Friday, October 31, 2014

A Day Of Orange And Black

Ah, Halloween.

A day of candy. Of children in costumes. Of ghost and goblins. Of scares and frights.

And a day when the rest of the country realizes what Princetonians know every day: That the best color scheme is Orange and Black.

What is going on in places like West Philadelphia, Cambridge and New Haven today? Are the offices of our colleagues throughout the Ivy League decorated in Orange and Black? They must be, right?

As TigerBlog's kids are a bit past the excitement of Halloween, he has lost track of what the dominant costumes of the day are. Craig Sachson, who works here in the OAC and has a first-grade daughter, said that there will be more than a few little girls dressed up as Elsa and Anna from "Frozen."

There was a time when those same-aged little girls dressed up as the wholesome, family-friendly "Hannah Montana." Look how that worked out.

TigerBlog can never remember having a great Halloween costume. He actually laughs every time he sees a movie or TV show where every single person at the party has the most clever, most creative costume ever.

His experience was always thinking that his idea of piecing together a costume was: "this is bad."

As for the candy part, TigerBlog is much more into cantaloupe, apples, bananas and grapes - red grapes - than he is candy right now. Actually, he's afraid of candy, because he thinks if he has one M&M, he's going to be immediately hooked again and start eating them by the millions again.

So with no interest in candy and kids who are past their trick-or-treating prime, TigerBlog is content to head to Newark today for the Liberty Hockey Invitational.

It's opening night for Princeton men's hockey, which starts a new season with a new coach, Ron Fogarty, a man who seemingly boundless enthusiasm for his program. The Tigers take on Yale at 7:30, after UConn plays Merrimack at 4:30. The consolation and championship games are Sunday.

TigerBlog has never been to the Prudential Center before. He's looking forward to it. He's also never been to the new Yankee Stadium, Citi Field or the Barclay's Center. All in good time, he supposes.

TigerBlog figures to follow up the hockey games with the Ivy League Heptagonal cross country championships tomorrow morning. The women race at 11, followed by the men.

If you've been to Heps cross country, it's one of the best annual events in Ivy League athletics. Hopefully the weather will cooperate at least a little bit.

There are some huge games this weekend for Princeton athletics as well, mostly in Ithaca, N.Y.

The football team plays Cornell at 12:30, in a game that can be seen on Fox College Sports. Princeton is coming off its big loss to Harvard last week, and playing in Ithaca has never been easy.

Still, the Tigers are 2-1 in the Ivy League and need to win to stay in the league race, with games against Penn, Yale and Dartmouth still to come.

The field hockey team is playing at noon at Cornell in a game that will have a huge impact on the Ivy League championship. The Tigers and Big Red, along with Columbia, are tied for first, at 4-1 each; the Lions are at Yale tomorrow.

Princeton can earn a share of the league championship with wins tomorrow and next week at home against Penn, but to get to the NCAA tournament, the Tigers will need Columbia to also lose, either to Yale or next week against Harvard.

There is also a soccer doubleheader at Cornell, with the women at 2:30 and the men after. The men are in the middle of a crowded race for the league championship.

The men's water polo team has a big game at Bucknell tomorrow as well.

It's a big day for Orange and Black. Followed by a big weekend for the Orange and Black.

Have fun. Stay safe.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Where's The Play At The Plate?

It's not just that Madison Bumgarner was unhittable. It's that he was unhittable and completely emotionless.

It wasn't like it was the World Series, let alone Game 7 of the World Series. It could have been a spring training game or an early-summer game against a team that was going nowhere, like the Yankees or something.

There as Bumgarner, inning after scoreless inning. And each time, he showed absolutely no emotion of any kind. Got the ball. Got the out. Back to the dugout.

The nightmare scenario that every Kansas City Royal feared the most played out last night in Game 7, when Bumgarner came on in the fifth inning with his San Francisco Giants up 3-2. And that would be that. Final score, 3-2.

Bumgarner went five innings and allowed two hits, walking none and striking out four. He was on total cruise control - until an incredible moment with two out in the ninth, at which point the big lefty had retired 14 straight.

Alex Gordon dropped a line drive just in front of San Francisco centerfielder Gregor Blanco, who saw it roll to the wall and get kicked around just enough to make it even more interesting .

Gordon made it to third relatively easily. He was held the whole way by third base coach Mike Jirschele. And TigerBlog was left to wonder one thing: Why, why, why didn't the coach send Gordon?

