Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Running Into Mark

TigerBlog ran into Mark Eckel last night.

If you don't know who Mark Eckel is, then you're probably a relatively recent Princeton fan, or one who never read the Trenton Times. You know, back when the Trenton Times was in its glory years.

There aren't too many sportswriters who have covered more Princeton sports than Mark Eckel has. Or, at least, have covered more Princeton men's basketball. And men's lacrosse.

Mark was there during some of the most glorious days the Tigers have known, writing about them for the local paper. He was at Lehigh the night Princeton beat Penn in OT in the 1996 Ivy League playoff - and was there five days later in Indianapolis when the Tigers beat UCLA.

That playoff game was the night when Pete Carril announced he was retiring as head coach of the Tigers. He did this by writing it on the blackboard in the locker room, when he and TigerBlog were the only two people in the room, while everyone else with the program celebrated on the court.

As each player came into the room, TigerBlog saw the responses when they saw the words on the board. And he knew what was coming when Carril came into the postgame press conference.

In fact, TigerBlog was staring at Mark when Carril began to speak, because TB knew that whatever Mark was going to write was now going out the window, because of Carril's bombshell.

Oh, and seven years earlier, when Princeton lost in Providence to No. 1 Georgetown 50-49 in the most famous first-round NCAA game ever? Mark covered that game.

Why? Because Harvey Yavener was in Ohio that night, covering Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey) in the Division III Final Four.

Mark also covered the game where Carril earned his 500th win, which TB thinks was at home against Brown. Carril was asked about his biggest wins, and he started out by saying "well, you have to start with the Georgetown game." Mark, standing next to Carril, immediately said "hey, Coach, you lost that one."

Mark also asked Carril once "What's bones?" A little context? Carril said that he was going to have to shuffle things around after a player had left the team and said he might use different guys in different spots, saying "I might even use Bones." That's what led to Mark's question.

"Bones" wasn't a "what," though. It was a "who," as in Sean Gregory, a player on the team then who earned that nickname because he was "Skin and Bones." Today? He's a great writer, for Time magazine.

When TigerBlog first started working in the newspaper business, Mark and Harvey Yavener were already veterans at the paper. They were there for TB's first day, back in 1983, when TB first covered a high school football game, Pennington at Academy of the New Church.

They were both there 11 years later, when TB left to come to Princeton. Yav wrote even more about Princeton than Mark, or, TigerBlog would guess, anyone else who has ever covered the Tigers for a newspaper.

Actually, the more TB thinks about it, the more he's willing to say that is fact. Yav did it for so many years, so many decades, covering so many different sports. And Yav was a pioneer, one of the first male sportswriters to give serious coverage to women's sports.

Anyway, where was TB? Oh yeah. Pennington at Academy of the New Church.

Wow. That first game was 32 years ago. TigerBlog can't help but shake his head at that.

TB told Mark of that first story that he wrote, how he sat around while another veteran, copy editor Harry Chaykun, read the story. When he was done, TB asked him what he thought.

Harry's response? "I'm still awake."

Mark and TB talked about how great it was to work in the newspaper business back then. There are a million stories, and they're all still funny.

Mark actually reminded TB of one of his favorite Carril stories, one he could have used at the "Night With Coaches" event a few weeks ago.

Princeton was playing in one of those in-season tournaments that it always used to, but this was after the tournament, in the bar in the hotel. Pete and his assistant coaches were reflecting on the tournament, when TigerBlog came by and mentioned that one of the Princeton players had made the all-tournament team.

Was Carril impressed? You can judge for yourself, since his response was "the guy he was guarding was the MVP."

TB and Mark go way back. In fact, Mark is TigerBlog Jr.'s godfather. Mark was with his daughter Erica, who is leaving today for her junior year at James Madison.

These days, Mark is still writing, now for, where he mostly covers the Philadelphia Eagles. It's a different world now. It's about clicks and page views, about lists like "Five Reasons Why The Eagles Offensive Line Will Be Better This Year" rather than building a newspaper.

He's doing well in the new world of sportswriting.

It's just that it's not the same as it once was, back when the home base was on Perry Street in Trenton, back when the paper came out every day and there was far more laughter than anything else while putting it together.

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