Friday, September 4, 2015

The Drop-Off

TigerBlog has a bunch of pictures on the shelf above his desk.

At the far end, there's one that's actually two pictures. It shows TigerBlog Jr., on his last day of high school. He's just gotten out of his car, and he has a slight grin on his face, one that said "hey, I'm just a little too cool to make a big deal out of this."

That's the right side of the picture. The left side is TBJ, Day 1 of kindergarten. He's just gotten on the school bus for the first time, and he has a huge, ear-to-ear smile on his face, one that said "this is the coolest thing I've ever done."

TigerBlog has no memory of when TBJ first went to kindergarten. He doesn't remember the bus. The bus stop. None of it.

He does vividly remember a day several years before that, the first time he dropped TBJ off at his babysitter. TBJ was probably just short of a year old, and he went to day care at the house of a woman named Debbie, along with four other kids.

Actually, TigerBlog had taken off a few months from work, sort of, during the 1997-98 winter, to prolong sending TBJ off to the babysitter. It was an interesting time for TigerBlog, as he did all the work as the athletic communications contact - and went to every game - while spending his days taking care of a baby.

That of course wasn't just any Princeton men's basketball season. That happened to be the season when Princeton went 27-2 and moved into the national Top 10.

Princeton was the talk of college basketball that winter, and TigerBlog has a book that chronicles pretty much all of the different media outlets that came here to write about the Tigers. And it was everyone.

The New York Times Magazine. Not the newspaper. Well, the newspaper too, but the Sunday Magazine section. USA Today. The Los Angeles Times. The Boston Globe. Newsweek. Sports Illustrated of course. The San Antonio Express-News. The Washington Post - but with George Will, not just a sportswriter. The Dallas Morning News. The Chicago Tribune. The Baltimore Sun.

All of these publications - and more - came to Princeton, to this campus, to write about the men's basketball team. It was like the women's basketball team's run last year, only without the internet to help push it along.

TigerBlog had no cell phone then. There was no webpage, and he had no way to connect to the internet at home anyway. He had email. That was it. And voicemail on his work phone.

All day long, he'd get messages from media people who wanted to talk to then-head coach Bill Carmody and a handful of the players. TigerBlog would field all the calls, set up the interviews and do all of the things that used to define the position.

Of course, he didn't have a laptop. He did take a computer home with him, but it was an old, old, old Mac, one he could barely do anything beyond word processing. TB would write gamenotes and then have to come into the office to import them into the format he used then.

All while taking care of a baby. Nap time - TBJ was a great napper when he was a baby - was a valuable time for TigerBlog.

Anyway, eventually the day came to drop him off at the babysitter. She lived in Ewing, and TB dropped TBJ off on the way into the office.

The first day was not easy. As he left him there, TigerBlog was filled with a wide array of emotions, really every emotion a person could have. He was concerned about leaving his son in this strange new environment, but he recognized it as a step forward in the walk down life's path. He was sad to say goodbye to the time he'd spent at home with his son, but he was excited at what was coming next.

TigerBlog has never forgotten what that explosion of emotions felt like. Nothing he'd done from that day forward had ever matched it - until last Saturday.

That was when TigerBlog again dropped his son off for the first time. This time, instead of for a few hours at a babysitter, it was at college, Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, to be exact.

Yes, this was another emotional explosion. It still is, actually.

TigerBlog has spent his career looking out his window and seeing college students everywhere. It never really dawned on him that someone dropped them off here at Princeton for the first time, and that it might have been a difficult moment for them.

It's not difficult, per se, as in "the baby is in college." It's difficult because of the helplessness of knowing that there are so many questions that TigerBlog has that he won't be getting answered and so much advice that won't be offered.

TigerBlog Jr. hasn't exactly been good about staying in touch in his first week at school. That's okay. TigerBlog gets it.

TBJ has not initiated any contact other than to email his dad the Sacred Heart lacrosse schedule for the spring and to tell him that he'll wear No. 11 for the Pioneers. Other than that, it's been five texts sent for every one that comes back, and words are more like 20-1 or 40-1.

TBJ lives in a wing of a dorm that has six rooms, with 17 men total. And one bathroom. TBJ's roommate is also a lacrosse teammate who apparently prefers to be called by his last name of "Foley," and there are several other athletes in the wing, including a fencer and football player. The football player was the first person other than Foley that TigerBlog met on move-in day, and he was wearing a "Princeton Tigers" t-shirt, which TB took as a good omen.

It was a typical move-in, TB supposes. Unload the stuff. Unpack it. This goes here. That goes there.

About five hours earlier, with the car loaded up with TBJ's stuff, TigerBlog had backed out of the driveway and started down the street. As he pulled away, he looked back above the driveway, where he'd first shot tennis balls at his son more than a decade ago, and then into the backyard, where they graduated to a lacrosse goal and lacrosse ball, often having the balls end up in the yard of the next door neighbor Bill, a retired airline pilot, or even smashing off of Bill's house. Fortunately, he never minded.

Hours and hours, TigerBlog and TigerBlog Jr. would do this. TB would shoot lefty. He'd shoot righty. He'd bounce shots. He'd shoot high. Even at seven or eight years old, TBJ would never flinch. Over time, TB would shoot harder and harder and eventually hardest, as hard as he could, but by then TBJ was too good for him.

As TigerBlog thinks back about it, he remembers the game they'd play. As they came to the end of their shooting session, no matter how long it was, they had a contest. Could TigerBlog score five goals before TigerBlog Jr. made five saves. Shots wide didn't count.

If TigerBlog lives to be 100, he'll remember those moments as among the very best of his life.