Yeah, his odds of scoring weren't great. By the time he would have rounded third, shortstop Brandon Crawford would have had the ball on the outfield grass.

On the other hand, what happened next was inevitable. Bumgarner got Salvador Perez to pop out to third. End of World Series.

Yes, nobody today is saying that the third base coach blew it. Then again, nobody is saying the Royals won either.

Here is a quote form Jirschele:

"Believe me, I wanted to send him. I couldn't do it. I didn't want to go the whole offseason with Alex getting thrown out halfway to home plate right there."

Oh, but you're okay going the whole offseason knowing you lost but nobody is blaming you? With the way Bumgarner was throwing and the way Perez was hurting, what were the chances he'd tie the game there? Less than the chances that Crawford was gong to make a bad throw home - hey, maybe he would have been so shocked .

This was their one chance, and they didn't take advantage of it. And they lost. Yes, nobody is blaming Jirschele or Gordon, and yes they would have been all over them if Gordon had been thrown out at the plate.

Sadly, in sports, that often trumps everything.

Oh well, the Royals gave it a good run. It wasn't a great World Series, but it was a World Series of greatness - Madison Bumgarner's.

TigerBlog didn't see much of it, and then again, nobody did, as it was the lowest rated World Series ever. Just wait 50 more years, when the Major League Lacrosse championship game is the biggest sporting event.

It was the lacrosse banquet Saturday night that caused TigerBlog to miss the soccer doubleheader on Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium against Harvard. And he got a little hung up all week and so it's not until Thursday until TB points out something fairly obvious and yet still incredible.

There were 14 goals scored on Myslik Field that night.

Fourteen? That's a lot of goals.

The women lost 5-4 to Harvard as Tyler Lussi scored all four goals. The men won 3-2.

In the women's game the winning goal came on a penalty kick with 10 minutes left. As with all penalty kicks awarded in tie games with 10 minutes to go, the punishment did not fit the crime.

TigerBlog hasn't looked up when the last time at least 14 goals were scored in one day on a Princeton soccer field. If he had to guess, he'd guess it's been awhile, if ever.

When the dust settled from it all, the women found themselves not quite mathematically out of the league race, thought it would take a lot for them to win the Ivy title. The men? They're right in the thick of it.

On the women's side, it looks like the champion will be either Harvard or Dartmouth, most likely Harvard, even if the Crimson lose to the Big Green Saturday and definitely Harvard if the Crimson win or tie.

Harvard is 4-0-1 for 13 points, followed by 2-0-3 Dartmouth with nine. Should they tie this weekend, then Harvard would clinch the title with 14 points, while Dartmouth would find itself in the strange position of being undefeated in the league - and mathematically eliminated.

If Dartmouth wins, then it would be one point back of Harvard with one game to play. The Crimson still have Columbia to go, while the Green have Cornell.

Princeton? The Tigers are tied with Columbia with seven points, six points back of the Crimson. The best Princeton could do is tie for the title, and the only way that would happen would be if Princeton won its two games (at Cornell Saturday, home with Penn Nov. 8), Harvard lost both of its and Dartmouth beat Harvard and then either tied or lost to Cornell. Columbia is in the same boat as Princeton, needing two wins to get to 13 and then some help.

If Princeton sweeps and Harvard gets swept, there could be a three-way or four-way tie for first. Princeton would not win the tiebreaker in any scenario, so the Tigers cannot win the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Princeton does have a non-league game Tuesday at home against North Carolina State as well.

By the way, contrast that with what have happened if the PK hadn't been called and that game ended in a tie. Princeton would have eight points. Harvard would have 11. It would be a much, much, much different race. In the end, that call could have done as much to determine the league race as anything.

Now TigerBlog did not see it. He wasn't there and hasn't seen the replay. He's not saying it was a bad call or anything like that. He's saying it was a season-changing call though.

As for the men, they have played one fewer game than the women to date, so it's harder to figure out what's what at this point.

The knowns are that 1) no team is unbeaten, 2) Dartmouth is alone in first with nine points and 3) Princeton, Harvard and Penn are all tied for second with three.

As with the women, Harvard and Dartmouth play this weekend.

Princeton's regular season ends with a game at Cornell, a midweek game at American, a home game Nov. 8 against Penn and a game at Yale Nov. 15.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Calm Before The Tip

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was in Jadwin Gym yesterday. There is a picture of him and a Princeton hat on the University's main website.

It seems like the kind of thing a spiritual leader would do if he had a sense of humor.

