that she had never gone to school with three-quarters of those kids before. Now as she goes to high school, she will be with kids who come from three middle schools, which means that she will never have gone to school before with two-thirds of the kids in her class.

Oh, and her class has about 950 kids in it.

One of the best ways to bridge the gap of unfamiliarity is with through athletics. In MTB's case, she tried out for the field hockey team last week and made it, giving her a leg up before she ever walks into the school.

In fact, her intro to high school was making that team, and it came two weeks before school even starts. TB is pretty sure it'll be helpful to her as she makes the transition into a world of the unknown.

The same applies even more so in college athletics.

A little later this week, the Princeton campus will be flooded with fall athletes, whose return for preseason practice will be Act 1 for the 2014-15 athletic year here. Princeton will go from quiet to busy in no time at all.

The first day of classes here is Wed., Sept. 10. That's still more than three weeks away.

By then, Princeton will be well on its way athletically.

For the incoming freshmen (Class of 2018, wow), the transition to Princeton life is made considerably easier by reporting now and then practicing and ultimately competing.

The athletic side is easier, because there is no schoolwork to make the adjustment to quite yet. So that goes without saying.

It's the other side of it though that is really helpful. At least in MTB's case, all of the kids in her high school class are from the same few towns.

In the case of Princeton athletics, they come from all over.

Take the men's soccer team for instance. There are six freshmen on the men's soccer roster right now. They come from: New Jersey (two of them), Michigan, Arizona, Illinois and New Zealand.

As an aside, it'll be hard for Daniel Bowkett to be Princeton's best athlete from New Zealand, the same country that brought NCAA hammer throw champion Julia Ratcliffe here.

Anyway, having the bond of being teammates is huge. It provides an immediate sense of belonging and gives all of them a foundation here. It's one of the biggest benefits of playing college athletics.

Then there's the other part of it. That's the part where they come back 50 years from now and talk about how they've been best friends all these decades and still remember the first day they met, how they came together on a field at Princeton.

Like it was yesterday.

Or, in this case, later this week.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Falling Forward

TigerBlog opened the door this morning and was greeted by a preview of autumn.

The temperature was below 60, actually all the way down to 55, according to his phone. It was crystal clear, with almost no humidity.

You call this August in New Jersey? It felt more like late September, maybe even early October.

This has been a rare summer in these parts, in that it's never really gotten to be oppressively hot and humid or anything like that. Only three times this summer has the temperature reached 90 degrees, and the high for the season has only been 91.

Contrast that with last summer, when there were about a million days when it was at least 90, with accompanying humidity of course. TigerBlog is used to that, since he's basically had that for every summer of his life.

This one has been different though.

It's been mostly in the low 80s during the days and into the 60s at night. It's been, well, pleasant.

TigerBlog read a story about all this last week, though he can't remember where. It said that there is unlikely to be a heat wave - defined as three consecutive days with temps in the 90s - this summer, which would mark the first time in a decade that there would be no heat wave in this area.

As for August, it's half over already, which, given what TB wrote two weeks ago, would suggest that August flies by, rather than crawls, especially when the weather is like this.

If you're looking for other signs of fall, they're everywhere. Well, almost everywhere.

Miss TigerBlog is one full week into high school field hockey practice - TB can report that she made the team. When TB goes to either pick her up or drop her off, he sees every other fall team at the school in its first week of practice as well.

Beyond that, every park that TB drives by seems to have Pop Warner football practice, or soccer or something else.

The preseason has begun in the NFL - Caraun Reid had two tackles for loss last week for Detroit - and TV is also dominated by talk of the soon-to-arrive college football season.

Ah, but at Princeton? Not quite yet.

There is still a calmness on campus. The last of the summer camps has been wrapping up, and the wave of fall athletes has yet to arrive.

That all changes within a week. By next Friday, Princeton's campus will be flooded with athletes, team and practices. And it'll be the surest sign that fall is right around the corner.

TigerBlog has been counting down the weeks until the first day of competition for the 2014-15 academic year.

Today that countdown stands at three weeks. Just three short weeks between now and the first athletic events of 2014-15.

Coming up on Sept. 5 - 21 days from today - there will be field hockey at Duke, men's soccer at FDU, women's volleyball at Temple's tournament against Charlotte and Holy Cross and the first home event of the year, a women's soccer game against Rutgers.

Actually, that will be the fourth game of the year for the Scarlet Knights, who open their season one week from today against Stony Brook. RU also plays Vanderbilt and Seton Hall at home before its game here against the Tigers.

There are nine more events scheduled between Saturday, Sept. 6, and Wednesday, Sept. 10, including another home women's soccer game (Seton Hall) and a home men's soccer game (St. John's). There's also the men's water polo team's Princeton Invitational.

All of these teams report next week and start practicing. The football team and sprint football team also begin shortly, with opening day of the football season five weeks and three time zones away.

So what does all this mean?

It means that the weeks continue to zoom by. Can it really be Friday again? Can August really be half over? It just began. 

It also means that today is the last Friday of the summer here before the athletic department roars back to life. And it's a perfect Friday at that, another completely pleasant day, one that is going to start another completely pleasant weekend.

So go outside. If nothing else, go for a nice walk somewhere. Anywhere.

You owe it to yourself.

After all, summer won't last forever. Especially this one.

It might as well be fall already. It's started in most places.

It comes to Princeton Athletics within the week.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

House Of Cards

When TigerBlog has to write an essay on the first day of school about how he spent his summer vacation, he can probably sum most of it up in two words: Watched Netflix.

