Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Required Reading

Back when TigerBlog was in college, he was assigned a book called "Thomas Jefferson And The New Nation," written by a man named Merrill Peterson.

The book was a tan cover with yellow lettering, which TB supposes was done intentionally to make the book look old, even when it was new, and therefore, by extension, wise. TB also has a theory on the length of the book.

In all, TJ and the New Nation numbers 1,006 pages, and TB's assumption is that Mr. Peterson went to the publisher and asked that the type for the book be set so that it reached at least 1,000 pages.

The syllabus for the class asked for the book to be read in two weeks, half one week and half the next.

When TB graduated from college, he remembers taking all of his books and storing them in the basement at his Uncle Larry and Aunt Regina's house in Fair Lawn, and he has no memory of what happened to them next. As both Larry and Regina have since passed away and the house was long ago sold, TB surmises the books are long gone as well.

All except for "Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation," which TB still has. Because he never came close to reading the entire book for the class, TB vowed that one day he'd be able to say that he read the entire thing, cover to cover.

And so the book sits on a shelf, waiting for TB to get back at it. And hey, he only has, oh, 1,006 more pages to go.

That was required reading three decades ago.

Today's required reading comes from Sean Gregory on Time Magazine's website. If you are a fan of the NCAA basketball tournament and Princeton in particular, then you must stop whatever it is you're doing (which, obviously, is reading TigerBlog) and go read the story by the man whose nickname here was Bones.

The rest of TB will wait. Go ahead.

There. All finished? Very good.

What'd you think? TigerBlog will tell you what he thinks. It was an extraordinary piece of writing, well-researched and well-presented, and it tells the story of what transpired through that wild time 15 years ago in a way that brings it all back to anyone who saw it.

For TB, it also validates that he remembers everything pretty much as it happened, since all of the stories told by the many people that Bones spoke with confirm that TB's memory is good.

Bones does a great job of telling the story, and he does an equally great job framing it in the context of 1996, just before the explosion of the internet. It's hard to think back to a world without that kind of immediacy and volume of information, video, etc., because it's such an ingrained part of the world today.

Back then, though, the world was just on the cusp of it, and that is part of why this game was so special. It's because Princeton was unique, in that the "Princeton Offense" had not spread throughout basketball and in that almost nobody saw the Tigers except in the NCAA tournament.

The story in Time works best, though, because it's told from the inside, with a bit of self-deprecation that doesn't get tedious and with access to all of the key players in the drama - minus the kid from Duke who asked UCLA coach Jim Harrick if he'd been outcoached by Pete Carril.

Also, a distance of 15 years is a great vantage point for the story. It's old enough that its historical context is well-defined, yet not so long ago that nobody really remembers the details.

As for the details, TB remembers them all:
* the loss to Penn at the Palestra
* the conference call prior to the playoff game during which Carril, not realizing that the speaker phone was not on mute, insulted Penn during a rundown of the logistics
* the playoff game itself
* the postgame celebration/Carril retirement announcement
* the selection show
* the trip to Indy
* the game
* the aftermath

TB can see it all in his mind still. He can see the words that Carril scribbled on the blackboard in the lockerroom at Lehigh, his way of saying he was retiring, when only Carril and TB were in the room, which left TigerBlog knowing exactly what was about to happen and therefore in position to gauge reactions.

He can see the cavernous media room and interview area in the RCA Dome, which, by the way, no longer exists. He can see himself huddled with Andrea Joyce, kneeling in front off to the end of the court, waiting to grab Carril and the players should Princeton's 43-41 lead hold up (which it did), wondering during the seven-minute or so delay between Lewullis' basket and the end of the game, wondering the whole time if UCLA would pull it out and have this one hurt forever. In fact, TB remembers during that wait - through timeouts and officials' huddles - seeing a friend from the old neighborhood, a rather interesting figure named Brian Linky, who long ago had vanished from TB's world, coming down through the Mississippi State band yelling out TB's name; turns out Linky lived in Indianapolis.

When TB thinks back to Princeton-UCLA after all this time, he mostly realizes what an amazing few days it was and how unbelievably lucky he was to have seen it from the inside and been, in his way, a part of it.

So thanks, Bones, for bringing it all back.

The story, like the game, is a classic.

1 comment:

CAZ said...

Wow, even Brian Linky makes it into TigerBlog -- Nice!

I remember watching the game like it was yesterday. Rich Cohen & I met at the TGIFriday's on Route 9 in Sayerville. We blew off the afternoon to watch all the games we could get in. Seeing as RU wasn't in the tourny that year (what a shock, right?) we naturally had a vested interest in Princeton and Monmouth.

It would be amazing if the Tigers could once again play David to Kentucky's Goliath... we'll know soon enough.

Good Luck & GO TIGERS!!!