TigerBlog has no idea if the Dalai Lama has seen the part of the movie "Caddyshack" in which Bill Murray famously and hilariously talks about caddying for the Dalai Lama on a course in Tibet. If you've seen it, you know what TigerBlog is talking about; if you haven't or want to see it again, click HERE.

Please don't mistake this for a lack of respect for the man or the position. Far from it. What TigerBlog is pointing out is that the Dalai Lama who was in Jadwin yesterday comes across, from what TB has read and heard from those who were there, as an engaging, smiling human being as well as a spiritual figure, which is definitely a good thing.

As such, TB supposes, he probably gets a chuckle out of the "Caddyshack" clip, especially the line "big hitter the Lama." And if he doesn't? Well, it's still one of the funniest scenes in any movie that TigerBlog has ever seen.

TigerBlog didn't really know much about the Dalai Lama prior to the announcement of his visit to Princeton, other than that he was the leader of a large sect of Buddhists and that. He still doesn't quite understand it all, especially how the next Dalai Lama is chosen.

TigerBlog wasn't in Jadwin for the event.

Instead, his day took him to Philadelphia, to speak at a class at Drexel, a graduate sports management class. It's something that TB has done many times before at New York University, but this was a first at Drexel.

The class was in a building between 31st and 32nd, and TB wanted to park behind the Palestra and walk over. His friend and colleague at Penn, Michael Mahoney, arranged for him to get into the lot, and he was all set.

With some time to kill before heading over to the class, TB found himself in the Palestra, during women's volleyball practice. The men's and women's basketball teams are Penn were practicing in a new practice facility, since volleyball took preference as an in-season team.

TB always loves to walk into the old building next to Franklin Field, even if it's on a Tuesday afternoon during volleyball practice. He has so many memories in that building, back to the first Princeton-Penn game he ever saw, back when he was a freshman at Penn.

TB, Mahoney and Penn broadcaster Brian Seltzer were talking when Quaker head men's basketball coach Jerome Allen came out of the lockerroom, to be interviewed.

Mahoney introduced him to TigerBlog, who through all these years had never before met Allen, who immediately gave TB a dirty look because of the "Princeton Athletics" shirt he had on. Mahoney mentioned that TB works at Princeton, and TB immediately followed up with the fact that he was a Penn alum.

Allen responded with something along the lines of that being even worse or something like that. It was a pretty funny exchange.

Then the the group walked outside, in front of the Palestra, where Seltzer did his interview with Allen, something that was interrupted first by an ambulance with a blaring siren and then by a low-flying helicopter.

The front of the Palestra has changed radically since TB first saw it. Gone are the tennis courts that used to be there, replaced by a pretty nice grassy area.

It was a picture perfect afternoon, temperatures in the mid-70s, a slight, comfortable breeze. TigerBlog pointed out that the building to the right as he faced 33rd Street - a rather sterile building called the David Rittenhouse Lab - was the sight of his last ever class and final exam at Penn.

It was such a calm moment, out in front of the Palestra in the uncharacteristically warm late October sunshine.

It's quite a contrast to the winter that is coming. College basketball will be beginning soon, and the long chase to get a spot in the NCAA tournament come March will be underway.

Princeton opens its men's season at home two weeks from Friday against Rider. The women open their season the same night at Pitt.

The regular season for both ends on March 10. March 10? That's basically four months from when it starts.

Specifically, that's 116 days from the start of the regular season, discounting any postseason.

The women's soccer regular season? It goes 64 days. The men's goes 71 days. Those are total sprints.

Basketball? It's a long, long path.

Right now, teams are talking about practices and closed scrimmages and the like. Pretty soon it'll be tip.

The regular season for both Princeton teams, by the way, ends at the same building outside of which TB stood yesterday afternoon. That night will be much more intense, much more crowded, than yesterday, when all the building had was volleyball practice and a few stragglers.

It was calm yesterday. The calm before the tip.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Present Meets The Past

You know who should host the next Academy Awards?

Matt Bailer. He'd be a lot better than whoever actually ends up doing it.

If, like TigerBlog, you were at the Friends of Princeton Lacrosse banquet Saturday night at the Hyatt, you know exactly what TB means about Bailer, a former Princeton midfielder. His 15-minute or so monologue was incredible, with its perfect mix of timing, content and delivery.

Yes, he should definitely quit his career and go into show business.

The Friends of Lacrosse event is always a highlight of the year for the program, one that, like all Princeton teams, does a great job of marrying the present to the past.