Actually, TigerBlog can't remember too many times, if any actually, where he was asked to write about his summer vacation on the first day of a new school year. Maybe at Penn, before finger-painting. That's how education is at Penn, right all you Princeton people?

Seriously, TB can't remember being asked to do write about summer vacation. He probably was at some point. He doesn't really remember much of second grade or third grade or anything like that.

TigerBlog went to a bunch of different schools between first grade and high school, as opposed to his own children, who will have gone to one elementary school for K-5, one middle school for 6-8 and then one high school (though different high schools from each other).

TB went to one school for first and second grades, another for third, yet another for fourth and then a different one for fifth and sixth. Then it was two years at the junior high school and four years at high school. That's six schools in 12 years, as opposed to three for his kids.

And that was all without ever moving out of his house. It was all with the same kids in the same school district the entire 12 years. It's just that there were a lot of buildings used.

TB used to think this was normal; in fact, he's guessing most people didn't do it that way.

Meanwhile, back at Netflix, TigerBlog yesterday talked about "Orange Is The New Black," which consumed 26 hours of his life in a short period of time.

Once that show was over, TB immediately started on "House of Cards," and he polished off all 26 episodes of that show in no time as well. Actually, he thinks that he went through "House of Cards" in fewer days than "OITNB."

If you've "binge-watched," you know what it's like. One episode ends, and you immediately want to watch another one. And then you look at the clock when that one's over and say "it's not too late; one more." The next thing you know, it's midnight, and you've spent four hours watching a show. And want to keep going.

"House of Cards" might be better than "Orange Is The New Black," but they're both outstanding. They're very different subjects, but they are both well-written and well-acted with great, great characters. And they both mix in humor with their serious foundations, though TB would hardly call either a comedy.

"House of Cards" is nominated for 13 Emmy Awards, four more than "OITNB."

If you don't know anything about "House of Cards," it's the story of Frank Underwood, the majority whip of the House of Representatives (at least in Episode 1; TB won't spoil what happens for you). The whips in the house responsible for keeping the party members in line and getting them to vote the way the party wants, usually with the need to exchange favors - or threats - to get compliance.

Underwood is played by Kevin Spacey, who is about as good in this role as Claire Danes is as Carrie Matheson in "Homeland," which means extraordinarily-over-the-top great. The entire cast is tremendous, with one great character after enough - the same kind of great supporting cast that "OITNB" has.

Rather than give away the plot, TB will simply say that the entire season makes him wonder how much of this is accurate portrayal of how the U.S. government works at its highest levels.

And to recommend that you get Netflix and start watching.

As with all binge-watching, the problem now is what show to watch next. He's thinking about "Breaking Bad," but he's not sure he has 85 episodes in him. On the other hand, that won't take him very long, given the way binge-watching works.

He watched the first episode of "Lilyhammer," another Netflix original series. This one stars Steven Van Zandt as a mob guy-turned-informer who gets sent to the Norwegian town (spelled "Lillehammer;" the title of the show is changed on purpose because of the name of Van Zandt's character's dog).

It seems like it would be right in TB's wheelhouse. Van Zandt sort of plays Silvio Dante from "The Sopranos" again, and it's more funny than serious. He fell asleep during Episode 1, but he may have to give it another go.

There are big lessons to be learned from Netflix and binge-watching about the evolution of viewing habits, and there are takeaways for Princeton Athletics.

First of all, Netflix released all 13 episodes of each season of "OITNB" and "House of Cards" at the same time, as opposed to one per week. It's like the shows were on Sunday at 9 or Tuesday at 10. They were just there - just like Season 3 will be, though not for awhile for either.

Second, TigerBlog watched some of the episodes on his TV, some on his computer and some on his phone. If he had a tablet, he could have used that too.

In other words, there's a lot of content out there, and it's accessible anywhere, not just on TV.

Since TigerBlog's first day here more than 20 years ago, television has always been a huge priority. Get games on TV. Any TV. A TV camera = good. No TV camera = bad.

That is changing rapidly.

TB still thinks that there is great value in television, especially Princeton's agreement with ESPN. It's perfect for Princeton, with a chance to put a minimum of seven events per year on an ESPN network, with the huge distribution that comes with it.

The other great part about that is that most of those events are on the WatchESPN app, which takes them from TV only to the mobile world, which is what people really want these days.

That's why the Ivy League Digital Network is such a great idea. Watch anywhere you are.

Unlike a TV show, live athletic events are meant to be seen live, though people do watch archived versions, though not in great numbers. The ability to provide streams to the target audience on their phones, tablets and computers is huge.

The problem is what do you do when the choice is streaming or television, because not all TV broadcasts can be streamed. In fact, most can't be.

What about networks that don't have the reach that ESPN does? If you a huge Princeton fan, would you rather have a game on TV on a network that you may or may not have or the ability to watch it on your phone wherever you are?

The flip side is that you have actually go to the Ivy League Digital Network. Non-Ivy League fans probably aren't going to be doing that, though they might stumble onto a game on television and be intrigued.

It's quite the issue these days. Keep in mind, the ILDN is not cheap for the eight schools and the league, and significant resources continue to be invested in the name of improving the product.

TB doesn't think the league is quite to the point where it doesn't need TV at all. On the other hand, building the ILDN should be a highest priority.

After all, it's the future. It's important to think in the long term and how to get there. The long-term is definitely producing as much original live content as possible. There's no doubt about that. It's what people want.

The short term? TV is still a big part of it.

And the shorter term? Finding the next show to binge-watch.