Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Opening Kickoff

Story on the 150th anniversary of college football celebration committee, including Mollie Marcoux Samaan.

As far as sports and MotherBlog went, she had two favorites.

One was St. John's men's basketball. She could actually care less about the Johnnies, other than the fact that she was once on a flight with the team and then-head coach Lou Carnesecca chastised one of his players for not helping her with her bag in the overhead bin before he got his own down.

From that day on, she was a fan of St. John's, and its legendary coach.

MB's favorite team by far, though, was the Washington Redskins. Her favorite player, by even further, was John Riggins.

As an aside, she would be proud that her son has come to root for her 'Skins. For starters, the Giants have become really, really hard to root for. Plus, TB likes Kirk Cousins. 

A favorite team in another league? She'd watch games, but she'd never really go out of her way to do so. Maybe the Atlanta Braves, once she moved to Atlanta, but baseball wasn't her game.

Politics. That was her favorite sport.

And football.

TigerBlog can't remember when his mother ever cared about any other teams. She didn't like the Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys - the reasons are somewhat murky - but she definitely hated all three.

She moved to Chevy Chase, one block away from the D.C. line, in the early 1980s. It wasn't long after that when she adopted the Redskins, and she was a loyal fan until she passed away more than a decade later.

What was it about the Redskins that made her latch on so strongly? The team was good, and the team is huge in the D.C. area.

Maybe the answer is a bit more simplistic. Maybe it's just the fact that football is, and has long been, so woven into the national fabric more than any other team sport.

Baseball has been called the "National Pastime," and maybe it was at one point. There were baseball heroes earlier than football ones, with players like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson, with a major head start over the professional football league.

At some point, football zoomed ahead. It's probably tied in to the rise of television in the 1960s, but there's no questioning what football has become in this country.

And guess where it all started? Actually, you don't have to guess. You already know.

It started with Princeton and Rutgers, back on Nov. 6, 1869.

Princeton Athletics began five years earlier, during the Civil War, with a baseball game against Williams. Princeton celebrated the 150th anniversary of that game three years ago, in conjunction with the first TAGD day.

The 150th anniversary of the first football game is two football seasons away. There will be no shortage of celebrating.

The formation of a committee to celebrate the occasion was announced yesterday. The committee features representatives from various FCS conferences, from the College Football Playoff and from the two original schools to play the sport, including Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan.

The purpose of the committee is to simply celebrate the sport of college football, on all levels and for all Divisions.

Princeton's place in the history of college football is secure. It obviously goes back to that first game, back in 1869.

From everything that TigerBlog has read, it was more full contact soccer than it was football as it is known today. It also was played 25 against 25. According to the Rutgers Targum recap, these were the first points in Princeton football history:
"Princeton's first goal was by a well directed kick, from a gentleman whose name we don't know, but who did the best kicking on the Princeton side."

According to the Princeton Companion, which is the encyclopedia of all things Princeton, says that football on campus informally dated to the 1840s. There were games featuring students against students or students against townspeople, and interest developed to the point where the Princeton team and Rutgers team challenged each other. They'd play twice that year, the first time at Rutgers and then a week later here in Princeton.

Every major milestone in the evolution of the sport has Princeton's fingerprints on it. The changes of the rules, including having 11 players on a side and things like a line of scrimmage and the current lining of the field. When the sport needed to reigned in for safety reasons, Princeton was in the White House with Teddy Roosevelt for the formation of the national college governing board in 1906, which is now called the NCAA. Even cheerleaders and tailgating trace their roots to Princeton.

Princeton has produced 28 national championship teams and one Heisman Trophy winner, Dick Kazmaier in 1951. There have been nationally ranked teams, huge crowds - and a venerable concrete stadium that was unfortunately built just before the impact of freezing and thawing on concrete was fully understood.

If the stadium couldn't quite last forever - it had a good run at 83 years - the loyalty that was formed among those who played here certainly will. And, failing Reunions and Commencement, there isn't anything else that can draw the number of people to the campus that a big football game can.

The modern day Princeton Tigers are a considerable source of pride to the athletic program and University. The most recent Ivy League championship was won a year ago, when the Tigers led the conference in offense and defense. It was the second Ivy title for Princeton in four years.

The man at the forefront of the program now is Bob Surace, the head coach who is a perfect fit for the team and the school it represents. An All-Ivy center and Ivy champion himself at Princeton (and the first Princeton athlete TigerBlog ever wrote about), Surace is innovative, putting unique, exciting teams on the field, and a rock of a foundation off it. His teams are successful academically and spend a lot of time volunteering in the local community.

Surace also understands that football does not drive Princeton University. He doesn't feel that as the head football coach he is above everyone and everything. Quite the contrary actually. You will see him at almost every other team's games, as his usual approachable self. It's refreshing, actually.

Princeton will be featured prominently as college football begins the celebration of its 150th anniversary. It's grown from simple roots, with 25 Princeton guys and 25 Rutgers guys, with a handful of fans in attendance, to a sport that nationally will pack stadiums that have more than 100,000 seats in them. Millions will watch on TV.

It all started with the Tigers.

And those Tigers - the Princeton football ones - are still looking pretty good as they turn 150.

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