It was Dec. 27, 2008, and there was still one undefeated team remaining in the NFL. The Indianapolis Colts led the New York Jets 15-10 with less than six minutes left in the quarter. Curtis Painter trotted on to the field. Peyton Manning did not.
A nation gasped. Many were personally insulted that the Colts did not push for the undefeated season. Some agreed with the decision, since Indianapolis had nothing at stake in those final 20+ minutes. And at least one person toasted a Rypien Cup fantasy football title, since Manning was now a far less dangerous opponent (sorry, Pat).
One month later, the Colts are now preparing for the Super Bowl. Without the added pressure of 19-0 (again, sorry, Pat) or a key injury that occurred in a meaningless game, Manning should leave Miami next weekend with a second title. Where that puts him in the rankings of top quarterbacks ever can (and will) be debated later, but the NFL championship is the only concern in Indianapolis right now.
Whether it's NFL football or high school soccer, teams start the season with one goal — winning a title. History can be made in the pursuit of that goal, but should never overshadow it.
At Princeton, several teams with their eyes on that goal will compete this weekend. Basketball teams, who have no postseason tournament to rely on, compete in their first full Ivy League weekends with the knowledge that any loss could be fatal down the line. Hockey teams play ECAC weekends for the potential of home ice in the postseason, an advantage that goes far beyond crowd noise and actually plays a specific role in game strategy. Squash teams will host Yale in what could easily become Ivy elimination matches for both the men's and women's squads.
And then there is swimming and diving. Both the men's and women's teams will welcome Harvard and Yale to DeNunzio Pool in a rivalry that has dominated the sport for generations. In this TigerBlogger's opinion, this is the best Ivy rivalry of any that will be contested this weekend, even more than the mighty Cornell-Harvard men's game that has dominated basketball this decade. Yes, this decade.
Princeton, Harvard and Yale have dominated the Ivy League in this sport. Since 1990, outside of a pair of women's titles at Brown, the Ivy League men's or women's champion in swimming and diving has been Princeton. Or it's been Harvard. Or it's been Yale. Case closed.
You might figure this weekend's competition would go a long way in deciding the 2010 Ivy League champions. You'd be wrong.
As opposed to regular season results, both Ivy champions are decided in a conference meet, which is scored differently than a dual meet. For instance, if a Princeton swimmer finishes an event this weekend 1st and 4th, and a Harvard swimmer finishes 2nd, 3rd and 5th, Princeton gets 11 points and Harvard gets eight.
Finish that same way one month from now, Princeton gets 58 points and Harvard gets 80. Big difference. In dual meets, having the best swimmer in each event matters. In conference meets, depth is most important.
So like that first Jets-Colts game, this weekend really doesn't matter when it comes to that championship goal. So maybe Rob Orr or Susan Teeter (a fellow UT Volunteer, like Peyton Manning) will rest their starters this weekend. Curtis Painter for the 200 fly, perhaps?
Not on your life.
Take one step inside DeNunzio this weekend and you'll know why this meet matters. There is a pride at stake this weekend that can't be measured by a trophy. For followers of all three programs, this weekend can matter just as much as the championship weekend. That one is about I-V-Y. This one is about H. It's about Y.
And for two of the most loyal alumni and fan bases at Princeton, it is certainly about P.
It is about a men's team defending DeNunzio Pool the way every past one has in a dual meet. It is about Alicia Aemisegger — who is forging a career that holds its own against any man or woman ever at Princeton — swimming one last time at home against the colors of Crimson and Blue. It is about two Princeton programs who truly believe in HYP and what it means to everybody associated with the program.
The Ivy League championship can and will be decided later.
For one weekend, the purest forms of competition and rivalry take a backseat to nothing.