Now, though, the car had left the neighborhood, and as TB came to the center of town, he saw a father crossing a street holding the hand of his son, who appeared to be about three or four.

It made TigerBlog think back to how fast it's all gone by. One day, you're walking across the street with your oldest, who's not yet old enough to go to school at all. The next, you're driving through the same town, on the way to a college, where he won't be able to get rid of you fast enough.

And now it was time to go. TigerBlog's mind raced, filled with everything he wanted to say, everything he thought he needed to say, one more crash course on what a college freshman needed to know to be successful.

Only he said none of it. He knew it was too late by then. It was time to go.

So all that was left to do was to tell TBJ that he loved him and he was proud of him - and to hope that 18 years worth of parenting made some kind of mark on him.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Live On ESPNU

If you pull into the Jadwin Gym parking lot around 9 am on an average July or early August morning, you'll notice it's pretty much empty.

As August goes along, it starts to get more and more crowded. Now, in early September, there's the chance that Lot 21A, the small part where athletics staff parks, might be filled.

The entrance to Lot 21A has two signs that say "NO" and that you must have an athletics hang tag to park there. TigerBlog always chuckles when he sees people drive in, slow down to look at the sign and then keep going into Lot 21A anyway.

If Lot 21A is filled, then athletics staff has to park someplace else in Lot 21. Often this means going most of the way down towards the far end of the lot, especially when school is in session.

It's always a pain when the entire smaller lot is filled, and yet even if you went all the way to the far end of the parking lot, it's not that long of a walk into the building. This dynamic also makes TigerBlog laugh, since it makes him feel incredibly lazy.

When TigerBlog arrived yesterday, Lot 21A was about half full. He pulled in at the same time as Jess Gurriero, Assistant Manager of Business Relations. Jess is funny and very good at her job, which is a great combination.

As TB and Jess started to walk into the building, they ran into Frank Sowinski, the 1978 Ivy League men's basketball Player of the Year and a member of the Princeton Varsity Club Board. As they walked towards Jadwin, Sowinski asked TB if he has each day's story planned out or if they just come to him.

The answer, TB said, was that they just come to him. And he never knows where they'll come to him. Sometimes, he said, he thinks of a good idea but then can't remember it later.

And sometimes, he gets them when he's walking into the building in the morning.

Anyway, eventually, and by eventually TigerBlog means tomorrow, someone else besides the women's soccer team will play this academic year.

In fact, tomorrow will be opening day for women's volleyball, men's soccer and field hockey. Of the three, only field hockey will be home, at 4, against second-ranked North Carolina. Remember, it was North Carolina that Princeton beat in the 2012 NCAA championship game.

The men's water polo team has to wait one more day to get going, as Luis Nicolao's team opens Saturday in an invitational at the Naval Academy.

As for today, though, it's Game 3 for the women's soccer team. And it's a good one.

Princeton is 2-0-0 on the young season, with wins over Howard and Fordham last weekend. Tonight's opponent is Rutgers, 4-0-0, and ranked 22nd nationally on top of that.

Oh, and the game will be televised live on ESPNU.

Rutgers has done more than win all four of its games. It has yet to give up a goal, let alone lose.

Rutgers opened with a 2-0 win over Loyola Marymount, and that was followed by 1-0 wins over Hofstra, Villanova and UMass. RU has won the last four meetings against Princeton.

The women's soccer team has three straight home games, all in a week. Duquesne is on Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium Sunday, followed by Delaware a week from today.

The Rutgers game is Princeton's first ESPN game of the year. Princeton Athletics, as part of a long-time arrangement with ESPN, gets at least seven home events per year on an ESPN, which is an extraordinary opportunity for the athletic program.

This year, ESPN is televising two women's events, first the soccer game today and then the women's basketball game against Michigan on Dec. 6.

Of the seven events, three will be televised this month.

ESPN has done a great job getting water polo on television, and this year will be no different. Princeton's game against Pacific a week from Sunday from DeNunzio Pool is on the schedule. That one will be Tigers versus Tigers.

Another benefit of the arrangement with ESPN has been the opportunity it has given the Department of Athletics to showcase Roberts Stadium. This is the second straight year that ESPN has a women's and men's soccer game on its schedule, with the men's game against American on Sept. 29 to be shown on ESPNU as well.

The men's basketball game from Jadwin Gym against Harvard is also locked in. That's five, and it leaves two more for the academic year. Those games haven't been scheduled yet, but TigerBlog's guess is that they'll originate from Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium.

The deal with ESPN has been great for Princeton. The current arrangement runs through 2019, or three more academic years after this one.

TigerBlog figures he'll still be going strong then. After all, there's always another idea out there for another day.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Mason And Mason

Mason Sachson was here the other day.

Mason is three. He's coming up on the first day of preschool in a few weeks. That's a big milestone.

Mason's father is Craig Sachson. If you're reading TigerBlog, then that probably means you're a regular reader of goprincetontigers.com, which means you're a regular reader of stuff from Craig Sachson. And a regular viewer of Craig's videos.

Craig covers 12 sports here at Princeton. TigerBlog is reasonably sure that there aren't too many Division I athletic communications types who cover more sports than Craig. Or maybe any.

The Princeton football videos that you've probably seen are his. So is everything else football related.

For the record, here are Craig's 12 sports: football, women's volleyball, men's volleyball, men's squash, women's squash, wrestling, men's swimming and diving, women's swimming and diving, men's heavyweight rowing, men's lightweight rowing, women's open rowing, women's lightweight rowing.

That's a lot, by the way.

Anyway, Craig had some childcare issues the other day, and he had to take football head shots. So he brought along Mason and his older sister Maddie, she headed into second grade, for a few hours.