The current players are there, and they introduce themselves in numerical order. They also get a chance to see some of the great history of Princeton lacrosse, as those who have helped shaped the program come back and those who made a particularly strong impact are honored.

In this case, it was the 2004 team, one that started out in a rebuilding mode and ended up in the Final Four. The 2004 Tigers were led by Ryan Boyle, one of the greatest lacrosse players of all time, but mostly were a team of, well, team players, unsung guys who played well together and who especially played well together and the biggest moments.

It's not like there was no talent besides Boyle, obviously. The team had, among others, Jason Doneger, Peter Trombino, Scott Sowanick, Ricky Schultz, Oliver Barry, Drew Casino and Ryan Schoenig.

Barry, these days, is Dr. Barry, and he spoke at the end on behalf of his teammates. The word most used was "underdog," and that was probably pretty fitting. Princeton had graduated its Class of 2003 a year earlier, and that was a class that was loaded with talent up and down. Princeton had to pretty much start over in 2004, and yet there they were, 10 years later, remembering a trip to the Final Four.


The highlight video took TigerBlog back to those games, especially the NCAA quarterfinal against Maryland, when Boyle scored two late goals - including the tying goal with 12 seconds left - and then Trombino won it in overtime off a feed from Boyle.  

Then there was the 8-7 loss to Navy in the semifinals. There are some close losses that bother TigerBlog all these years later, and the Navy game is one of them. TB would have loved to have seen Princeton get another championship game shot against Syracuse, who would beat Navy by one in the final that year.

Still, knowing full well how that team began its season in a total rebuilding mode and ended it in M&T Bank Stadium in the national semifinals, it's hard to look at that year as anything other than a wild success.

The night was not just about the 2004 team, just as the program has never been just about the players or coaches.

No, also honored were Denise and Dennis Reilly, who ran the parents' group during the time their three sons- Brendan, Connor and Brian - played. Their role wasn't just to make sure that the parents had a good time at the games. No, what they did had a direct impact on the experience that the players themselves had, with a network of support that wasn't easy to coordinate.

The Reilly's are more comfortable in the background, but this was their night in the spotlight. When they spoke, it was easy to tell that their love of the program - not just their sons - was genuine.

Denise Reilly gave a nice, heartfelt thank you. Dennis Reilly was funny. It was a great mix.

As for the three sons, well, Brendan is an officer in the Marines, Connor is a teacher and Brian is a young alumni trustee of the University.

TigerBlog was seated at Table 1, and to his right was Justin Tortolani, another doctor. Justin was the first superstar Bill Tierney had at Princeton, and he graduated in 1992 with 120 goals, which was then the program record. He also helped Princeton to its first of six NCAA championships his senior year.

Now, 22 years later, Tortolani still ranks fourth all-time in goals at Princeton, having been passed by only Jesse Hubbard (163), Chris Massey (146) and Sean Hartofolis (127).

Also at Table 1 was John McPhee, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, writing instructor at Princeton and Academic Athletic Fellow for the men's lacrosse program. McPhee was to be honored with the Beth Tortolani Cup, given since 1995 in memory of Justin's mother, who had passed away from cancer. It honors someone who has done a great deal for the program, and Denise Reilly herself is a past winner.

The members of the Class of 2014 were also in attendance, and Bates called up the members of the most recent graduating class who had won the other team awards. The last one to come up was Tom Schreiber, who won the Higginbotham Trophy as essentially the team MVP.

Then it was Mr. McPhee's turn to speak, and he didn't disappoint.

McPhee, it turns out, went to a summer camp in the 1930s, where his counselor was none other than John Higginbotham. TigerBlog knows the name Higginbotham from the award all these years, but he never really knew who he was.

As it turns out, John Higginbotham graduated in 1939 after being the lacrosse team captain. As with many young men of his day, his next stop wasn't Wall Street; it was World War II. Higginbotham became a flyer with the Canadian Air Force, only to be killed in 1940.

But shortly before that, he had been McPhee's counselor. Higginbotham - "a blonde giant," McPhee called him - had a boxing match with young Mr. McPhee, with Higginbotham on his knees for the bout.

It made for a nice story.

It also made for the real point of the night. Everyone in the room was there because of a connection to Princeton lacrosse, and the overlap goes back decades and traces the history of a great program that has meant so much to so many.

John McPhee brought it all the way back to 1939 and John Higginbotham. The 2004 players were there, in the early 30s mostly. The Reilly's put a very personal face on the whole night. The team of 2015 was there to soak it all in.

