TigerBlog used to live in the neighborhood where Mercer County Waterfront Park now stands and was there to see the construction first hand. While the rest of the local sports world was going ga-ga over the prospect of minor league baseball in Trenton, TB was one of three people who said it would never work. The others? Harvey Yavener and Mark Eckel, then TB's colleagues at the Trenton Times.
Okay, so we were wrong.
On the eve of the first Big City Classic lacrosse festival, it appears that TigerBlog might be on the verge of being wrong again.
The Big City Classic is a tripleheader being held at Giants Stadium tomorrow. It begins with the top-ranked team in the country, Virginia, in an ACC game against No. 10 North Carolina. No. 5 Princeton then plays No. 2 (and defending NCAA champion) Syracuse at 2:30, followed by the nightcap with No. 7 Hofstra against Delaware. Three games with six teams, including five in the Top 10, over an eight-hour stretch in the first college lacrosse games at Giants Stadium.
When it was first proposed, TigerBlog heard the Inside Lacrosse sponsors suggesting a crowd upwards of 20,000 and was skeptical. As it turns out, the presale went past 17,000 at the beginning of this week. With the weather cooperating, a strong walk-up would push the crowd to near 30,000.
For Princeton, the game against Syracuse will be its second this season in an NFL stadium, as the Tigers played Johns Hopkins at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore in another IL event, the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic.
The games against Syracuse and Hopkins would have been home games for Princeton had they not been moved off-campus. That decision left the home non-league schedule with Canisius, Manhattan and Albany; no offense to those schools, but clearly Syracuse and Hopkins are bigger draws. In fact, the five top attendance games in Class of 1952 Stadium history were for games against either Syracuse or Hopkins.
Still, the decision to move them can't be argued with. It's part of the growth of the sport, one that saw the 2001 NCAA championship game between Syracuse and Princeton draw 21,286 to Rutgers Stadium and now has a regular-season event ready to easily eclipse that number eight years later. And that doesn't even take into account the Final Four, which will more than double the 2001 total.
For the athletes, the thrill of playing in an NFL stadium in front of a crowd this size against top competition is a great experience. The same is true for the fans who watch it.
Speaking of Princeton-Syracuse, the two have combined to win 15 of the last 21 NCAA championships. Princeton is 25-5 against all other teams in the NCAA tournament and 4-6 against Syracuse. The Orange, since 1992, are 6-4 in the NCAA tournament against Princeton (obviously) and 30-6 against everyone else.
The two have played epic games through the years, including four NCAA finals, three NCAA semifinals and of course a four-overtime game that the Tigers won 15-14 on Josh Sims' goal in the Carrier Dome 10 years ago this month.
This time around, the teams combine to average 26.4 goals and 87.6 shots per game. Princeton actually averages more shots than Syracuse (44.2-43.4), which has to be the first time the teams have played when that has been true.
A key for Princeton is to avoid penalties. Syracuse ranks first in the country, converting two-third of its extra-man opportunities. Princeton ranks 56th out of 57 teams in man-down defense.