Monday, February 17, 2014

Shades of 88

If, like TigerBlog, you're in your 50s - or maybe even a little younger - then you have to chuckle when anyone tries to equate the U.S.-Russia Olympic hockey game from Saturday with what happened back in 1980.

Just to make it crystal clear, those two events are not in the same universe.

The U.S. win over the Russians in a shootout Saturday was a very exciting sporting event. What happened in 1980 was the single greatest sporting event that has ever been played or ever will be played, and the sporting aspect was only half of the story.

The United States defeated the Soviet Union - not Russia, the Soviet Union - in the 1980 Olympic hockey tournament 4-3 and then finished off the gold medal with a win over Finland. The tournament was different then, so the U.S.-USSR game was not a semifinal game.

It was the all-time underdog story, a bunch of American college players - amateurs - who defeated the mighty Soviet hockey machine. It was riveting, captivating stuff.

Then consider that it came a time when American pride around the world had been weakened, especially by the ongoing hostage crisis in Iran. And then here came a bunch of kids, our kids, and they went out and knocked off the most powerful, dominating athletic team in the world.

And that team was none other than the Evil Empire itself? It was a win for the American way of life. It was a win that reinforced the ideal that the United States could do anything. It made Americans feel good again. It lifted up the national spirit all by itself.

It was riveting sport. It was riveting politics. No sporting event can ever match what happened.

The game Saturday was a really good one. It had all the elements - close game, great individual performances, some controversy, an unlikely hero at the end.

That hero was T.J. Oshie, and if you're like TigerBlog, you never heard of him until the game. All Oshie did was make four of his six penalty shots during the shootout, including two that came when misses would have ended the game.

Oh, and while everyone else was calling Oshie an American hero, he actually came out with about the greatest quote of all time. "The American heroes are wearing camo," he said. "That's not me."

For all that, TB doesn't understand why there is the need for a shootout. Why not play overtime until someone scores. Going 4-on-4 in OT sort of guarantees that someone will score sooner rather than in the fourth extra period.

TB doesn't like the shootout. He hates penalty kicks in soccer. Hopefully the World Cup won't come down to them.

Meanwhile, back at the controversy, Russia appeared to take a 3-2 lead late in the regulation, but a video review showed that the net was off its moorings and the goal was disallowed. Of course, it was only an inch or so or less off its moorings, and it didn't appear to impact the goal at all.

And this was in Russia. And Russian President Vladimir Putin was in attendance. Now that's a gutsy ref.

As time goes on, replay becomes more and more ingrained in sports. If you've been paying attention to TB's position on the issue, you know he's very much anti-video, or at least the way it's being used now.

The intent is a good one. Get the calls right.

The problem is that the calls that most need to be corrected are often judgement calls, and the prevailing attitude towards video to date has been to avoid reviewing judgement calls, essentially to protect the officials, TB supposes. The problem is that all it does is open the refs up to criticism when they make one call and video clearly shows they were wrong.

Because judgement calls are often non-reviewable, what's left is a search for microscopic evidence that one foot came down out of bounds or the ball tipped off someone's fingernail before going out of bounds. These calls almost never impact a game.

If college basketball is going to stop games in the first half of a 12-10 game to see if the shot clock should be reset, it might as well allow refs to review the calls that really matter. For that matter, if the natural flow of a game can be destroyed like it was in the final minute of Pitt-Syracuse - now that was a great game - when the refs took about two minutes to figure out if the clock should have 49 seconds or 48 seconds on it, then why not give them the ability to check to see what really happened on a play?

The Harvard-Columbia men's basketball game Friday night had a controversial call near the end of the first overtime, when a charge was called on a potential game-winner for the Lions with 2.6 seconds left. Harvard won in the second overtime.

TigerBlog isn't suggesting that the call should have gone one way or the other, but if you're going to have all these ridiculous replay delays, can you at least give the refs the opportunity to confirm their calls at key moments - or if necessary change them?

No, you couldn't do this for an entire game. But in the last two minutes of a game that is within, say, two possessions? Or in overtime? Why not?

As far as the Ivy race goes, that call is huge. Don't you want the officials to have every chance to get it correct?

And no game comes down to a single call. And Columbia had plenty of chances to win the game other than that. But there's no doubt that if that's a block and not a charge, then Columbia's chances of winning the game would have been close to 100%.

Princeton defeated Brown Friday and lost to Yale Saturday in a thriller, 66-65 in overtime. This game had its own moment of controversy on a travel/no-travel call on what became Yale's game-winner with 4.4 seconds left in OT.

If you believe it was a block and a walk, then everything is even, as far as the Ivy race is concerned.

When it all settled for the weekend, Harvard and Yale were even in the league standings at 7-1 each. Brown is next, with three league losses, which makes it seem at least like a two-team race.

It's a big two weeks for Yale now, with four straight road games, this weekend at Cornell and Columbia (Sunday, not Saturday, for TV) and then at Princeton and Penn the following week. That leads the Bulldogs into their next home game, March 7, against Harvard.

As for the Crimson, they head to the road this weekend, going to Penn Friday and Princeton Saturday. Then it's come with Cornell and Columbia.

And Princeton?

The Tigers are 2-5 with their most unlucky team since 1988, John Thompson's senior year. That year, Princeton lost consecutive league games in midseason to Harvard, Yale and Brown, by scores of 52-51, 61-60 and 68-67.

Then, on the final day of the season, Princeton blew out Cornell, who had already clinched the league championship, by a score of 79-58.

The current Tigers are 2-5 in the league. Their losses are by one, one, three, six and nine. Two of the losses are in overtime, including the nine-point one. A bounce here or there, and the Tigers could be 6-1 or 5-2 and right in the thick of it.

Unfortunately, Princeton hasn't gotten those bounces. And so there will be no championship contention this year.

There is still plenty of time left to the year though. Princeton can get back over .500 in the league, can impact the outcome of the race with its games against Harvard and Yale at home.

The first of those is Saturday night, when the Crimson come to Jadwin Gym. The Crimson desperately need the win to keep pace; Princeton desperately wants to play well on its home court against the defending champion.

This comes after Friday's game against Dartmouth, who beat Princeton by nine in Hanover earlier this month. In other words, it's a big weekend for the Tigers.

What does it matter?

Well, look back to 1988. Princeton made a big statement in that game against Cornell. Did the momentum carry over?

Ask yourself who won the next four Ivy League men's basketball championships. Don't feel like looking it up?

It was Princeton, Princeton, Princeton, Princeton.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

On the night of the 1980 US-USSR hockey game the Tigers hosted Dartmouth at Jadwin. When the announcement was made the crowd went nuts. Biggest noise in the building for years...Ironically, US coach Herb Brooks was cut from the 1960 squad just before play began. The gold medal that year is referred to as "The Forgotten Miracle."
The call against Rosenberg was wrong and may be the biggest call of the season for both teams. The Tigers have been the victims of questionable calls at or near the end of 4 of our 5 League losses.Just one of those years, I guess. Not in favor of replays on foul calls, however, since the overly long games will never end!!!