This was an actual conversation:
"What's your name?"
"Mason."
"Do you have a lot of energy?"
"No."

Turns out Mason was lying. He has unbridled, could-power-large-cities energy. He's three. Of course he does.

It didn't take long for him to outgrow the physical constraints of the Office of Athletic Communication. TigerBlog, sensing that Craig was a tad busy, offered to take Mason and Maddie down to that magical children's playground downstairs, known as the main floor of Jadwin Gym.

Down to the track they went. Off went Maddie. After her went Mason. Then Maddie tried long-jumping. Then Mason did.

First, though, he took off his Crocs, since he didn't want to get sand in them. Then he ran towards the pit, all the way to the edge, and took off with all his might.

He probably went about six inches before he landed, face-first of course. Then he stood up, brushed himself off and announced "I'm okay. I'm okay."

So yes, Mason has some energy.

TigerBlog figures Mason Sachson stands in the three-foot tall range.

Mason Rocca? He stands 6-9. Or at least he did back when he was on the Princeton men's basketball team, before he graduated in 2000.

TigerBlog knows this for sure. Why? Because he measured him one day in the team room.

Actually it was then head-coach Bill Carmody who did. He wanted to list Mason as 6-9 after he'd originally been listed at 6-7, and he guaranteed that he was 6-9. To prove it, he broke out a tape measure.

This was in sneakers, but hey, he played in sneakers, right?

If, like TigerBlog, you followed the Princeton men's basketball team closely in those days, then there's around a 100% chance that you loved watching Mason Rocca. A bull from Evanston, Mason Rocca is the single most unstoppable force TigerBlog has seen play for Princeton - when healthy.

And that's a big caveat.

Rocca, unfortunately, spent much of his career nursing nagging injuries, and as a result he never was able to be the consistently great player he otherwise would have been. And TigerBlog means great. As in, as great as any player Princeton has had in the last 25 years.

Mason was strong and relentless. He was a beast near the basket. He was a tenacious defender and rebounder. There was no loose ball that he didn't try to get.

He was playing double figure minutes most games off the bench in the first half of his sophomore year, which was the year Princeton went 27-2, was ranked in the Top 10 nationally and had the best record in Division I. His season essentially ended when he broke his wrist in early February, and TigerBlog has always wondered what a completely healthy Rocca would have meant in the NCAA tournament second-round loss to Michigan State.

As it is, TigerBlog remembers four games of his in particular.

There were two his junior year. One was the huge comeback game at the Palestra, when Rocca, Brian Earl and Gabe Lewullis willed Princeton back from a 40-13 deficit to win 50-49. Rocca's numbers that night were 13 points and six rebounds, but he was everywhere in that second half.

There was also the NIT game at Jadwin against Georgetown later that year. In that one, Princeton had five players go all 40 minutes (TB wonders if that's the last time that's happened in a Division I game), and Rocca had six points and 18 rebounds against the Hoyas. Yes, 18 rebounds.

As for the two games his senior year, one was at Bucknell, a 52-50 Princeton win after the Tigers had trailed 27-14 at the half. The game-winner came when Rocca rebounded a missed shot, dribbled about eight feet back away from the basket and then swished a hook shot at the buzzer. He finished the night with 15 points and eight rebounds.

Then there was the game at Rutgers five days later. In that one, a 66-60 Princeton win in OT, Rocca went for 28 points and 15 rebounds. Those are not the kind of numbers that have been duplicated often at Princeton.

Unfortunately for Rocca, injuries pretty much wiped out the second half of his senior year as well.  TigerBlog figures that if he'd been 100% healthy his entire career, he would have gone well past 1,000 career points, instead of the 434 he finished with. Hey, the 28 points that night at Rutgers would be 21 percent of the points he'd score that season.

Rocca did go on to have a huge pro career in Italy, and he will be honored near his hometown, when Armani Olimpia Milano, his old team from Italy, takes on Maccabi Tel Aviv at Chicago's United Center on Oct. 1.

When TigerBlog saw the story about that night on goprincetontigers.com, it took him immediately back to Mason Rocca's days at Princeton.

Those were days of one injury after another, injuries that robbed him of what could have been a career as good as any Princeton basketball player TigerBlog has ever seen live.

When he was healthy, there was nobody else quite like him.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Summer Reading

August, as always seems to be the case, has flown by, and the calendar today turns to September.

By the time September ends, all kinds of things will have happened around Princeton Athletics.

There were two athletic events played in August, both by the women's soccer team. There will be 66 Princeton events played in the month of September.

Among the highlights of the month will be three games on ESPNU, beginning with Thursday's women's soccer game against Rutgers. That game is at 5, by the way.

There will also be men's water polo against Pacific on the 13th at noon and then men's soccer against American on the 29th.

There will also be two football games in September. The opener is the 19th, at Lafayette. Kickoff for that one is 6.

If you live in Princeton, it's definitely worth the trip to Easton. It's basically an hour to the Lafayette campus, and it's a great place to see game, especially an opening game.

If you're going to be outside of Philly on the 20th, stop by Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School. That's where Princeton will play Chestnut Hill in the sprint football opener - the season-opener for the Tigers and the program opener for CHC.

This weekend figures to be a good one for field hockey on Bedford Field, with North Carolina (Friday at 4) and Virginia (Sunday at 1) come to town. The women's volleyball team is home only once in September, but it is a big one, as Penn comes to Dillon on the 25th.

The high temperature for today in Princeton will be in the low 90s. The high temperature a month from today in Princeton on average is 73.

It is very much summer today. It will be the early days of autumn a month from today, when day after day after day will have nearly perfect weather.

Before TigerBlog turns the page on August for good, he would like to talk about two page-turners he went through last month. August was a two-book month for TigerBlog.

