Friday, January 11, 2013

Rivalry Time

The flood of memories that TigerBlog has stored in his brain of Princeton-Penn men's basketball goes back more than 30 years.

It has been without question his favorite rivalry in any sport on any level, both because of what was usually at stake and his unique position as an alum of one school and an employee of the other.

His earliest memories of his time watching the two schools play centers on vitriol aimed at two people - Howard Levy and Pete Carril. Little could TB have imagined back when he was 18 or 19 years old that one of those two would be among his closest friends and the other would be probably the most fascinating person he's ever met.

TB has seen these teams play each other more than 50 times, more than he's seen any two other teams play each other in any sport, in person at least.

His team has been on the end of unreal wins and completely crushing losses - and his team hasn't always been the same each time.

The more TB thinks about it, that's the most amazing part of the rivalry to him.

It's wild to him how someone can root so unconditionally for a team for so long and then turn 180 degrees and root for the other. Especially when he's the someone.

Maybe it isn't.

TigerBlog hated Patrick Ewing in college; Ewing is one of TB's all-time favorite NBA players. TB never rooted for Georgetown until John Thompson III became the head coach; now Georgetown is his favorite team other than Princeton.

For TB, the transition started when he left Penn and started covering Princeton for the newspaper. At first, it was extraordinarily weird to see the rivalry from the other perspective.

Then, as not a lot of time went by, TB knew everyone affiliated with the Princeton program and almost nobody affiliated with the Penn program. One day, he just realized that he was rooting for Princeton and against the school he attended.

It was weird at first. Now he's used to it.

He's been asked a million times if he's rooting for Penn or Princeton, and he's still a bit taken aback that people don't understand why he roots for Princeton. 

Anyway, regardless of rooting preference, the rivalry itself even viewed objectively has been unlike any in college basketball.

Princeton or Penn won the Ivy League and went to the NCAA tournament every year from 1963 through 2007 except for three times - 1968, 1986 and 1988. That means every year from 1969-1985 and then again from 1989 through Cornell's run from 2008-10.

Because the Ivy League has no conference tournament, that meant there was an unbelievable amount at stake every time the teams met. It wasn't like they'd be able to get much help from anyone else, so every head-to-head matchup counted.

Today, it's not quite the same for TigerBlog.

His long streak of not missing a Princeton-Penn game ended two years ago. These days, Princeton-Cornell men's lacrosse is bigger to him, and Princeton-Harvard men's basketball are now the circle-the-calendar dates for the league, at least this year.

Princeton and Penn have met at least twice a year (and many times an epic third time) every year since the first meeting, back on Valentine's Day 1903. That's 110 years of basketball between the two.
Princeton hosts Penn tomorrow at 6, after the women play at 3:30. It's the Ivy opener for all four teams.

Penn comes to Jadwin with a record of 2-12, while Princeton is playing the best it's played all season. The fact that nobody has played a league game changes everything though; everybody is again 0-0.

There was years and years when Jadwin would have long ago been sold out for this one. Not this year. It'll be about half full, TB assumes, maybe a little more.

But that doesn't diminish what these teams have meant to the Ivy League and to college basketball in general.

Or, for that matter, the possibility that tomorrow will be another classic chapter in the rivalry.

Neither team plays a league game again until Feb. 1, so the winner is going to be sitting on a 1-0 record and feeling pretty good about things for three weeks. For Princeton, that means exam break.

It's a big game tomorrow. Both need to be 1-0.

Besides. It's Princeton-Penn.

It's always special.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So, is Howie one of your closest friends or one of the most fascinating people you know?? Go Tigers.