Monday, January 28, 2019

An Orange-And-Black Tie Night

TigerBlog walked up to Gavin O'Connor to introduce himself as a classmate from Penn.

Before TB could say a word, O'Connor glanced at his orange and black bow tie and gave him a dismissive look that was mostly facetious.

"You're a Princeton guy," said O'Connor, a filmmaker whose credits include directing "Miracle," as good a sports movie as you'll ever see.

Then TB mentioned the fact that they were in fact members of the same class at Penn.

"Then why the orange and black?" he said.

When TB explained he's been at Princeton for about 30 years, O'Connor said "Okay, well, then you can wear that instead of red and blue."

The occasion was the Ivy Football Association honors dinner this past Thursday at the Sheraton in Manhattan. It was a black tie event or, in the case of TigerBlog, an orange-and-black tie event.

TB, by the way, does not rent clothes, so he bought a tux for this event. He needs to wear it three times for it to have paid for itself over the cost of renting, so if you have something formal to invite him to, he's all set.

Each of the eight Ivy schools had one honoree, and it was quite a distinguished group. O'Connor, an All-Ivy League and All-America linebacker on three league championship teams at Penn, was the Quaker honoree.

In fact, when it was his turn to speak, O'Connor told the story of how on his recruiting visit with then-head coach Jerry Berndt, he mentioned how he wondered if it would be possible to change the school's nickname to something tougher. While everyone laughed, TB thought "you mean like Tigers?"

As an aside, when TB was a student at Penn working at the radio station there, he did a weekly pregame interview with Berndt, who once made him do 20 pushups for being five minutes late.

The evening began with eight cocktail parties and continued in a giant ballroom with 1,200 people in attendance. Each of the eight honorees was featured in a six-minute video, and then each had a chance to speak.

Because the banquet is held every other year, the 2017 and 2018 Ivy League champions were honored, as were the Bushnell Cup winners for the last two years. It had a very Princetonian feel to it.

The person who introduced the Bushnell Cup winners was Ed Marinaro, the Cornell great running back who was the runner-up to Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan in the 1971 Heisman Trophy voting. Marinaro went on to a long career as an actor, most notably as Office Joe Coffey on "Hill Street Blues."

When Marinaro introduced former Princeton quarterback Chad Kanoff, the 2017 winner and now a member of the Arizona Cardinals, he started reading all of Kanoff's accomplishments. Marinaro, who was very funny, said simply "thousands and thousands" and then stopped and said to Kanoff "you don't mind if I don't read all this stuff, right?

Speaking of funny, there was Harvard's Joe Azelby, a 1984 grad and linebacker for the Crimson who played one year for the Buffalo Bills before beginning a wildly successful career as a money manager for J.P. Morgan Chase. Like, managing $100 billion successful.

Azelby, during his talk, mentioned how the others being honored along with him represented all of his failures in his life, such as:
* he was with two doctors (Cornell's George Arangio and Columbia's Paul McCormick) and said that he wanted to be a doctor when he went to Harvard but got a C-minus in freshman chemistry
* he was with two NFL head coaches and mentioned that his one season with the Bills saw the team go 2-14. He was released when it was over and wanted to get into coaching, but "it never came up"
* he was with one sitting governor, Dartmouth alum John Carney, the governor of Delaware, and he mentioned that he ran for a local office once and "got trounced"
* lastly, he said that in a mid-life crisis he wrote five screenplays in 18 months and sent them to O'Connor, who responded with "don't quit your day job"

Azelby's deliver was perfect, and he had the entire room cracking up.

One of the NFL coaches was Houston's Bill O'Brien, a Brown alum. Yale's honoree was Kevin Czinger, who, according to the IFA website, " remarkable knack for moving from one significant “hot” area to the next. Today, Kevin is the founder, lead inventor, and CEO of Divergent 3D.  Divergent 3D’s mission is to revolutionize car manufacturing by creating a new production system that incorporates 3D metal printing."

They were all extremely impressive, but one thing that TB has learned through the years is that everyone is competing for second place when one of the speakers for the night is the Princeton honoree, Jason Garrett, the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

Jason is one of the very, very best public speakers TB has ever heard. He can be funny and poignant, pretty much at the same time, without ever coming across as patronizing in any way.

He was the clear winner Thursday night.

He was when he talked to the Princeton group at the cocktail reception, when he talked about the bonds that he formed with his teammates while playing for the Tigers and how they've endured for all this time. It was everything Princeton Athletics wants to be, a group of former players 30 years later, still completely invested in each other's lives, all because of the culture they shared as undergrads.

And then he won again when he spoke to the entire room, telling a story about when the Cowboys were in Philadelphia in November, at 3-5 on the year, seemingly going nowhere. It was a Sunday night game, and the team's hotel was near the Penn campus, so Garrett decided to go for a run during the day at Franklin Field.

He talked about running and thinking about what he was going to say at the IFA event, and by extension what he could say to his players that coming night. And he thought about what it was he learned at Princeton that he took with him, that would apply in that situation, when it came to him - he'd learned to fight. When things get rough, you don't shy away from them. You fight through them.

It was a great speech, like every other speech TB has ever heard from Jason Garrett.

And it was a great night. It was a celebration of all that is great about playing Ivy League football, with the highly successful alums who were honored to their teammates and friends who came from literally all over the country to be there with them.

It was the first of these events that TB has attended. He was glad he did.

And, in a room full of Ivy Leaguers, including one of his most prominent classmates, he was proud to be known as a Princeton guy.

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