First he read "The Boys In The Boat," the story of the 1936 Olympic champion U.S. men's eight crew. The title characters were all members of the University of Washington's national championship crew earlier that year, and several of them rowed for four years in college and never lost a race.

The book is a fascinating study of what life was like for the rowers, especially the one around whom the book is centered, a rower named Joe Rantz. They became teenagers and attended college during the Great Depression, and just piecing together enough money to attend college - and eat - was a struggle for most of them.

At the same time, the book also contrasts what the Washington rowers went through with what was going on with the rise of Nazi Germany at the same time. It ends with a great description of the gold medal race, a larger message about what it took to bring down Nazi Germany and then a rundown of what happened to each rower for the rest of their lives.

An alternate in the boat, by the way, was a man named Dutch Schoch. After graduating from Washington and attending the Olympic Games as an alternate, Schoch came to Princeton to coach, and he was the men's heavyweight coach from 1946-65. He was also the head golf coach from 1966-70.

"The Boys In The Boat" is a great story, one that almost reads like fiction, the story is so good. TB really liked this book.

He loved the other book he read. This one was called "The Founding Fish," written by John McPhee, who in addition to his writing and teaching career is also the Academic Athletic Fellow for the men's lacrosse team.

In that respect, TigerBlog might not be the most objective person to talk about McPhee's books. TB has read a number of them, and he loves all of them.

McPhee, of course, came to prominence with his New Yorker article and later book "A Sense of Where You Are," which profiled Bill Bradley. He has written nearly 30 books, all non-fiction, all fascinating.

"The Founding Fish" might be TB's favorite. The book is the story of the American shad, and the title refers to the legend that the American shad saved the young republic when the spring migration up the Schuylkill River fed George Washington's troops at Valley Forge, re-energizing the Continental Army.

The book is a bit scientific at times, but there's just something really special about the way Mr. McPhee writes that makes it more of a story than a textbook. Maybe it's because of the way TigerBlog knows him that enables him to relate to the storytelling, as he's heard them first-hand many times.

Either way, the book taught TB all kinds of things about the American shad and fishing in general. It also made him laugh out loud on many occasions.

The last chapter was the best, as Mr. McPhee raised questions about the moral implications of fishing. TigerBlog did not envision that coming as he read.

TB can't imagine how many fish John McPhee has caught in his life. TigerBlog has never caught a fish. He's been fishing, but he's never caught a fish.

After reading "The Founding Fish," he feels like he has.

Anyway, those were TB's two books for August. They're both worth your time.

And now it's September. It'll be a busy month for Princeton Athletics.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Eight Goals, Eight Players

TigerBlog turned on the TV Friday night just in time to see Rocky drink six raw eggs on one channel and Victor and Ilsa talk about how Rick said Ilsa might know something about the letters of transit on another channel.

Clearly, TigerBlog had hit the daily double here.

Rocky is of course the title character in the "Rocky" series, and this was the first one of the six. As an aside, the trailer for the seventh move in the series, entitled "Creed," looks great.

Victor, Ilsa and Rick form the greatest fictional love triangle of all time, edging out Jay, Daisy and Tom, in TigerBlog's opinion. The latter is, of course, from "The Great Gatsby," in which among Tom's other shortcomings was the fact that he played football at Yale. They were, though, "careless people, Tom and Daisy. They smashed up things and beings and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that held them together, leaving others to clean up the mess they had made."

Really, what chance did Jay Gatsby ever have?

So that leaves Rick, Ilsa and Victor. Hopefully you now that those three were the good guys in "Casablanca." If you didn't know that, go watch the movie. Now, if possible.

"Rocky" and "Casablanca" are TigerBlog's two favorite movies of all-time, just ahead of "The Godfather," "The Godfather Part II" and "Goodfellas," which sort of have a common theme between them.

And here they were, his two favorites, both on TV at the same time. They started at the same time, but as "Rocky" is 17 minutes longer than "Casablanca," TB was able to see the end of both.

Even now, after watching these two movies dozens and dozens of times each - TB wonders what the actual number is - he still gets chills when he watches them.

And when he says he gets chills, he means pretty much throughout both. There are too many great scenes and great lines in each, and he was flipping back and forth between the two, hoping not to miss his absolute favorites.

He succeeded perfectly, especially when he went back to "Rocky" just in time to hear him tell Paulie that if he can make money of his name, make it, which is followed by asking him to help him off with his gloves and then THIS.

As for "Casablanca," he saw the great scene where Rick and Victor talk about destiny and then back after the training scene in "Rocky" in time to see Rick tie up all the loose ends while starting a "beautiful friendship."

As for "Rocky," the best parts of the fight scene are when he knocks Creed down in Round 1 and when he gets up in Round 14.

Ah. Chills. Lot of chills.

TigerBlog missed the beginning of both movies because he was at the first athletic event of the 2015-16 academic year, which also happened to be opening night for women's soccer and the first game as head coach of the Tigers for Sean Driscoll.

It was the start of what turned out to be a pretty good - and fascinating - weekend for the women's soccer team.

First of all, TigerBlog had no idea what to expect from the visitors Friday night, when Howard came to Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium. Howard had won its most recent game 17-0 over first-year program Hampton.

On this night, though, it would be all Tigers. Even with a disallowed goal early in the game, Princeton still won 6-0. Next up was a trip yesterday to Fordham, where the Tigers won 2-1.

So that's two games and two wins. Not a bad way to start off a season, or a Princeton coaching career.

That's not the only interesting part, though.

Princeton has scored eight goals in two games. There are eight players who have one each.

Eight goals. Eight players.

That's extraordinary. Princeton had only seven players score at least one goal in all of 2014. Now eight have at least one.

