By now, anyone who cared about the Princeton-Penn men's basketball game from last night knows that Quaker interim coach Jerome Allen wore a maroon sweater with a blue "P" on the front.
TigerBlog's first thought when he saw it was that he used to have one just like it. So did practically everyone he knew in college.
Due to all the construction that prevents cars from accessing the Palestra lot from 33rd Street, TB had to take the long way around, sweeping across Drexel's campus over to Chestnut and then back down to 32nd. Along the way, he drove past Hill Field, site of intramural sports and "Spring Fling."
He parked behind the Palestra, halfway between the University Museum, the site of TB's first college class, and the David Rittenhouse Lab, site of TB's last college final exam. As an aside, both were political science classes. Because of the construction, TB couldn't see up Spruce Street four blocks, to the ancient series of dorms known as "The Quad," where he lived his first two years. Nor could he see ahead to the area that used to be (and may still be) called "Superblock," where TB lived in one of the three 24-story dorms for his final two years.
During the game, when the Penn band started to play the school songs, TB knew all the words. Why wouldn't he? He happily sang along with the rest of the students for four years.
Even walking into the Palestra itself, TB couldn't help but think back to his first trip into the building, nearly 30 years ago. Looking to his right, behind the basket in front of the Penn bench and up about 20 rows, TB remembered thinking back all that time and wondering what he would have thought had someone stopped him that night and told him this:
"It won't be long before you will root against the Quakers."
Going back to the campus in West Philadelphia always makes perfectly clear for TigerBlog two contrasting truths. First, TB had a great experience as an undergraduate there. Second, he has no problem rooting against his alma mater.
Back when TB first started working here at HQ, he wrote a story for a game program entitled "The Great Rivalry Continues To Pull One Man In Two Directions." Even then, though, TB knew that it wasn't quite true, as he wasn't really pulled in two different directions.
Oh, maybe he was when he first started to cover the rivalry from the Princeton side, back in the newspaper days. The more he got to know the Princeton people - especially men's basketball coach Pete Carril; TB once told Carril that the Palestra was where they met, as "one of us was coaching and the other was chanting 'sit down Pete' with the rest of the Penn fans
- the more he came to want to see them do well. Part of it was selfish: Princeton's success equaled TigerBlog's trip to the NCAA tournament.
It wasn't long before Princeton was "we" and the Quakers were "they." By now, it's been years since TB even thought about it. Today, rooting for Princeton over Penn is just how it is.
Last night, Princeton found itself in an unusual place as far as games at the Palestra go. Traditionally, Princeton has invested so much emotional energy in playing the mid-season game against Penn on a Tuesday night that it was hard to match the intensity for the coming weekend games.
This time, Princeton had to deal with a potential emotional letdown after Saturday night's tense game against Cornell in front of a jammed Jadwin Gym. At tip-off last night, the crowd was probably about a third of what it was Saturday night, with whole sections empty and rows and rows with only a few fans in them.
As for the game itself, it was an odd one. Princeton always seemed to be in control, but it never pushed the lead to double figures. Penn always seemed to be struggling to stay close, but the Quakers were never more than two or three possessions away from a tie.
In fact, Princeton never trailed in the game, and Penn only tied it once, at 4-4. For 34:15 of the game, Princeton had a lead of between four and nine points.
Penn finally closed to within three at 43-40 with 6:08 to play; it took 68 seconds to build it back to seven on a pair of Ian Hummer baskets, and that was basically that. Dan Mavraides ended it by going 8 for 8 from the line in the final minute.
And then it was time to leave. TB walked out as the Penn band began to play "Hurrah For the Red And The Blue," one that any alum has known by heart since Day 1. And that's what TB is, a proud alum of the University of Pennsylvania.
The first line of the song played as TB walked through the portal, and he found himself singing the first line in a low, almost inaudible whisper as he left: "Come All Ye Loyal Classmen Now ..."
Then he thought to himself: "It's always good to win here. I'm glad WE did."