Monday, February 20, 2012

Yeah, Bob

TigerBlog was just getting out of his car this morning when a Subaru pulled in at the same time.

Out stepped a man wearing a green jacket, white shorts that resemble the kind that players like Arthur Ashe and Rod Laver used to wear at Wimbledon, white socks and black sneakers. He held a green backpack and a plastic supermarket bag that held his lunch.

This is what the morning after looked like for Bob Callahan.

The Princeton men's squash coach was a few hours removed from a 5-4 win over Trinity to win the national championship and end Trinity's 13-year reign.

And now he was walking into the building like it was just another day. Callahan is unflappable, if nothing else.

Or seemingly.

Every time TigerBlog saw him this weekend, he sensed that underneath the relatively calm exterior, Callahan's heart was racing. Pounding.

Of course, you couldn't really be on C level of Jadwin during any part of the College Squash Association championships this weekend - especially during the championship flight matches - and not feel the energy and emotion.

Watching the action? That was a bit different.

At times when TB was there Friday and Saturday, the closest he could come to actually seeing the points was to try to get a view of the scoreboard on each court - and to hear the reaction of the jam-packed crowd.

TigerBlog isn't a huge fan of being wedged in like sardines in the first place, what with all the germs and stuff. And yet it was inescapable if you wanted to be part of the event.

For the final, Craig Sachson - the OAC squash contact - wedged himself between two courts and didn't move for five hours as he watched - and Tweeted.

As for TB, he couldn't get there yesterday, so he did the next best thing - he watched the videostream.

It actually was a great view of the courts, except for when someone would stand up right in from of the camera, and this didn't happen too often.

This plan apparently didn't make TigerBlog unique, as the coverage on Court 1 (there were three cameras set up) was the most-watched subscription videostream Princeton has ever had.

That means more people watched the squash yesterday than have ever watched a Princeton football game, or basketball, hockey, lacrosse or anything else for that matter (other that two NCAA tournament men's soccer games, which were streamed for free).

Each of the last three times Princeton reached the national finals, it lost 5-4 to Trinity. Included in that was the epic heartbreaker in 2009, when Princeton had two match balls to close out the Bantams and couldn't do it.

The win yesterday came down to the need for a Princeton sweep of the final shift of matches, with Todd Harrity at No. 1, Kelly Shannon at No. 4 and Dylan Ward at No. 7.

Ward won his match first, rallying after dropping Game 1 to win in four. Harrity won it three - at which time TB shifted over to the stream of Shannon's match and found him up 2-0 in games and pretty even in Game 3.

It didn't take long after that for Shannon to close out the match. The final point came on a perfect drop shot, at which point the feed disappeared behind a mass of humanity, leaving only the sound of loud cheers to confirm that the Tigers had indeed won the national title.

The win extended Princeton's national championship streak to 41 straight years (with at least one team or individual national champion), which itself is remarkable. But that's not what this is about.

This is about the men's squash team and the remarkable end of Trinity's streak and the incredible joy that came out of it on C level.

Afterwards, the Trinity people were extraordinarily gracious, which couldn't have been easy, given the pressure that exists to keep any long streak like that alive.

And then there was Callahan, who when asked how he celebrated said that he was going to go to Teresa's in Palmer Square because he had a coupon but there was a 30-minute wait, so instead he ended up ordering from Papa John's.

Oh, and opening a bottle of champagne.

And why not?

He was the coach of the team that won the national championship, that ended one of the most remarkable runs in the history of college sports.

TB has seen Callahan after enough tough losses to Trinity, seen how he handles himself with such total class, even at what have to be the most excruciating moments of his professional career.

To know that he was the coach who ended that streak, well, it couldn't have happened for a better guy.


Anonymous said...

As one of the sardines in the stands, it was thrilling. I sat for 4 hours, I didn't want to lose my seat. The team played their heart out, riding a wave of emotion. I like to think, selfishly, that the fans helped. At Jadwin, you are right up close and the players feel the crowd's presence. But Coach Callahan assembled a talented team. They deserve all the credit. Having seen the previous Princeton - Trinity marathons, this was remarkable.

Brian McD said...

In an age with more than a few pampered and self-centered professional and college athletes and coaches, no one provides a better example of sportsmanship than Bob Callahan. He works hard year after year to put sensational teams together and you know that he is a competitor - but he never misses an opportunity to offer kind words about athletes and coaches on other teams and he celebrates the excellence and character that athletics can bring out in all competitors. Squash may have a unique culture in this respect, but I think that it has a lot to do with Bob and the example he sets for his team and for others. He would be the first to say that this is not about him and that the athletes - the nine that competed and their teammates who did not make the starting nine - deserve all of the credit. But I bet there isn't a single Princeton coach, past or present, who isn't tipping their hat in Bob's direction to acknowledge a peer who sets the standard for excellence and sportsmanship and who they believe deserves a whole lot of credit.