Friday, March 22, 2013

Memory Lane

TigerBlog was at an event at TigerBlog Jr.'s school yesterday afternoon when he saw Christian Laettner catch the ball near the Kentucky foul line.

For a brief moment, TB had this thought: Maybe this time he'll miss.

Of course he didn't miss. He didn't miss anything that night, 21 years ago.

The sound on the television in the school cafeteria was turned off, so TB wasn't sure what documentary he stumbled on, though Jamal Mashburn was featured prominently. For those who don't remember, that was the game in the 1992 East Regional final where Duke beat Kentucky 104-103 in overtime in what many consider the greatest college basketball game of all time.

TigerBlog was there. He sat right behind the Kentucky bench, on press row, covering the game for the Trenton Times. If you look closely in the background, he's clearly visible behind Kentucky's then-coach Rick Pitino. TB is wearing a black sweater that was fairly stylish in 1992 and would be ghastly ugly today.

Two years earlier, TigerBlog was at the Meadowlands for the East Regional as well, also covering the games for the newspaper.

For everyone who remembers the Duke-Kentucky game, there are only a fraction who remember that an equally amazing shot by Tate George of Connecticut - off a ridiculous length-of-the-court pass by Scott Burrell - defeated Clemson in the Sweet 16, only to have Laettner beat UConn with another buzzer-beater in the regional final.

When Burrell took possession of the ball from the ref before his pass to George, TigerBlog was the person on the planet closest to him, from his seat in the press section, directly under the basket. He sat in the same seat two days later when Duke knocked off UConn.

And TB obviously was in the RCA Dome in 1996, when Gabe Lewullis' layup beat UCLA for Princeton.

Those four games are always among the list of great endings in NCAA history, and TB was lucky enough not only to be at all four but to have a front row seat for all four.

TB was thinking back to his NCAA tournament experiences yesterday as he watched the games.

What he never considered back when he was watching Laettner torture him twice was that in 2013 he would see No. 1 seed Gonzaga hold off 16th-seeded Southern on his iPhone.

As he watched Cal take out UNLV, TB couldn't help but remember back to 1997, when Princeton played Cal - led by unstoppable forward soon to be unstoppable NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez - and Cal knocked off the Tigers in the first game Thursday afternoon.

By 2 or so, Princeton was eliminated. That game was in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Princeton was playing lacrosse at North Carolina that Sunday.

TB thought it would be different, that the Tigers would beat Cal and then play Saturday in the second round, so he arranged to fly back after the lacrosse game Sunday. Instead, he ended up going to the regional in Charlotte the next day, where he bought tickets with then radio man Tom McCarthy, now the TV voice of the Philadelphia Phillies, and then OAC intern Manish Mehta, now the national football writer for the New York Daily News, and sat in the stands at the Charlotte Coliseum.

Then he went back to watch the second round games in Winston-Salem the next day and went to lacrosse Sunday.

Before he ever got to TBJ's school yesterday, TigerBlog was listening to McCarthy do the regional from Auburn Hills with Kelly Tripuka on the radio.

While the games were going on, TB was thinking about all the times he went to the tournament, all the times he'd hang out and watch the early games when Princeton played late, how cool it was to be in the media room and outside the locker rooms before heading out to the court.

Maybe because he's been to so many NCAAs, TB was content to simply watch these games.

In fact, the last time Princeton went to the NCAAs, in 2001 against Kentucky, TB simply watched it on TV.

He watched the Harvard game last night, falling asleep at halftime and waking up at the under-four media timeout of the second half, just in time to see the Crimson win. Congrats to the Crimson on an outstanding win.

This weekend, the NCAA game he's looking forward to the most is the Princeton women's game against Florida State. He's hoping that the Tigers can get a win, to cap the wondrous career of Niveen Rasheed and the rest of the Class of 2013.

And oh by the way, the men's and women's fencing teams are competing for the NCAA championship in Texas this weekend as well.

As for the game he's actually going to see live, TB will be at Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium later today, 5, actually, for the Princeton-Yale men's lacrosse game. It's a big one for both teams, though TB expects both the winner and loser to be in the hunt for the Ivy League and NCAA tournaments.

Still, he'll watch as much of the men's basketball tournament as he can.

And he fully expects to have the same reaction as he did today, which is to remember the great good luck he's had to be able to go to so many of them.

And to have a flood of memories - great memories, even if the team he was rooting for didn't always win - come flying back.

1 comment:

George Clark said...

Miles and I traveled to W-S for that weekend in 1997. A long way to go for a tournament that was over by 2:00 PM EST on Thursday! We stayed in a hotel where the team and a lot of Tiger fans were grouped. As I left for the airport everyone was looking forward to Sunday's lacrosse contest.....