Thursday, September 1, 2016

Answering John Mack

Perhaps you remember John Mack?

He's moving closer to the front of the line at the P-Rade every year. While TigerBlog wouldn't call him one of the old guard quite yet, hey, the clock continues to tick.

Mack, a member of the Class of 2000, was a 10-time Heps champion in track and field and a Roper Trophy winner. Now he's a lawyer in Michigan.

At one point, Mack could run the 400 in less than 47 seconds. At some point a few years ago, TB and Mack had this actual conversation:

TB: If you started to run the 400, how far would you get in 47 seconds?
Mack: I'd be about 100 yards down the track clutching my hamstring.

In the world of Princeton Athletic alums, there are the ones that TigerBlog likes, the ones he really likes - and there's John Mack. If he's not in his own class, as Bum Phillips once said: "It doesn't take long to take the attendance."

Maybe it's because he's the only person on Earth who can say that he was a student worker in the Office of Athletic Communications, an employee of the Department of Athletics and a babysitter for TigerBlog Jr. and Miss TigerBlog back when they were really, really, really little. 

Mack texted TigerBlog two things yesterday.

The first was that TB "has always been one of the cool field hockey moms to me."

That was a reference to yesterday, when TB talked about the five women with whom he shares a text message chain that started when the six of them agreed to drive to MTB's high school field hockey team's preseason team bonding event in the Poconos last week.

As an aside, TB forgot to mention yesterday that the chain has continued through to this week. Since returning from the Poconos, TigerBlog has learned all sorts of valuable things about the other CFHMs. You know, like Mandy painted the windows in her family room Saturday, Kathleen was up early walking her dog in the park, Jean is the one you want in your trench when it comes time to fight authority - and they all seem to drink a lot of coffee.

And the second thing John Mack texted TB yesterday?

"What is the most disappointing loss by a Princeton team since you've been there and the most surprising win, taken from a perspective of expectations before the game started (excluding the UCLA win in hoops).

Now that's the kind of question TB loves. And they're both tough ones. Here's the caveat - It has to be a game TigerBlog actually attended.

Okay, let's take the first one first.

The most disappointed TB has ever been after a Princeton loss? That's easy. That was the 1998 second-round NCAA men's basketball loss to Michigan State, a team that would win the NCAA title two years later starting four of the same players who went against Princeton.

But that's not what John Mack is saying, TB believes. He's talking about a loss in a game that Princeton was supposed to win, and that game doesn't really fit that profile.

TigerBlog has long thought that there are some games where one team is clearly the favorite but the game never plays out that way. Oh, sometimes the favorite still wins, but it's not easy. Those games have a weird feel to them early on, like you can tell that that particular day is going to be a little different. TB thinks these are the kinds of games John Mack is talking about.

TB thought about the 1995 football loss to Yale when the Tigers were 8-0-0, but that isn't really it because 1) even though Yale came in at 2-6, the Bulldogs got their quarterback Chris Hetherington back for that game, and he would be the difference in the game and would go on to play nearly a decade in the NFL and 2) Princeton would win the outright Ivy title the next week anyway.

He thought about the 1991 NCAA men's lacrosse quarterfinal loss to Towson, 14-13 in triple overtime at Palmer Stadium. TB thought after that one that maybe that might have been Princeton's best chance it would ever have to win an NCAA title, being the second seed and all. That was disappointing - until Princeton won the championship the next year and then won five more after that.

He thought about a bunch of games in a bunch of sports. Fortunately, Princeton wins a lot more than it loses, so there really haven't been that many of these kinds of games.

Then he thought of one. It was from 1999, a men's basketball game at Yale. The Tigers came into the game 15-5 overall and 7-0 in the Ivy League. Yale was 4-16, 1-7. Final score? Yale 60, Princeton 58 in double overtime.

You might remember what had happened four days earlier more than you remember this game. That game four days earlier was the 50-49 win over Penn in which Princeton had trailed 40-13 with 15 minutes left.