TigerBlog happened to be at this one. There are others like it, across all 38 Princeton sports.

It's really the best part of Princeton Athletics.

The people, the way they're brought together - and the way they stay together forever.

Monday, October 27, 2014

It Doesn't Always Go Your Way

Even before TigerBlog got out of his car Saturday, he knew that something was up.

There was more traffic, more tailgating, more people everywhere he looked. The energy was obvious as soon as he parked and walked towards Princeton Stadium.

It was Princeton-Harvard, 2-0 against 2-0, and it reaffirmed a great truth of contemporary American higher education - and the history of American higher education, for that matter.

Nothing - nothing - can unify a college campus like a big football game, even colleges that are ranked 1 and 2 every year in the U.S. News and World Report rankings.

Here's another truth - not every big game goes your way.

Let's get back to the big game part.

Everywhere TigerBlog looked, he saw people brought back to this campus - or visiting this campus - for the footbal game, in numbers that nothing else short of Reunions can do. There were people of all age ranges, from little kids with their parents all the way through the old guard.

It's what football can do. No other sport can. Only football.

It's woven that deeply into the American consciousness, and has been that way for nearly 150 years, ever since Princeton and Rutgers played the first game ever.

What is it about football that trumps every other sport?

TigerBlog isn't sure per se. Maybe it's just the head start it's had. Who knows. Maybe it's the size of the stadium or the fact that there are fewer football games than any other sport, so they're more significant.

No matter. There is nothing to bring out the school spirit like football.

TigerBlog has never been to a really, really big-time college football game, unless you count Rutgers back when he covered some Scarlet Knights football when the Big East first started or even before that.

TB is talking about the SEC. Or the Big Ten. Games like that.

He wouldn't have wanted to spend his career at schools like that. He wouldn't mind going once, though.

This brings us to the game Saturday. After two heartstopping Princeton wins over Harvard, this one was, well, if you're a Princeton fan, you know what it was.

The final was Harvard 49, Princeton 7. It was a one-sided game to be sure, one that was 28-0 at halftime.

It was actually 21-0 Harvard late in the first half when the Crimson had to punt. It appeared to be clear that the Harvard player who touched the ball had his foot in the end zone, and TigerBlog assumed touchback.

Princeton ball, first and 10 at the 20. About two minutes left. And the Tigers were getting the ball to start the second half. Who knows? Score. Halftime. Score? It's a whole new ballgame.

Except the refs spotted the ball inside the one, and not at the 20. Princeton had to punt, Harvard got a short field and added a TD, and just like that, it was 28-0 at the break.

Just before the start of the second half, TigerBlog ran into defensive coordinator Jim Salgado in the press box. TB asked about the non-touchback, and he learned that the rule in college is different than the rule in the NFL. The rule in college says that the ball has to cross the plane of the goal line, and therefore it was correctly spotted inside the 1, even if the player had his foot on the goal line. In the NFL, that would have been a touchback.

So what does it all mean?

Well, for starters, it means that Harvard and Dartmouth are both 3-0 as they prepare to meet this Saturday in Hanover. If you're a Princeton fan, you're probably rooting for Dartmouth.

Why?

If you're an optimist, then you say that this past Saturday was one of those days and now Princeton moves forward with its final four games. Win out, and the Tigers are 6-1.

That would also mean Yale would have two losses and Dartmouth would have a loss. So that just leaves Harvard, who would need a loss to create a tie for the Ivy title.

Simple, right?

Good teams - and TigerBlog considers Princeton to be a good team - are never as bad as they look at their worst. Up next for Princeton is a game at Cornell and then a home game against Penn; the two are a combined 1-5 in the league.

Wins in both of those games are musts if the Tigers are going to have a meaningful last two weeks of the year, at Yale and then home against Dartmouth.

But if Princeton can go into Week 9 at 4-1 in the league, then that'll be a huge game - and Princeton will take its chances with that.

TigerBlog expected a close game on Saturday and didn't get it. He knows, though, that Princeton's season hardly ended with that loss.

Last year Princeton beat Harvard 51-48 in three OTs. The year before, Princeton scored a touchdown with 13 seconds left for the 39-34 win after trailing 34-10 with 12 minutes left.

Saturday? Princeton scored with 28 seconds to go. It was hardly as dramatic as the late touchdowns in the preceding two years. Those wins were in all-time epic classic games.

Saturday? It meant Princeton avoided a shutout.

Hey, it doesn't always go your way.

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.