Thursday, March 18, 2010

Not All Thursdays Are Created Equal

One of the great mysteries to TigerBlog is what happened to the 1996 NCAA tournament postseason guides.

TB diligently had them ready on time for Princeton's big game against UCLA. He shipped them to the RCA Dome, except when TB arrived on site, they weren't there. After a call to UPS, it was determined that the books had been shipped three-day ground instead of next day air, and they were on a freight train somewhere in Ohio at the time.

Panicking (remember, this is pre-web, so all information is contained in the guides), TigerBlog was fortunate to remember that he had brought an electronic version of the file with him.

Referred to a local printer, TigerBlog agreed to an expedited run that cost, as he remembers, somewhere around $4,000, an amount that UPS eventually covered. Those new books were delivered to the media room on time, and of course, any Princeton fan knows what happened in the game.

After Princeton defeated UCLA in what is obviously one of the greatest college basketball games of all-time, TigerBlog updated his information for the Mississippi State game two days later. The team lost that game, ending Pete Carril's Princeton coaching career.

By Monday, TB was back in Jadwin Gym. And then it dawned on him. Whatever happened to the original books? Using the UPS tracking system, it was determined that the book had been delivered to a the convention center attached to the Dome and signed for by a woman who answered the phone with TB called and basically had this conversation:
TB: "Did you sign for three boxes of NCAA postseason guides from Princeton University?"
Kindly, Grandmotherly Lady: "Why yes, dear, I did. They arrived Thursday morning."
TB: "What did you do with them?"
KGL: "Well, dear, I wasn't sure what they were for, so I put them in the recycling."

TigerBlog's first thought was "you work 100 feet from where the NCAA basketball tournament was going on and you had these three boxes of basketball books arrive at your desk and it never dawned on you that they might be connected?" That thought, by the way, was sprinkled with expletives.

But KGL was so nice and so apologetic and on the verge of tears at the thought that she might have done something wrong, all that came out was this:
"That's okay. We didn't need them. Thank you for being such a nice, kindly, grandmotherly type lady on the phone."

Or something like that.

The NCAA men's basketball tournament begins today for real (play-in game Tuesday didn't count). As TigerBlog thinks back on his career at Princeton, there is no single event that equals that night in March 1996, when Princeton defeated UCLA to give Pete Carril his 514th and final win here.

If you get into athletic communications at a place like North Carolina or Kansas or Texas or some place like that, your level of expectation for the tournament is somewhat different than if you work at Princeton. Some of it is circumstance, such as where you were from or where you went to school.

Some of it, though, has to do with the kind of university you want to work for, and there are balances that have to be done and concessions that have to made depending on your choice.

As Carril used to say, "one day I'm going to be dead, and two guys are going to walk past my grave and say 'poor guy, never won a national championship,' and I won't hear a word they say." It's one of the funnier of Carril's many, many funny lines.

But there is truth to it. Princeton isn't going to win the NCAA basketball championship. Getting to the tournament is a huge reward in and of itself for the Tigers and the rest of the Ivy League and leagues like the Ivy League.

To be able to actually win a game, as Princeton did 14 years ago in Indianapolis (and two years later against UNLV, though that time as a fifth seed), is something never to be forgotten.

To be the athletic communications contact for a team that does so is extraordinary. The media crush that descended after that game was insane, and TB actually got manager Miles Clark some airtime on a sports talk show (TB thinks it was in Detroit, but he got calls from everywhere in the country). Princeton was the hottest thing in the sports world that night, and to see it from the inside was unreal.

This wasn't Princeton's year for the NCAA tournament, so TB will be watching along with the rest of the country from afar. He'll be rooting for Georgetown and Richmond and against Duke. He'll watch Cornell-Temple with great interest.

And he'll think about the SIDs from the teams who are taking their shot at the once-in-a-lifetime shot at the extraordinary. If their team can pull it off, if they can be there when a 13 or 14 or 15 or even 16 seed wins, they'll find themselves inside something that is beyond their wildest dreams.

That's how it was for TigerBlog when Princeton knocked off UCLA. It was an amazing moment, frozen forever in TB's mind, a million details from that day never to be forgotten. Among them:

* kneeling next to the basket with CBS's Andrea Joyce waiting for UCLA's final possession, a stretch that took more than seven minutes before the final 2.2 seconds could be played
* winding our way through the cavernous structure to the media gate, with a huge sign that said "this is not a public entrance to the RCA Dome," a sign that came back to Princeton with former intern Vinnie DiCarlo
* saying to the man who was checking credentials who wished us luck: "we're going to win" and having everyone start to laugh
* the sheer volume of the Dome as everyone got on the Princeton bandwagon and how the fans booed Indiana Pacer star Reggie Miller when the camera focused on him and he turned his baseball hat from backward to forward, revealing the letters "UCLA"
* how the walk from the court to the lockerroom took the team past two sections of fans, all of whom clamored to high-five anyone from Princeton

On and on, those memories go. TB could go on all day.

But he'll cut it short. There are games to watch, memories for others to make.

Yes, not all Thursdays are created equal.

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