Friday, March 6, 2015

50 Years Later

As TigerBlog mentioned the other day, he's been covering Princeton sports since before any current Princeton athlete was born.

That's a long time. He's seen in a lot in his more than 25 years around here.

And yet, if he can do match correctly, he's been around for about 17% of Princeton's athletic history. That's nearly 26 years out of the 150 since it all started, back with a baseball game in 1864.

Okay, you want to say that most of the first 15 or so of Princeton athletics was pretty hit or miss? And that women didn't start playing until the last 45 years? So maybe TB has been around for closer to 20% or so. Maybe even 25%?

That's a lot of stuff that happened before TB's time.

TigerBlog was a history major. One of the best parts about his job at Princeton has been working in an athletic department so steeped in history.

TB figures he knows more than most about the history of the Tigers, from that first date in 1864 through the present. To him, though, that's all it is, history.

He's seen pictures of Palmer Stadium when it was packed and when the parking lot was jammed - with horses.

Actually, speaking of Palmer Stadium, there are way more people who work in the department who never were in Palmer Stadium than those who were around when the stadium was around. That's pretty freaky.

One person who certainly was around Palmer Stadium is John McPhee. TB loves to talk to him about his experiences as a child, when his father was the Princeton athletics doctor. And as a student. And even after his graduation. 

Why the nostalgia?

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the 1965 men's basketball team's appearance in the NCAA Final Four. It remains one of the great signature moments in the history of Princeton athletics.

Princeton went 23-6 and won the Ivy League with a 13-1 record. During the regular season, the Tigers played an epic game against Michigan in the final of the ECAC Holiday Festival, falling 80-78.

They then beat Penn State and North Carolina State to start the NCAA tournament, setting up a game against Providence in the quarterfinals. TigerBlog has heard Gary Walters, the point guard on Princeton's team back then, talk about how Providence cut down the nets after its win over St. Joe's, assuming that a win over Princeton and a Final Four trip was inevitable.

So what happened? Princeton destroyed Providence, winning 109-69, advancing to the Final Four in Portland. Princeton would lose in the semifinal to, of all teams, Michigan, before walloping Wichita State 118-82 in the third-place game, which no longer exists.

TigerBlog will be on Maryland's campus tomorrow, not far from Cole Field House, where the Princeton-Providence game was played. Later in the day, all but two of the members of the 1965 team will be on Carril Court at halftime of the men's games against Cornell, to be honored 50 years later.

TigerBlog's first conversation with Walters, by the way, came when he was still at the newspaper and Walters was still in the business world. TB called him as part of a preview story on the 25th anniversary celebration.

Included in the celebration tomorrow night will be Bill Bradley, who put up 41 against Providence and then 58 against Wichita State. The 58 points are the school record and are still the most ever in a Final Four game.

Maybe it's because Walters spent 20 years as Princeton's AD or because of how successful the team was, but TigerBlog has always marveled at how close it appears that the whole group has been. He could tell this 25 years ago, and it's still true now.

The 50th anniversary celebration got TigerBlog thinking about something. If he could go back to any one moment in Princeton Athletics history, what would it be?

Would it be the 1965 team, and the opportunity to see Bradley play as a Tiger? Or Dick Kazmaier in football? Or even all the way back to Hobey Baker?

Maybe it would be to see what Princeton sports were like in the 1800s. Or the football team of destiny in 1922? Or the first decade of the 1900s, when football began to look a bit more modernized and Princeton's athletic landscape grew with the addition of basketball, hockey, tennis, wrestling, soccer and cross country in a six-year span.

He would love to know what the earliest women's teams were like. He wonders what he would have thought back then about the thought of "girls" teams at Princeton. Would he have been on board with them? Or would he have been rooted in the old days?

The more he thinks about it, he realizes that it's an impossible question to answer.

The 1965 team would have been way, way up there. He knows that much.

For those, like TigerBlog, who missed out on seeing that team, they'll be out there on Carril Court tomorrow night.

Fifty years to the month after one of the greatest accomplishments in Princeton history.

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