Friday, September 18, 2020

Grant Wahl Was Right

TigerBlog brought up Grant Wahl in yesterday's "Going Back" entry, mentioning how Grant had been a Daily Princetonian writer and an OAC student-worker back in the 1990s.

Then TB saw Grant's tweet that his father Dave had passed away yesterday. To Grant and his family, TB sends his condolences.

Grant, of course, has gone from Princeton to a long career in sportswriter and broadcasting and is one of the leading - or you could probably make that the single leading - soccer writers in the world. 

If you want some extraordinary writing for a college newspaper, or for that matter just extraordinary writing with no caveat, how about this from Grant after Princeton's 10-10 tie with Dartmouth that gave the Tigers the outright 1995 Ivy League football championship:

A glance at each of the sidelines after Sierk's kick revealed much more than than the hollow-gutted ambivalence that normally accompanies such results. There was senior quarterback Brock Harvey, leaping high in the air after his last-second scramble — his third long run in as many weeks — had put Princeton in position for the field goal. Harvey appeared to hang in the air longer than was possible, and when he finally landed he smashed every demon that has dogged him since his first start at quarterback, a loss in last year's opening game to Cornell. There was senior linebacker Dave Patterson, the cool Jack Nicholson with the upraised arms, knowing that the Tiger defense earned the title and "won" this game with an effort that never slackened. And there was the Dartmouth sideline, where the Big Green wilted, their own improbable Ivy title hopes quashed at the very last second, along with those of Penn and Cornell. Some tie. 

As far as I'm concerned, when head coach Steve Tosches called a timeout with four seconds on the clock and Princeton inside the Dartmouth one, his decision didn't break down to "high-percentage field goal versus risky plunge over the middle." Going for the field goal was a gamble: Sierk had missed the same short attempt from the wide hash mark earlier in the season, and as a freshman, he could have crumbled under the pressure. But Tosches knew his personnel and made the right call. Penn was demolishing Cornell, and after last week's loss to Yale, it wasn't as if Princeton was protecting a perfect record, like Nebraska had in 1984 when it went for two against Miami (Fla.) and lost the national championship in the process. 

The Tigers' second goal each season, after an undefeated record, is to win an outright Ivy League tide, and the tie gave them that. So while finishing 0-1-1 isn't something Princeton followers and players will remember with much fondness, in 20 years they won't recall it at all. What they'll remember are Harvey breaking free down the left side, Patterson slamming into a runner in the backfield and a deceptively tricky 18-yard field goal that brought gold rings to Princeton — and Princeton alone — for the first time in 31 years.

That's tremendous, right?  

Now that it's actually 25 years after that, was Grant right? Yes, he was. 

When the 1995 football season comes up, it's always about being the outright Ivy champion and about the incredible drive that Harvey led to set up Alex Sierk's short field goal. The fact that Princeton started 8-0 and then lost to Yale and tied Dartmouth, to finish 0-1-1, never comes up.

More than Sierk's field goal, it was the 22-yard Harvey run to the Dartmouth 1, a play on which he was knocked out of bounds with four seconds left, that is the single most-memorable moment of that championship season.

When TigerBlog was at Virginia for men's lacrosse this past February, the photographer who was shooting the game for the Tigers was a local man named Brian McWalters. At the time, Brian, who has now shot a bunch of events for Princeton and has done a great job each time, asked if there were any fall events in the area that he could work.

TigerBlog immediately said yes, there was, a football game at Virginia Military Institute to start the season on Sept. 19. He told Brian to put it in his calendar, and Brian did just that.

That game would have been tomorrow. Today would have been a travel day, the six-hour drive down to Lexington. Obviously the COVID-19 situation changed all of those plans. 

TB would have loved to have seen the game at VMI's Foster Stadium. The forecast for Lexington for tomorrow is 65 degrees and sunny. It would have been a perfect day for the game.

Instead of looking ahead to that game today, TB is looking back, to 1995, and remembering that championship team, for which he was also the OAC football contact.

And in doing so, he can confirm that Grant Wahl was, indeed, correct.

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