Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Story Time With Peter Farrell

TigerBlog has worked down the hall from women's cross country and track and field coach Peter Farrell for 15 years.

TB and Farrell got off to a rocky start. While the exact circumstances are a bit fuzzy, TigerBlog sort of remembers a disagreement over the OAC copy of the Star-Ledger. Of course, that is all ancient history.

Since then, TigerBlog has gotten to see Farrell for what he is: equal parts philosopher, big-picture thinker, loyal Princeton icon, Springsteen fan and great storyteller. Oh, and he's also continued to churn out Ivy League championship teams, and his current women's cross country team is among the best in the country and may be the best in Ivy League history.

For today, let's focus on the storytelling. Farrell is a master of stopping in the doorway and launching into a quick anecdote about a former athlete or common aquaintance or any number of subjects. Still, after 15 years, TigerBlog figured he'd heard them all. That was before a five-minute span yesterday afternoon when Farrell outdid himself.

"My brother won a bronze," Farrell started.

"A bronze what?" TB asked.

"A bronze medal. In the Olympics."

From there, the stories began while the skeptics at TigerBlog HQ did some fact checking.

It started out with a simple google search for "Tom Farrell," who indeed won the bronze medal in the 800 meters at the 1968 Games in Mexico City, four years after finishing fifth in Tokyo.

Could Peter name his brother's birthday (listed on an Olympic site)? Yes, he could (though he could not properly identify his height in centimeters, which was also listed).

"We were brothers separated by a war," Farrell said, explaining that his father had fought in World War II and that his older brother had been born before he left. The senior Farrell was part of the first American unit to liberate Rome.

Then Farrell went on to talk about his brother's Olympic experiences. It started in 1964, when Tom Farrell had just finished a heat in his race and was "warming down" under the stadium when he ran into Bob Hayes, who was looking somewhat despondent. Hayes, for those who don't know, was one of the great sprinters of all time and one of the great deep threats as a receiver in NFL history. Hayes played for the Dallas Cowboys, and when Farrell asked TB if he knew about Hayes, TB responded that as a Giants fan even back then, he already hated the Cowboys (still does) and that Hayes was one of the first players he hated as well, since he routinely torched the Giants.

Back in Japan in 1964, though, when Tom Farrell asked Hayes what was wrong, Hayes told him about how he had to run the 100-meter final in 10 minutes and only had one track shoe with him. What size are you, Farrell asked, and when Hayes told him he was size 9, Farrell gave him his shoes, which coincidentally were the same size. Hayes then went out and won the race while tying the world record of 10.0. In Farrell's shoes.

Princeton's Farrell went on to explain that:
1) Hayes had a pre-race ritual where he would put on his shoes but not tie them and stretch his toes out in the shoes to get a good feel
2) Hayes had been rooming with "Smokin' Joe," who is boxer Joe Frazier, at the Olympics. Frazier, the night before, had asked Hayes if he had any gum, and Hayes, half asleep, said that there was gum in his bag. Frazier then took one of Hayes' track shoes out of his bag but never put it back in, and somehow the shoe got kicked under the bed. In the morning, Hayes grabbed his bag and left for the stadium without noticing.
3) in the modern world, Hayes would have had "19 different pairs of free track shoes and 19 different people assigned to carry them." He also would never have a roommate in the Olympic Village. In Tokyo in 1964, though, he and Frazier were roommates because they were both "Southern black kids."
4) the shoes that Hayes wore are still to this day on his mother's shelf
5) years later, Hayes wrote an autobiography that verified every word of his brother's story

"When Hayes died [in 2002], I was listening to Mike and Mad Dog on WFAN," Farrell said. "They were talking about him. I wanted to call up and tell that story."

Farrell did one better. He told TigerBlog. In typical Farrell fashion.

1 comment:

Rich said...

Mr. Farrell was my freshman year high school home room and social studies teacher at Christ the King High School in Middle Village, Queens, NY. Three decades later I still remember his description of the first time he saw Lew Alcindor aka Kareem-Abdul Jabaar play at Power Memorial High School. Ask him to tell that story one day.