Princeton scored 35 goals last year, and one player, Tyler Lussi, had 18 of them, or more than half.

This year, Lussi is one of the players with a goal. But there appears to be greater balance, right, at least through two games.

The game Friday night was the 27th time in program history that Princeton has scored at least six goals in a women's soccer game. TigerBlog has no way of knowing, though, if Princeton had at least six players score at least once in any of those other 26.

Of the six goals Friday night, two were extraordinary.

The second goal came off the right foot of freshman Mimi Asom and was a laser into the top corner from outside the box. The third goal was a corner kick from Vanessa Gregoire that curled in, clanked off the far post and dropped into the goal.

You can see both goals in the highlights HERE.

Princeton next plays at home against Rutgers Thursday. That game can be seen on ESPNU, by the way, with a 5:00 kickoff.

Eventually, someone will score her second goal of the year. For now, Princeton's stats look incredible.

Eight goals. Eight players.

That's a good weekend.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Question No. 4

Well, the summer is over.

It's Game Day for Princeton Athletics, Game No. 1 of the 2015-16 academic year. It comes up later today on Myslik Field on Roberts Stadium, where Sean Driscoll coaches his first game for the Princeton women's soccer team as it hosts Howard.

Princeton has some great athletic venues, and Roberts Stadium is as good as any of them. It is entering its eighth season as the home of Princeton soccer, and it seemingly gets better every year.

TigerBlog's preferred place to watch is directly behind one of the goals, though there isn't a bad seat in the facility. And, of course, admission to all regular season men's and women's games is free, so how can you beat that?

The women's soccer team will play four home games in the next two weeks and five home games before the men have their first, on Sept. 19. The game tonight starts at 7, so that will be the official end of Princeton Athletics' summer vacation.

As such, TigerBlog better hurry up and answer the last of the five questions he said he was going to answer by the end of the summer. The last one, by the way, is No. 4, as he's already answered No. 5.

As a reminder, here was the original challenge:
Now that the academic year is over, just a word to encourage more of your feature stories which include your personal memories or historical compilations. Here are some unsolicited ideas: Greatest games or events you've witnessed, with and without regard to historical context
Happiest moments you've experienced due to Princeton sports
Weirdest fluke plays
Most improbable comebacks
Most inspiring student-athletes


TigerBlog has already answered four of them. You can read them HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

So the last one is the most improbable comebacks.

TigerBlog's friend Mark Eckel used to say that soccer games should be over when the first team scores. Every game would be 1-0. What if a team scores in the first minute? Game over. Like a first-round knockout in boxing.

His logic was that the team scoring first always wins. When Princeton head men's soccer coach Jim Barlow hear of this theory, he scoffed and mentioned that his team had won its most recent game 2-1 after giving up the first goal. "Greatest comeback in soccer history," Eckel called it.

In all seriousness, TigerBlog has seen some incredible comebacks at Princeton.

The thing about a great comeback is that in the moment, it hardly seems improbably or completely out of the ordinary. The game starts out one way and then shifts radically in the other direction, and suddenly the team that was up big is completely out of sorts because what had been going so easily now isn't anymore and the team that was down big has all kinds of confidence.

It's only until after the game is over that it is apparent that one team has done something incredible, something that can't be done every game. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to come back from being down big, and TigerBlog has seen a lot of cases where a team was down big, tied it and then went back down quickly and ultimately lost fairly big. That's what usually happens.

But in the moment? It seems so plausible because it's happening, and you forget how rare these comeback are.

The best of all of them is obviously the men's basketball game against Penn at the Palestra in 1999. As you might recall, Princeton led 3-0 on a Brian Earl three-pointer and then trailed by all of these scores:
* 29-3 after a 29-0 Penn run
* 33-9 at halftime
* 40-13 with 15 minutes left.

Final score? 50-49 Princeton.

So on this list, that would be No. 1. It's going to be hard to ever bounce that one off.

There are a few other great comebacks that come to mind though.

The most woefully overlooked great Princeton comeback ever has to be the men's basketball game at Penn State two years ago. Princeton trailed by 20 with 10 minutes to go and came back and won 81-79 in OT.

Princeton still trailed by 18 with six minutes left, down 60-42, and still pulled it out. The game has little historical significance, but then again, the 1999 game doesn't really either, as Princeton ended up losing the Ivy title to Penn that year.

In football, the best comeback TigerBlog has seen was also fairly recent, back in the 2012 season.

Princeton trailed Harvard 34-10 with 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Had you stopped and asked the first random million people you found at that moment and asked if Princeton had a chance, not one would have said yes.

Harvard, after all, had the longest active winning streak in the FCS at the time and had won 14 straight by double figures. This one seemed over.

Then Princeton came back, winning 39-34 on a 36-yard TD pass from Quinn Epperly to Roman Wilson with 13 seconds left.

What stands out to TigerBlog about that? Princeton scored twice and added two two-point conversions to make it 34-26 and then scored another touchdown with 2:27 to make it 34-32. The two-point conversion this time, though, was no good.

Had that two-point conversion attempt been good, it would have been 34-34, Princeton kickoff to Harvard, 2:27 left. In that scenario, Harvard almost surely would have won.

Why? Because the Crimson would have aggressively tried to score, not passively tried to run out the clock. Instead, Harvard punted near midfield on 4th-and-inches. Princeton got the ball back - and won.

So that's football and men's basketball.

Men's hockey?

Princeton, ranked 10th at the time, trailed fifth-ranked Cornell 1-0 in the final minute at Lynah Rink in February of 2009. Then Dan Bartlett scored with 36 seconds left to tie it. Then, 18 seconds later, Taylor Fedun won it.

Yeah, it wasn't a monstrous deficit, but it might as well have been 100-0, not 1-0, with less than a minute to go in that venue.

As for men's lacrosse, there have been a few. TigerBlog will give you two, consecutive games one week apart in 1998.

Princeton had won the 1996 and 1997 NCAA championships, and now in 1998 the Tigers had a dominant senior class, led by Jesse Hubbard, Jon Hess and Chris Massey. A third straight NCAA title would stamp that group among the greatest ever to play the sport.

Playing Duke in the NCAA quarterfinals at Hofstra, Princeton trailed 8-4 in the second quarter and looked on the verge of getting blown off of Long Island.

Then Trevor Tierney came in to replace Corey Popham in goal (don't worry, the story has a happy ending for Popham) and proceeded to make six saves and allow only one goal the rest of the way. Princeton 11, Duke 9 was the final.

That moved second-seeded Princeton into the semifinals against third-seeded Syracuse at Rutgers.

Again, Princeton trailed 8-4, this time in the third quarter. It was 9-6 at the end of three. It was 10-7 less than a minute into the fourth.

And who then scored two huge fourth-quarter goals for Princeton? Seamus Grooms, who had 16 career goals prior to that quarter. Seamus Grooms, who was the fourth roommate of Hess, Hubbard and Massey. Seamus Grooms, who saved Princeton's legacy.

Grooms scored with 12:42 left, making it 10-8. Then, after Hubbard made it 10-9, it was Grooms who tied it at 10-10.

The game-winner came from Josh Sims, and Princeton had won 11-10. Two days later, the Tigers hammered Maryland 15-5 to win that third straight championship. And Popham? He was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.

So there you have it. The comebacks that TigerBlog most remembers.

He's sure he's missed a bunch.

As for women's teams, he can't think of a great one off the top of his head, so he's willing to be reminded of a few, if you have any.

And to whoever anonymously posted the comment in the first place, thanks. TigerBlog likes to take requests.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Tramps Like Us

It was 40 years ago this week that the greatest album in the history of music was released.

TigerBlog speaks of course of "Born To Run," the third album for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, after "Greetings From Asbury Park" and "The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle."

Of TigerBlog's 10 favorite songs of all-time, four can be found on the album "Born to Run." Those four would be: "Thunder Road," "Backstreets," "Jungleland" and the title track, "Born to Run."

Music today, in a word, sucks. That's a little harsh. It's more like three words - pretty much sucks.

 At least TigerBlog Jr. likes the indie rock-type stuff, like Imagine Dragons and Of Monsters and Men, which is actually pretty good stuff.

TigerBlog cringes every time Miss TigerBlog turns on her music, which is almost all awful.

According to the Billboard Top 100, the top three songs in the country right now are:
1. "Cheerleader"
2. "Can't Feel My Face"
3. "Watch Me"

Sadly, because of Miss TigerBlog, TB has heard all of them more than he would have liked, which means more than once each.

Here are some lyrics from these songs:

Do the stanky leg (stank)
Do the stanky leg (stank stank)
Do the stanky leg (stank)
Do the stanky leg (stank stank)


and:

I can't feel my face when I'm with you
But I love it, but I love it, oh


and the even more cringe-worthy:

I think that I've found myself a cheerleader
She is always right there when I need her


Then there's this:

Remember all the movies, Terry
We'd go see
Trying to learn to walk like the heroes
We thought we had to be
Well after all this time
To find we're just like all the rest
Stranded in the park
And forced to confess
To hiding on the backstreets

and:

Outside the street's on fire
In a real death waltz
Between what's flesh and what's fantasy
And the poets down here
Don't write nothing at all
They just stand back and let it all be
And in the quick of the night
They reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand
But they wind up wounded
Not even dead
Tonight in Jungleland

and:

The screen door slams
Mary's dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that's me and I want you only
Don't turn me home again
I just can't face myself alone again

and of course:

The highway's jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive
Everybody's out on the run tonight
but there's no place left to hide
Together Wendy we can live with the sadness
I'll love you with all the madness in my soul
Oh-oh, someday girl I don't know when
we're gonna get to that place
Where we really wanna go
and we'll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us
baby we were born to run

Ah, TigerBlog weeps for the youth today, the ones who didn't grow up in the 1970s, who didn't go to the record store and buy these things called "albums," especially the one called "Born To Run." TigerBlog grew up not far from where Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt did, and he took his SATs at the high school Springsteen attended.

It was impossible to grow up in TB's town without being a Springsteen fan back then, but really, it didn't really matter where you lived back then. There was nobody like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, especially, especially in concert.

The  "Born To Run" album was released on Aug. 25, 1975, so technically that would be 40 years and two days ago. It's the best album that's every been, and it's the best album that ever will be. With the stuff coming out today, the Boss has very little to worry about.

The balcony yesterday afternoon was filled with young men, large young men for the most part, who fumbled to put on shirts and ties and jackets and get their pictures taken. They were Princeton football freshmen, along with a handful of older players who wanted to get a new picture taken.

They were all born 20 years after "Born to Run" came out and, as they are the same age as TigerBlog Jr., they have lived lives deprived of quality musical selections.

They can't worry about that now. Not with today the first day of Princeton football practice.

Princeton, as it does every year, starts football practice late. Basically every other football-playing entity has already started, from Pop Warner through high school to the pros.

Now that it's here, it's a big grind.

It's three weeks of preseason, followed by 10 straight Saturdays of games.

TigerBlog has written almost since the beginning of TigerBlog that he would make some changes. At first, he was okay with the longtime Ivy rule of not going to the NCAA football playoffs, but he's changed his mind on that one.

