Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sweating Out The Anthem

TigerBlog Jr. was nine when he started playing the saxophone. From the first time he tried to make a sound come out of it, he said his goal was to play the national anthem at a Princeton men's basketball game.

TigerBlog had heard his version of the anthem about a million times through the years, ever since the day he printed the sheet music off the internet. His first few months were barely listenable and hardly sounded like the song. As time went by, he got to the point where he was pretty good - most of the time. He still had his missed notes, which on the saxophone, come across in a somewhat screeching fashion.

Still, he thought he was ready, and who was to argue with an 11-year-old with his mind so firmly set on something?

So there he was Friday night, ready to go before the Princeton-Cornell game at Jadwin Gym. He was also there in his official capacity as a Tiger ballboy, and his ballboy partner Matt offered these encouraging words on the way to the game: "$20 says you mess it up."

When we first came into the gym, he did a practice run, which brought track practice to a halt. It was a nice rendition, and when it was over, TigerBlog was left to wonder if he had another good one in him when the stands had people in them.

Then it was off to the almost two-hour wait until the game clock read "0:00" and it would be show time. To TigerBlog, it seemed to take two years; for TB Jr. and Matt, it was business as usual. They went to get the pizza from the Jadwin Jungle. They hit the Backcourt Bistro. They shot around. They played pop-a-shot.

As the final minutes ticked away, the two boys sat on the Princeton bench, as they always do, dribbling a ball between their legs, like any other night. Then the horn sounded. It was time for the anthem.

TigerBlog, who was on the press row opposite the court as TB Jr. went out onto the court, could hardly breathe. From the countless times hearing the song, TigerBlog knew there were three spots in the anthem where TB Jr. sometimes struggled.

Then he was introduced (TigerBlog had instructed PA announcer Bill Bromberg to mention that he was a ballboy to explain why he was wearing shorts and a t-shirt), and then he was off. He cleared the first spot easily; the next was the part where the song goes "and the rocket's red glare ..."

What TigerBlog had forgotten was that the Cornell fans all yell "RED" as loudly as they can when the word comes up, and so they did. Still, TB Jr. kept going, without flinching (all the while with his foot tapping).

He had one more big hurdle to clear, the part that goes "yet wave." Nailed that one as well. Then it was on to the finish without missing a note. TigerBlog could exhale; TB Jr. smiled and got a pat on the back from men's basketball coach Sydney Johnson and a nice ovation from the crowd.

Then Princeton went out and knocked off Cornell, ending the Big Red's 19-game Ivy winning streak.

After the game, TB Jr. admitted he'd been nervous, so nervous that "I thought I wasn't going to be able to stand up." It wasn't half as nervous as his father had been.

So forgive TigerBlog for a little self-indulgence. It wasn't one of the 40 greatest moments in Jadwin history - unless you happened to be related to the kid who played the anthem.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations to TB Jr. and to TigerBlog himself. That's a great moment in any parent's life. If the basketball team keeps winning, Princeton may need TB Jr. to keep playing the anthem. He will be the orange-and-black version of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" before crucial Philadelphia Flyer hockey games.

Anonymous said...

A very nice story. And thanks to TigerBlog and the rest of the sports information office staff not only for the blog but all of the hard work you do for Princeton athletics and its fans.

Anonymous said...

Congrats to TB & TB jr. - I was not at my post at WC that night - terribly sorry to have missed it. Thank you for you wonderful story to make me feel as I was there....on the inside. Good Job to both father and son.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the story very much, it's a nice memory for you and a clutch performance by your son. Paul Zimmerman, of Sports Illustrated and before that the New York Post, had a habit of timing how long it took to play the anthem at sporting events and the record for the shortest anthem is held by the Princeton University Band.