Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving As A Great Fall Nears Its End

As holidays go, you can't do much better than Thanksgiving. It's got it all, really: a huge meal (with turkey, no less), football, family, history (dates back to 1621), start of a four-day weekend for most people, leftovers. It's even a secular holiday, so every American can dive right in, regardless of religion.

TigerBlog attended many Manalapan-Marlboro Thanksgiving games a long, long time ago (the latest edition will be at Manalapan at 10 a.m. tomorrow). The Lions and the Cowboys, obviously, always play at home on Thanksgiving, and the NFL has now added a third game (maybe a little too much), which this year features the Giants and Broncos. Beyond watching football, how many out there have played their own Thanksgiving football games, all of which, by the way, are named "the Turkey Bowl?"

The holiday may lag behind Christmas in terms of great Hollywood movies, and "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" is no match for "A Charlie Brown Christmas" or "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." Still, there are some great moments in movies and TV shows around Thanksgiving.

Rocky and Adrian had their first date on Thanksgiving – "To you it's Thanksgiving; to me it's Thursday," Rocky said romantically – as did Meadow and Jackie Jr. on "The Sopranos" (it didn't quite work out as well as it did for Rocky and Adrian). "Everybody Loves Raymond" had two pretty good Thanksgiving episodes, the one where Marie makes a low-fat dinner and the one where Debra makes fish instead of turkey. As an aside, TigerBlog's Aunt Regina once made Cornish game hens instead of turkey, so he knows how they all felt. And of course, there was the Thanksgiving episode of "Cheers," which has the big food fight at the end.

The Woody Allen movie "Hannah and Her Sisters" starts and ends on two different Thanksgivings. "Miracle on 34th Street" is a Christmas movie, but it does start with the Thanksgiving parade in New York City.

And of course, there is the best of all Thanksgiving movies: "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." It'll make you laugh a lot and cry a little, and it ends on Thanksgiving.

Today, the day before Thanksgiving, is much like the days before and after Christmas here at HQ, as there is almost nobody here. Some teams are on the road (women's basketball is already in California, with the men's team soon to follow; those trips are probably easier to make than the one the men's hockey team has to make tonight to Connecticut to play Quinnipiac.

It is a rare Thanksgiving when Princeton still has fall teams who are competing; in fact, this is the third time TB can remember. The first was in 1993, when the men's soccer team reached the Final Four. The second was 2004, when women's soccer and men's water polo played in the Final Four.

The third time is now, with men's water polo again in the Final Four, which will be played next weekend at DeNunzio Pool, no less. It's an achievement that will end a remarkable fall for Princeton teams.

Men's water polo will be the second Princeton team to compete in an NCAA Final Four, after the field hockey team did a week ago. A third team, women's cross country, finished fifth nationally, out of 321 Division I schools that sponsor the sport.

TigerBlog watched the cross country championship on television, and it doesn't exactly translate to how TV likes to televise sports. For starters, a 19-minute race doesn't need two separate two-minute breaks or a "sideline" reporter.

Still, the race was fascinating for two reasons. First, there was the story of Colorado's Jenny Barringer, who was supposed to win by a huge margin. Instead, after leading for much of the first half of the race and pulling away with Florida State's Susan Kuijken, Barringer slowed noticeably, was passed by numerous runners and ultimately collapsed. Amazingly, she got up and finished – a distant 163rd. The fact she finished was stunning because 1) she managed to go another two or three miles after falling and 2) because nobody stopped her from doing so (imagine the lawsuit if something bad had happened).

The second part of watching the race was the total inability to figure out what happened. As runners started crossing the line, it was impossible to keep track of who was from where and what it meant for the team scoring. Eventually it came out that Princeton was fifth, which is an incredible achievement.

Beyond the two Final Four teams and the cross country finish, there was also an NCAA appearance for the men's soccer team, who started and finished strong and earned a bid out of the incredibly tough Ivy League.

The women's soccer team went .500, but with the nucleus of freshmen assembled, the team is positioned extraordinarily for the next few years. Women's volleyball got off to a slow start under its new coach Jolie Ward, but the Tigers surged in the second half of the season to finish third in the league.

The men's cross country team finished second in the league by a single point to Columbia, also with a young team. The football team won its final two games and is now looking at a new start with a new coach, and the sprint football team, well, bless their hearts they keep trying.

All in all, it was an extraordinary fall for Princeton, one that doesn't want to come to a close.

So get your water polo tickets, as they're going fast.

And have a great Thanksgiving.

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