Before he would do that, though, he'd start the preseason a week earlier (yes, there are costs involved) and then have each team in the league be off after Week 5.

This makes sense on every level, except the cost. First, the season would start a week earlier, so it wouldn't seem as late as it is. Second, that week is the perfect time for a break. Each team will have played two league games and all three of its non-league games and will have five league games left.

Then there's the idea that the 10 games, 10 weeks haul is rough on the body and mind. A week off in the middle is the perfect rest for both.

TigerBlog was in the weight room yesterday with assistant coach Andrew Aurich. Shortly after that would be the first team meeting - after the head shots.

TigerBlog is fascinated each November by the last practice of the year. It seems like the time just flies by, and it many ways it does.

But it is a 13-week - that's one quarter of the year - process, with a lot of practice and repetition for only 10 games. By the time the last practice rolls around, it's cold, it's dark, it's nearly Thanksgiving.

Yesterday in the weight room, TB was thinking about the first practice, to be held on a 90-degree summer day, before Labor Day. What do they think before it starts? What do they think in November, at the end?

Anyway, it's starting today. Opening day is Sept. 19 at Lafayette. The home opener is Sept. 26 against Lehigh. The Ivy opener is against the Al Bagnoli-led Columbia Lions a week later.

Tramps like us? Baby we were born to run.

And, hopefully, to stop the run. And born to throw. That too. With multiple quarterbacks.

Princeton football 2015. It's starting today.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Getting Ready

TigerBlog doesn't quite remember exactly what he did in his last few days before he left for college.

He's pretty sure he didn't do what he and TigerBlog Jr. were doing yesterday afternoon, when they were reviewing how to use StatCrew, something that TBJ hopes to be doing when he arrives at Sacred Heart University in a a few days.

StatCrew is the program that basically every college uses to do in-game stats. Being able to do StatCrew, something TBJ has done for years, is a fairly valuable skill for a college student, who can make himself a pretty valuable part of the school's athletic communiations office.

Back in 2010, TigerBlog wrote this:
Back when TigerBlog first covering Princeton in his newspaper days, the shift to computerizing stats was just happening, though not yet for in-game. Instead, then - and through TB's first year or two here in the OAC - stats at all games were still done by hand, with a group of four or five or so people armed with papers, charts, pencils, a typewriter (to type the play-by-play) and blank box scores to fill in. It would take at least 30 minutes after a game to have a finished box.

And this:
All of the programs work in the same manner. Games are set up with the opponents and their rosters, and then all statistical entering is done by uniform numbers, not by names. The programs are designed to anticipate everything that can happen off of a given situation, so if you enter, say, a shot in soccer, the program knows that the next thing for that shot has to be that it was a goal, was a save, went wide, hit the post, was blocked, etc. 

Anyway, as anyone in athletic communications knows, having a student who can do StatCrew is an awesome luxury. Princeton has been lucky in the last few years, with rowers Dave Mackasey and Pat Eble on the keyboard - both of whom could churn out game after game across basically any sport, all without ever changing their expression and in most instances, not even looking up from their sandwich.

And now the Princeton OAC has Anna Broome, who will be a sophomore this year. Anna went from watching a game to inputting a game in StatCrew in less than one period of a hockey game, which is pretty impressive.

TigerBlog's hope is that TBJ makes that kind of impact at Sacred Heart. And not just for the money.

TBJ has a few days left until he packs up and ship off to Connecticut. TigerBlog is laughing at the difference between what he took to Penn way back when and what TBJ is currently packing up in the living room.

TBJ, for instance, has a brand-new laptop. TigerBlog? He had a brand-new electric typewriter. In fact, back then, TB thought he was completely cutting edge, with his built-in correct-tape.

TigerBlog actually had this conversation, word-for-word, with his son about it:

TB: Do you know what a correct-tape was?
TBJ: You mean like Scotch tape?
TB: No.
TBJ: I'll Google it.
TB: Correct-tape was the tape you needed for a typewriter. If you had a typo, you would hit the back button and then hold down the key for the correct-tape. Then you'd type the incorrect letter again, and it would erase that letter. Then you'd have to type the correct key. Then you'd have to do this for every mistake you made.
TBJ: What are you, 100 years old?

What else will TBJ be taking? Oh yeah. To listen to music, he'll be bringing his phone. To listen to music, TigerBlog brought a large turntable with even larger speakers.

TBJ's dorm room is equipped with a microwave oven and a refrigerator. TigerBlog had a toaster oven and had to carry a tiny refrigerator with him.

TBJ is one of the last of his friends to go, even though it's still August. His friend Matthew left last week and started classes this week, and his first class was Introduction to Computers, which is what he intends to major in. Or intended to major in. After his first class, he texted his dad and said "I want to change my major."

This is not without precedent. TigerBlog's first class was a political science class, held in the University Museum across Spruce Street from Franklin Field. That was his intended major when he first started out. Then he changed to history.

TigerBlog didn't go to college until early September. Princeton doesn't start until mid-September, though it does have the Outdoor Action for incoming freshmen.

TigerBlog was the only person in his high school class who went to Penn. He didn't meet the people who would be his best friends until his junior year - though he met all of them within the same five-minute span on move-in day that year.

TBJ will benefit from being on the lacrosse team, which will give him an immediate sense of belonging and comaraderie.

There is a lot of time spent at Princeton talking about the value of college athletics, and all of it is true. College athletics teach all kinds of great lessons, things that TB has written about over and over - things like the educational value of athletics, like the ability to develop good time management skills, like the need to put the team ahead of the individual.

The one thing that often gets overlooked is the value of being part of a team in the first place. From the time they walk on campus, Princeton's athletes - and Sacred Heart's and everyone else's - are immediately part of something. They have an instant group of friends. They have an instant base.

