Friday, November 15, 2013

On The Verge

TigerBlog had dinner with Harvey Yavener recently.

Ah, Yav. He hasn't changed at all.

TB is sad to say that he hasn't seen Yav, as big a legend in covering Princeton athletics for a newspaper as anyone ever has been, as much as he should in recent years. Yav, for his part, is 84 now, and he and his longtime (55 years and counting) sidekick Polly don't get out as much as they used to.

So it was great when the two of them met up with TB, TigerBlog Jr. and Miss TigerBlog to celebrate Yav's most recent birthday.

There are three places Yav is most at home, or at least was for the first 25 years that TB knew him: a game, the newsroom and a restaurant.

For those who don't know, Harvey Yavener covered Princeton sports for decades, first at the Trentonian and then for the majority of the time at the Trenton Times.

He is short and could always be a tad combative and rough around the edges. His MO was to come with the story he wanted to write and fit the game or the person to what he thought was going to happen all along.

TB remembers a Rutgers football coach who got so exasperated with Yav on a media conference call that he finally said something along the lines of "just tell me what you want me to say and I'll say it."

What he also was was a pioneer in the advancement of women's athletics, which he covered regularly long before anyone else ever did. He also had a work ethic to rival anyone TB has ever met and a sense of pride in the final product, which always had to be done the right way.

He was fiercely loyal to "his" teams and especially coaches, though he would hold them accountable as well, often in harsh terms - tough love, as it were.

Mostly he was a character, the kind of local newspaperman whom everyone read every day, an old-time guy loaded with stories and experiences and personality, the kind who doesn't really exist much anymore.

Yav eventually retired. These days, he likes to watch his giant TV at home rather than venture to games, and it's been awhile since he's been on the Princeton campus.

One of the unique things about Yav was that he wouldn't differentiate the significance of events based on sport. To him, the biggest game in one sport was just as worthy as the biggest game in another sport, even if one of those sports was football or basketball and the other wasn't.

Each weekend, he'd rate the events by their value within their sport, not by the sport itself.

This weekend, though, even Yav would give the football game five stars.

Yes, the field hockey team is in the NCAA tournament. Yes, the men's basketball team is playing at legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler. Yes, the women's basketball team has its home opener, with its banner-raising ceremony pregame Sunday.

Yes, there is home women's hockey against fifth-ranked Boston College. And two home men's games. And the men's soccer season-finale. And the NCAA cross country regionals. And on and on.

This weekend, though, the football game is the big one.

Princeton is 5-0 in the Ivy League, hosting 3-2 Yale at 1. A win would guarantee Princeton at least a share of the Ivy League championship.

Think about that. Princeton was 1-9 three years ago. And 1-9 two years ago. And 1-3 in its last four games last year.

And now the Tigers, with two weeks left in the season, are on the verge of a championship.

Ah, but they're not quite there yet. And there's a big gap between being on the verge and closing it out, especially when you've never been there before.

The Princeton story has been its offense, led by Quinn Epperly, of course, but the defense has come up huge this year as well. The Tigers average nearly 45 points per game and have scored at least 38 in every Ivy game.

They've won at Brown and Penn after trailing 17-0 and 16-0 and at Harvard after a 13-0 lead turned into a 51-48 triple-OT shootout.

Their two home Ivy games have been easy wins against Columbia and Cornell, both of whom are winless in the league prior to their own game against each other tomorrow.

The Tigers? They have Yale at home this weekend and Dartmouth in Hanover next Saturday and that's it.

Harvard, at 4-1 in the league, is home with Penn tomorrow and at Yale next weekend. One Harvard loss in either game would clinch at least a share of the championship for Princeton, regardless of how the Tigers do, but that's not something Princeton should be taking for granted.

And so that makes tomorrow's game huge.

Throw in mid-November temperatures that should be around 60 and the crowd should be great.

If you think it's in the bag, TB refers you back to the 1995 season, when Princeton was 5-0 in the league and Yale came to Palmer Stadium 2-6 overall.

TB remembers that day vividly.

It started when Princeton had the ball on the eight-yard line after the opening kickoff, and Kurt Kehl, who had TB's job back then (minus the blog part; if you said the word "blog" in 1995, nobody would have known what you were babbling about), said "Brock Harvey runs 92 yards on this play."

And he did. Harvey, Princeton's quarterback, put the Tigers up just like that. As TB remembers, it was 6-0 Princeton for the longest time and then maybe even 13-0 in the fourth quarter before Yale came back, taking a 14-13 lead and then recovering the kickoff, possibly for a touchdown.

If all that isn't true, it's close enough and TB can't find the 1996 media guide to look up the 1995 recap to confirm it all.

The Tigers did win the title the next week, tying Dartmouth 10-10 in another wild one.

The point is that there's a long way to go.

At least 60 minutes.

It should be a great day, one that could end up being a championship day.

But nothing, nothing, is set in stone.

No comments: