Wednesday, August 6, 2014

No. 1 In August

TigerBlog used to love Ivy League media day for football, though he suspects its for a different reason than his friend Bruce Wood of the Big Green Alert.

No, for TB, it had nothing to do with media access (or even the guaranteed annual bickering between Bill Wallace from the New York Times and TB's former Trenton Times colleague Harvey Yavener), even when he was a sportswriter. It had everything to do with camarderie.

Each year during this week, the Ivy League would have football media day and Ivy League sports information meetings on consecutive days. As TB recalls, it wasn't always in the same order.

In between would be a really nice dinner for the sports information people, who would sit around, talk, laugh, make fun of each other - do all the things that colleagues and friends do. There'd also be golf with the Ivy football media day.

These two events - actually TB thinks it went meetings, dinner, media day, golf - were almost always held at Yale or somewhere close to Yale. What was the name of the golf club? Lyman Orchards?

There are still some in the Ivy League who were part of years and years of those media days/meetings. Chris Humm at Brown. Steve Conn at Yale. A few others who came in on the tail end but at least had an experience with them.

The Ivy sports information meetings were laughably absurd, as TB thinks back on them. He can't help but laugh at the subjects that were vehemently debated, most famously that of standardized rosters back when it became possible to actually email files back and forth rather than faxing and retyping rosters.

If you've never had the thrill of receiving a fax and then retyping an alphabetical and numerical Ivy League football roster, well, then you don't really know what fun is.

Somewhere in his office, TB can find the minutes from Ivy sports information meetings, and they're always worth a chuckle. These were mostly in the early- to mid-’90s, when the internet hadn't quite exploded but the desire and need to find a way to quickly share information was starting to emerge anyway. Some of the solutions were hilarious.

Oh, another great argument was how many post-game faxes were too many for the visiting team to expect the home team to send. That number was capped at four by a rule, one that TB rolled his eyes at, as he assumed that any fax being sent by a visiting team was being done for a reason.

He wonders how much time was spent debating that. Or Player of the Week nomination procedure. Or when All-Ivy squash should be announced. Or how many track and field releases during the year the Ivy office should produce. And on and on it went.

As for media day, it was each of the eight head coaches, who would stand up in alphabetical order by school (or one year reverse alphabetical order) and talk about their team's prospects. To hear each talk, it's amazing that any Ivy football game was ever played in which both teams did not lose. 

Then there would be a chance for one-on-one interviews.

Mostly it was about cultivating relationships. On the sports information side, it was about reaffirming that it wasn't just people from eight schools and a league office - it was one, as the late, great Kathy Slattery of Dartmouth said every year, a "clan," and the whole point was to remember that all of these discussions were for "the good of the clan."

On the football side, it was about seeing the coaches in a more informal setting and about fostering direct contact with the media that covered the Ivy League. And making sure the media guide was done for football media day.

Back then, there was a good turnout of media. Today? There would hardly be any. That's why TigerBlog gets why media day has been replaced by a conference call, which was held yesterday.

As with media day, the conference call serves as the setting to release the preseason football poll.

This year, Princeton was the preseason pick to win the league, by one point over Harvard. The consensus seems to think that those are the two best teams, as they were 1-2 on each of 17 ballots.

The two meet on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium on Oct. 25.

Princeton and Harvard tied for the championship last year. Princeton has beaten Harvard in wildly dramatic fashion in each of the last two years, including a 51-48 three-OT game last year in Cambridge that might have been the tamer of the two, after Princeton came from 29 points down in 12 minutes to shock Harvard 39-34 two years ago.

Quinn Epperly threw the game-winner to Roman Wilson in both of those games. Epperly, the reigning Ivy Offense Player of the Year, is back to quarterback Princeton again. Or to be one of Princeton's many quarterbacks, as the Tigers' unique attack looks to duplicate last year's outrageousness, when Princeton set the Ivy records for points and yards in a season and reached 50 points five times in 10 games after doing so five times in 48 years prior to that.

Whether or not Princeton wins the league, being picked No. 1 in the preseason poll is a startling accomplishment for a coach - Bob Surace - who less than two years ago was 2-20 after his first 22 games at Princeton.

Princeton is trying to do something that it has only done once before in its history, back in 1963 and 1964, and that's win consecutive Ivy League championships. Still, that's for November.

For August, it's okay to take some pride for being No. 1 in the preseason poll and enjoying the statement it makes about the program and where it has come under Surace and his staff. Long gone are the days when trying to win a game here or there was the goal.

Now Princeton has an army of talent and the desire - and opportunity - to win each Saturday. That doesn't mean that Princeton automatically will. It doesn't mean that there aren't a few other teams that can also make the same claim.

It's just that it serves as a reminder of the incredible rise of Princeton football, and what a great job the coaches have done in a short time.

Like TB said, that's enough for August.

TB used to leave media day thinking that the season was closing in but wasn't quite there yet, that there was still some summer left. It was like the opposite of Groundhog Day - six more weeks of summer.

But with a hint that it would be different soon.

Princeton football 2014 - No. 1 in the preseason poll. It'll mean nothing in November.

In August? It's great.

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