Monday, October 24, 2016

In The Booth With Digger

Sometimes you have to tip your cap to the other guys.

This past Saturday was one of those days.

Back in 2012, Princeton swept Harvard in football, field hockey, men's soccer and women's soccer. TigerBlog had this to say after that weekend:
As for TigerBlog, well, he's always cautious when it comes to days like that. You never want to get too high or take anything for granted, because days like that don't come along very often ... There are a lot of other weekends coming up, and they all can't be this good. It's important to be humble and move on to the next.

Humble in victory. Resolute when the shoe is on the other foot. Either way, there's no dwelling on what just happened.

This past Saturday was Harvard's turn. The Crimson came to Princeton and won in all four of those sports, taking the four games by a combined six points/goals. There were three one-goal games, one in OT, and an OT football game.

If you're a Princeton fan, it was a tough one. On the other hand, there's another 4-0 day coming for your Tigers. And another 4-0 day coming for the Crimson as well. Somewhere down the line, both are inevitable.

It's the beauty of having such a rivalry.

Princeton and Harvard have clearly had the best athletic programs in the history of Ivy League athletics, combining for 852 of the 1,828 championships won all-time. That's just short of 47 percent of all championships won.

If you want the breakdown, it's Princeton with 452 and Harvard with 400. Princeton has been in double figures in Ivy championships in an academic year 23 times. Harvard has done it nine times. No other Ivy school has ever done it.

TigerBlog spent his Saturday in the PA booth at Powers Field at Princeton Stadium, watching the football game between the two. It was an outstanding, well-played, hard-fought game, one that went Harvard's way 23-20 in overtime.

Princeton showed great character in rallying from 14-0 down and finally tying the game with 49 seconds to on the second of John Lovett's touchdown runs. Lovett continues to be a player unlike any other, and here was his line from Saturday: 15 carries, 43 yards, two touchdowns rushing; six receptions for 57 yards; two completions for 28 yards.

There was more than just Lovett. Princeton's defense was tremendous, holding Harvard to 102 rushing yards and 317 total yards.

It's hard to say who Princeton's best defensive player was.

Kurt Holuba, who had 10 tackles and three sacks? Sam Huffman, who had nine tackles and an interception? Rohan Hylton, who had an amazing interception and 30-yard return in the fourth quarter, with five tackles to go with it? Luke Catarius, who led Princeton with 12 tackles? James Gales, who had six tackles, a great interception of his own and a great performance against Harvard's explosive Justice Shelton-Mosley?

In the end, it was two very evenly matched teams who played a great game. Someone had to win. Someone had to lose.

As for TB, his day was spent with Steve DiGregorio. The man known basically to everyone as "Digger" is a former assistant football coach at Princeton from when Steve Tosches was head coach, and he texted TB shortly before the game, saying that his family had bailed on going to the game with him and could he spot for TB in the booth.

TigerBlog usually doesn't have a spotter, so that was helpful.

And, since he's an ex-football coach (and a longtime high school coach since he left Princeton), he offers that perspective to what's going on, both on the field and on the sidelines. In a game like the one Saturday, that added an interesting take on things.

When Harvard got up 14-0 and looked like it was taking control, for instance, TB asked Digger what coaches do in that situation to turn things around. Whatever formation either team showed, Digger had an insight into what they were tipping off. He was even right some of the time. Okay, most of the time.

Mostly, though, Digger adds his humor to any occasion, and his humor is pretty much exactly like TB's. So are their tastes in movies and TV shows, so any obscure reference to "The Odd Couple" or "M*A*S*H" or "Mission Impossible" is easy to pick up on.

Then there's the fact that they worked together for so long. Here is a partial list of former Princeton athletic department staff whose name came up in the booth during the game:

John Johnston, Chet Dalgiewicz, Inge Radice, Kurt Kehl, Mark Panus, Kris Pleimann, Tim Bennett, Mike Falk, Bob Dipipi, Donna Nebbia, Joan Kowalik, Sue Johnson, Marge DeFrank, David Rosenfeld, Pete Carril, Joe Scott, Howard Levy, Hank Towns, Cap Crossland, John and Davey Cruser.

It's okay if most of those names are unfamiliar to you. They're people with whom Digger and TB worked, and three hours in the PA booth Saturday took the two of them back 15, 20, 25 years, bringing with it some laughs and some great stories.

So many people have come and gone through the department since TigerBlog arrived. He's friendly with most who have left. He has a few friendships that have endured through the years. Digger is one of his best friends.

As for the game, it ended when Harvard quarterback Joe Viviano just stretched across the goal line in the overtime, touching off a Crimson celebration in the corner of the end zone.

A few moments later, the teams met to shake hands. There wasn't a traditional handshake line or anything formal at all. It was just a mass of players, Harvard and Princeton, congratulating each other on leaving everything they had on Powers Field on this day.

Yes. This day. It belonged to Harvard.

There will be others that belong to Princeton.

TigerBlog was cautious in 2012 when it was Princeton's turn. He's confident in 2016 that Princeton will have another such day.

Maybe, though, that wasn't enough to keep you warm Saturday night.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If I am at all representative of Princeton alumni, the athletics program has brought us incalculable joy, pride and fun over the years. It's amazing that, way back when I was choosing a college, I did not for one moment consider this aspect of becoming emotionally invested with a centuries-old institution for the rest of my life. And amidst all of that positive energy and positive return on my student loan dollars, nothing quite generates pain like a close loss to Harvard, never mind four of them. In an earlier era, it might have been a basketball loss to Penn or a lacrosse loss to Cornell. But today, it's Harvard.

It's not just the rivalry on the football field or soccer and field hockey pitches. It's the rivalry in Nobel Prizes, Rhodes Scholars and college rankings. Princeton is the John McClane here, the lone hero preventing the terrorists from destruction and world domination. Not only should we aspire to prevail, we must.

Three quick points on the football game: First, congratulations to the team and coaches for a fine effort. And I use that word literally. We committed way too many errors, but the intensity and effort were obvious. Our mistakes were almost -- almost -- fully compensated by our big plays. But Harvard made one more than we did. For all the pain the alumni feel, my heart breaks for how the players and staff must have felt afterwards. But we can still win this League, so let's get on with it.

Secondly, although it's a roundabout train of thought, a close close game like Saturday's is another argument in favor of playing Rutgers for the sesquicentennial celebration of college football in 2019. Why? Because we are reminded that, even when you have a championship caliber team, you still need a couple breaks to go your way. Even a championship quality team usually needs a lucky bounce or two over the course of a season. One more catch against Harvard, one more field goal kick and we win. But sometimes you don't get the play you need. The joy, pride and fun associated with a kickoff game on August 31, 2019 is a guaranteed high return on the efforts of the team and administration over the next three years. There aren't that many guaranteed high returns in today's low interest rate environment, so you've got to seize them when they appear. Opportunity is currently knocking in the form of the Rutgers, the Big Ten and probably ESPN. Let's answer the door.

And finally, I'd like to hear Coach Surace address in his next video interview how seriously, if at all, he considered going for two points down 17-16 with minutes left in regulation. This is not Monday morning quarterbacking, because obviously the conversion attempt is an uncertainty. But our kicking game was iffy on Saturday, Harvard had shown more consistency on offense and our conversion rate on short-yardage situations is phenomenal. TB, you've said over and over again, and I agree, that in-game coaching decisions must be made not with an eye toward extending the game, but toward winning the game. Coach Surace seems to agree with that mindset. How did he evaluate the pros and cons of going for two, knowing that even if we failed, we would have had time for a final drive if we could recover an onsides kick?