Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sudden Death

Back when the main floor of Jadwin Gym was renamed Carril Court, TigerBlog was recalling stories from the old coach, and he included this one:

One time on a plane back from an in-season tournament, TigerBlog sat in the middle seat of three. Directly in front were assistant coach Bill Carmody on the aisle, Coach Carril in the middle seat and an elderly gentleman at the window. Carril and Carmody were working on a crossword puzzle, while the elderly man peered over their shoulders. "10 down should be "so-and-so," the old man said. "Hmmph," Carril sneered. "14 across should be "so-and-so," the old man said. Again, Carril snarled. "7 down should be ..." Before the old man could finish, Carril, then somewhere around 65 years old, cut him off and said "Yo, Pops, when I want your help, I'll ask for it."

As TigerBlog has said many times, of the 50 funniest things he's seen in his life, Pete Carril was probably responsible for 25 of them.

He said funny things all the time, and yet for every time he drew laughter, there was at least another time when he said one of the most profound things that TB has ever heard. In fact, TB quotes Carril to TigerBlog Jr. and Little Miss TigerBlog all the time, hoping they too can learn the life lessons that a basketball coach taught their father years ago.

And then there were the times when Carril was at his no-BS best, saying things that should make most politicians in Washington ashamed for the stuff they say.

Such as on Feb. 20, 1991, when Carril spoke about the subject of putting flags on uniforms during the Persian Gulf war that had just started. At the time, for those who don't remember, Princeton was one of the only teams in the country that did not put an American flag on its uniform.

"What good is it if you wear a flag and play like a dog," Carril said back then. "What good is it if you put a yellow ribbon on your porch and cheat on your taxes. That young guy who was killed there today? He can never be replaced. All the dreams and aspirations that his family had for him, they're gone. How can there be any way to balance that except for every person in this country to do the best he can to honor that hero. Maybe it's far-fetched to think that someone on the front line is concerned whether our guys go to class, but I think that's part of what they're fighting for, that if our students don't do everything in their power to keep their commitment to their parents, they're letting the whole country down. This kid who died over there today. What are you doing in your life to make sure you're worthy of him?"

In other words, anyone can put a flag on a uniform and go off and pretend that that makes them a patriot worthy of the great sacrifices going on on the other side of the world, but it's not the case. To Carril, putting that flag on the uniform would have been an empty gesture, a fraudulent gesture. It wasn't until Princeton played in the NCAA tournament - and others mandated it - that Princeton had flags on its uniforms.

TigerBlog thought back to that Carril quote when he first heard the news that Brendan Looney was among the nine American servicemen killed in a chopper crash in Afghanistan the other day.

Looney, a lieutenant, was a SEAL. The cause of the crash is unknown.

Also on board was Andrew Dow, who survived the crash but was seriously injured. Dow, another Navy grad, was the captain of the 2007 Navy men's lacrosse team. That would mean that he graduated just three years ago.

Looney was a 2004 grad, a longstick middie who played against Princeton in the NCAA semifinals at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore his senior year. His two younger brothers, Billy and Steve, were All-Americas at Navy.

TigerBlog used to think that Princeton athletes were just like any other college athletes, only they happened to play at Princeton. His opinion on that has changed dramatically through the years, and something that happened prior to the 1998 NCAA lacrosse final between Princeton and Maryland contributed to it.

The game was played at Rutgers Stadium, and both teams were in their lockerrooms about two hours before the game. The two lockerrooms were separated by a long hallway, and TB had to walk past Maryland's to get to Princeton's.

As he walked past the Terps, he heard loud music blaring and a bunch of expletive-laced bravado coming from the players. In Princeton's lockerroom, the music wasn't quite as loud, and he heard two players talking about how one had taken a class because it was a prerequisite for another one that he was taking the following semester.

Princeton (and the Ivy League in general) attracts great athletes yes, but these athletes also buy into the Ivy League philosophy (Princeton calls it "Education Through Athletics").

The same is true of the service academies. Yes, there are some athletes in the Ivy League or at Army and Navy because that's the only school that recruited them. Kevin Houston, who led Division I in scoring while playing basketball at Army in the late ’80s, was one of those.

But for the most part, attending the military academies is a calling. These are young people who at 16 or 17 years of age, decide to commit a huge portion of their lives to a regimen that 99% of the kids their age would want no part of, and it's a regimen that comes with some serious future risks.

Back at that 2004 Final Four, much of the talk was about how rooting for Navy was the patriotic thing to do. After Navy beat Princeton 8-7 in the semifinal (after Jason Doneger almost tied it at the end with a shot that rocketed off the pipe all the way back to midfield), the Midshipmen played Syracuse in the final and lost a classic game 14-13.

One of the Syracuse players - TB thinks it was Mikey Powell - said before the game something like "hey, we're Americans too." And TB felt that all of the focus on how the Navy kids were going off to risk their lives while the Princeton (and then Syracuse) kids were going off to make money was a little insulting.

That was a little more than six years ago.

Since then, Brendan Looney went to SEAL school (hardly an easy task) and then to fight in a war that most of the country hardly feels. He only made headlines doing it this past week, and it was only because of his tragic death.

Princeton has had several athletes in ROTC through the years, and some Princeton athletes (Hobey Baker, Tyler Campbell) never came back from previous wars.

But word of Looney's death reminded TB that ever player at the service academies assumes that risk. And why? Because that's what their calling is.

It's okay that TigerBlog's calling wasn't the military, and it's okay if yours wasn't either.

Stop, though, and think about Lt. Looney for a minute. Think about all of the people still there fighting a war unlike any other in American history.

And ask yourself Pete Carril's question.

Lt. Brendan Looney. What are you doing in your life to make sure you're worthy of him?

1 comment:

Brian McD said...

Wish there was a "Like" button. Outstanding post - nothing more to be said.