The Yale game was one of those games TB talked about before, where it just didn't feel right from the start. TigerBlog remembers getting to the hotel at Brown a few hours later and seeing Brian Earl (he had 21 points while going all 50 minutes) in the hallway outside his room, and they both looked at each other and simply shrugged, neither saying a word.

So yes, that's the game TB would go with for that part of the question.

For the second part? Remember, the UCLA basketball game doesn't count.

TB came up with four.

The first is the 2000 NCAA men's lacrosse semifinal against Virginia. Princeton was a huge underdog against the Cavs, who had beaten Princeton 15-8 during the regular season. Princeton was also down three in the fourth quarter before Trevor Tierney made a huge one-on-one stop after the shooter made about 100 fakes on the doorstep, and back came Princeton, tying it and then winning it 12-11 on Brendan Tierney's late goal. There was a great picture of Brendan Tierney in the New York Times the next day; the framed picture of it still hangs in the Tierney house.

So that's one.

No. 2 would be the championship game of the First Bank Classic at Marquette in 1996-97. This would be men's basketball, by the way. TigerBlog thought there was no way Princeton was going to win this one. Marquette went to the second round of the NCAA tournament the year before and would go back in 1997 as well. It was in Milwaukee. With Marquette's refs. Marquette was led by Chris Crawford, who would play seven years in the NBA.

As for the refs, there are some funny stories. First, Princeton head coach Bill Carmody said to one of the officials "hey, fouls are 10-0 this half," to which the ref replied "as soon as they commit one I'll call it." Good response.

Then there was the end of the game. Princeton had a two-point lead. Centers Steve Goodrich and Jesse Rosenfeld had both fouled out, leaving Sydney Johnson to play center for the Tigers. Princeton was trying to hold on in the final minute. But Marquette hadn't committed many fouls that half, so they had foul maybe five or six more times to send Princeton to the line. It led to "inbound, foul, repeat" as precious time ran off the clock. Then, when the next foul would send Princeton to the line, the Tigers went with a 50-foot backdoor pass off the sideline out of bounds. TB is pretty sure it went Mitch Henderson to James Mastaglio. Layup. Game over.

So that's two.

The next two rise above those two though. Both were in the NCAA tournament.

One was the 2004 NCAA quarterfinal women's soccer game between Princeton and Washington. Yes, the Tigers were the home team and the higher seed (Princeton seven; Washington 15). Still, TB thought maybe the Tigers' dream season had gone as far asit was going to go, probably because the Huskies had wins over teams like Stanford and USC and hadn't allowed a goal in five games. Or maybe it was because the idea of getting to the NCAA Final Four in women's soccer seemed impossible.

Princeton scored first. Washington tied it. 1-1 at the half. Then Esmeralda Negron and Kristina Fontanez scored in the first 10 minutes of the second half, and Princeton was in total control. The last 20 minutes or so were a party for Princeton and the overflow crowed at old Lourie-Love Field.

It remains the only time an Ivy League team has reached the women's soccer Final Four.

And the other game? The 2001 NCAA men's lacrosse championship game against Syracuse.

Princeton had lost to Syracuse in the 2000 regular season, 2000 NCAA final and 2001 regular season by a combined 43-19. None of those three games were ever competitive. There was no reason to suspect the 2001 final would be either.

The championship game was different. Princeton took it to Syracuse early and led 5-3 at the half, 8-4 after three. Then Syracuse tied it in what seemed like a minute. Princeton went up 9-8. Syracuse tied it with 16 seconds left. Off to OT the game went.

Syracuse had all the momentum, but it didn't matter. The Tigers got a stop. Ryan Boyle got the ball behind the goal. B.J. Prager finished it, 10-9 Princeton.

Is TB forgetting anything obvious?

Oh, and John Mack? TB apologizes for not getting back to you.

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