Friday, January 7, 2011

Good Luck Jason

TigerBlog Jr. is in Year 6 as a ballboy for Princeton basketball. TBJ is joined by his friend Matthew - whose age and shoe size are an identical 13 - in sweeping the floor during timeouts, putting the balls on the rack and doing basic ballboy chores.

The real lure for them is the opportunity to shoot around on the court pregame and at halftime, to hang out around the players and to sit under the basket for the games.

At one point in his second year, TigerBlog looked up to see TBJ discussing a call with the ref and had a brief and horrible thought that TBJ was about to earn Princeton a technical foul. When TB asked the official what he had said, he was told that TBJ asked "where did you go to ref school?"

Anyway, Matthew had a practice of his own the other night and couldn't make it to the Princeton-Marist game, so TBJ enlisted his friend Nipun to pinch-hit.

On the way to the game, Nipun mentioned that Marist was 3-11. When TB asked him how he knew that, Nipun replied that when TBJ asked him to go to the Princeton game, he looked up who the opponent was and what its record was.

TB was immediately taken back to his own childhood and the way he used to get information on teams and players.

First, and foremost, was the newspaper. TB, like many, read a million box scores in all different sports to find out basic information. How many kids today even know what a box score is?

Of course, in baseball, box scores back then had only individual at-bats, runs, hits and RBIs, not the expansive boxes that there are after (and for that matter, during) each game these days. The paper might also run agate type of league leaders in batting average, home runs, RBIs, wins by pitchers and strikeouts on a daily basis, and it was only on Sunday that anyone could get the expanded list of players stats, as the paper that day would list every hitter with the league minimum at-bats and his stats and every pitcher with the minimum innings pitched and his stats.

Sabermetrics? There were no such things back then. Maybe on-base percentage, but nothing else.

Another way that kids could learn about sports and athletes back then was in a manner that hardly exists anymore: through books.

TB read all kinds of books written for kids, with titles like "The Baseball Life of Willie Mays" and "The Sports Immortals." TB read books on Sandy Koufax, Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens and any number of others. He read Jerry Kramer's book "Instant Replay," about the 1967 season with the Green Bay Packers. He even read "Life on the Run" by Bill Bradley, not realizing at the time that he would come to know a lot more about Bradley than he could have imagined.

Television was a big source of sports knowledge, though in a much different way. Back then, one of TB's favorite shows was "This Week in Pro Football," a weekly highlight show that ran on Saturday evenings and recapped the previous week's NFL games.

Beyond that, there was the sports report on the 6:00 news, which usually came on around 6:20 or 6:25. For TB, this always meant Warner Wolf first and foremost.

Fast forward to the present, and there's no reason to watch the sports report on the local news (unless it's for local information), not when there is much greater in-depth coverage available round-the-clock on so many different sports networks.

These days, of course, the amount of information has skyrocketed, and every kid in TBJ's age group has access to all of it, as pretty much every middle school kid has a computer, a cell phone and constant connectivity.

And yet, because there are so many other diversions as well, kids today don't seem to know as much about sports as they did back when TB was a kid. Yes, they know about the athletes and the personalities and what they see on TV, and they also see every big dunk or hit in football or home run in baseball, not to mention every unsportsmanlike me-first gesture that gets replayed time and again.

But as far as sports themselves, TB suspects they don't know. For instance, how many 10- to 15-year-olds can tell you how to figure out earned run averages? Or batting averages, for that matter.

One thing that TBJ has done is take advantage of all of this sports content to learn about the history of certain sports, especially football and basketball. Much of it has come through discussions between him and TB, as the two have spent hours talking about the great players and great games that TB watched when he was a kid.

But just as much has come from, say, the NFL Network. TBJ especially got into the recent countdown of the top 100 players of all-time, though in his mind, it has now been sent from a burning bush that Jerry Rice was a better player than Lawrence Taylor.

And, as much as the top 100, there's the America's Game series, a documentary look at some of the great Super Bowl championship teams and teams that were favored but fell short, a spin-off called "The Missing Rings."

Last night, TB and TBJ watched the 1976 Oakland Raiders for instance. Because MotherBlog hated John Madden, TB always disliked the Raiders, and he especially rooted against them during their great run through the 1970s. Still, watching the show on the 1976 Silver & Black, TB couldn't help but smile at their antics.

And what about the America's Game series 30 years from now?

Will it include one of Jason Garrett's Super Bowl wins during his Hall-of-Fame run with the Cowboys? Or will Garrett never get his team to the playoffs or out of the first round and ultimately be replaced in much the same way his predecessor was?

Garrett, one of the great quarterbacks in Princeton history, was introduced yesterday as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. It really was no shock, after he went 5-3 as interim coach.

As an aside, TB is now in the uncomfortable position of having to root against a Princeton guy, who just happens to be head coach of TB's least favorite team in the NFL.

On PTI yesterday, Tony Kornheiser and Bob Ryan asked the question of whether Garrett would win more than the 34 games as Cowboy head coach that Wade Phillips had won. A total of 34 doesn't seem that high, but statistically, the odds are against Garrett.

Still, he's landed in a situation where the owner clearly will spend on the organization, and there still is something special about the Cowboy name. In fact, it was an NFL Films season highlight film that first used the term "America's Team," something that clearly has stuck.

Garrett is the eighth head coach in Cowboys' history, a list that includes some of the greatest names in coaching of all-time, like Tom Landry, Bill Parcells, Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer, as well as the more forgettable Dave Campo and Chan Gailey and the seemingly likable but ultimately unsuccessful Phillips.

There's something special about being the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, just like there's something special about being the manager of the New York Yankees, another team TB hates.

So good luck to Jason Garrett.

Hopefully, TBJ will get the chance to sit with TBIII one day and watch a documentary with Garrett and two of his players as they talk about their great Super Bowl win.

Hopefully, that one will be sandwiched around a few more about the Giants as well.


Anonymous said...

Tiger Blog might be surprised by how many kids still read books about sports and sports figures, how regularly libraries update their collection of sports material and that amongst biographies published for kids, those about sports figures are the most popular. Sadly, too many parents and teachers don't count it as reading if it relates to sports.


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