For now, the incoming freshmen at Princeton - other than the fall athletes - still have some time to go before they come to New Jersey. They can spend it packing, buying what they need, figuring out what to leave home.

And, hopefully, at least one of them is brushing up on StatCrew.

You can never have enough of them.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

17-0, And Donn Cabral

It's game week for Princeton Athletics.

The first athletic event of the 2015-16 season is this Friday night, when the women's soccer team hosts Howard on Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium. It'll be the first game as women's soccer coach at Princeton for Sean Driscoll.

Howard has already played two games this season, having opened this past weekend, as did most of Division I women's soccer. The quick version is that Howard split its two games, losing to Radford and defeating Hampton.

Or TigerBlog could give you a little more detail if you like.

Howard's loss to Radnor was 4-2. Howard's win over Hampton was 17-0.

Like you, TigerBlog thought the score was a misprint when he saw it. But no. The final was 17-0. That is, by the way, one off the NCAA record for goals in a game, something that has been done four times.

Hampton is a first-year program, one that has now lost 16-1 (to Canisius) and 17-0. Hampton has been outshot 114-2 in the two games.

TigerBlog doesn't really know what to say, other than to wish the Pirates good luck as they get their program off the ground. Hampton's first-year schedule includes a trip to play at Yale and Dartmouth, by the way.

Hampton added two sports for this academic year. The other one is men's lacrosse. Hampton is one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which means that adding women's soccer and especially men's lacrosse gives the school a pioneering role in the world of intercollegiate athletics.

As for Howard, the team that Princeton will face, the Bison were 13-9-1 overall and 9-1 in the SWAC a year ago. They then won the SWAC tournament but could not get the league's automatic bid, as it was the team's first year in the SWAC, since the MEAC - Howard's normal home - does not have women's soccer.

This year, TigerBlog believes, Howard would be good to go, as it were, if it could win the SWAC tournament. In the meantime, the Princeton-Howard game will be the first of the 2015-16 academic year.

By the time the NCAA track and field championships roll around in June to end the year, Princeton will have played more than 600 games and competed in a bunch of other multi-team competitions, bringing the total number of events to more than 700.

The 2016 NCAA track and field championships will precede by two months the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, which will be held in Rio August 5-21. In other words, a year from today, they'll be over.

Princeton fans are of course rooting for Donn Cabral to be on the U.S. team in Rio for the Games. Cabral competed in the 2012 Olympics in London and, yesterday, ran in the final of the 3,000 meter steeplechase at the World Championships in China. Presumably the majority of China was more preoccupied with its economy yesterday, but that's another story.

As for Cabral, he ran an 8:35.44 to win the steeplechase at the 2012 NCAA championships (by five seconds, by the way). He then finished eighth at the London Olympics in 8:25.91.

He ran an 8:13.37 to finish second at the U.S. outdoor championships in June, running a time that would have been the meet record had Evan Jager not run an 8:12.29.

Yesterday in Beijing, Cabral's time was 8:24.94, earning him 10th in the race. The top four spots all went to Kenyans.

TigerBlog would definitely be as a better consultant to the new Hampton men's lacrosse program than he would be as an analyst of steeplechase times. As such, he asked head men's track and field coach Fred Samara and director of track operations Mike Henderson why Cabral's times could vary so wildly from June to August, or from the 2012 NCAA championships to the Olympics.

The answer turned out to be pace. It's all about the pace that gets set in any given race.

So TigerBlog learned something new.

As TigerBlog said earlier and wrote yesterday, he's a huge fan of Cabral, one of the most likeable and easy-to-root-for Princeton Athletes TB has seen in nearly 30 years here. He'll definitely be rooting for him to get back to the Olympics and to reach the finals again. And improve on the eighth place finish in 2012 and 10th place finish this year.

He's not sure if Cabral, who is 26, would have another Olympic cycle in him. Maybe he would. TB doesn't know if 30 is old for the steeplechase.

In the meantime, there's the start of a new athletic year a few days away.

TB's prediction is that Howard doesn't match its goal total from its previous game. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Question No. 5

Spencer Stone. Anthony Sadler. Alex Skarlatos.

Do you know those names? If not, read them. Remember them.

They're heroes. Real live, real life heroes.

They're the three Americans - two servicemen and one student at Sacramento State, childhood friends all three - who got on a train in Amsterdam to go to Paris as anonymous tourists and got off as international heroes.

In a world that seems to embrace celebrity for the sake of celebrity, which values achieving notoriety regardless of what it takes to do so, these three are now known throughout the country and world for every possible right reason.

As a crazed person with an AK-47 came out of a restroom intent on killing as many innocent people as possible, these three ran towards the man with the gun and neutralized the situation without any loss of life, and only three injuries - one of which was to Stone.

Even after the gunman was neutralized, Stone - himself cut with a box cutter - went to perform first aid on one of the others who was injured.

Think about what might have happened if these three had cowered under their seats? The story would have been about fatalities, lots and lots of them.

What would TigerBlog have done in the same situation? He has no way of knowing for sure, but he has a hunch.

He does know that he hopes to never find out. He does know that people like Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos inspire awe in TB for their courage and their willingness to put themselves in danger to help strangers.

They are real heroes, in a world that desperately needs them.

They're real inspirations.

TigerBlog has spent some time this summer answering a series of questions that were asked - anonymously - by someone. The questions were from a comment left under a previous story.

Here is the comment:
Now that the academic year is over, just a word to encourage more of your feature stories which include your personal memories or historical compilations. Here are some unsolicited ideas: Greatest games or events you've witnessed, with and without regard to historical context
Happiest moments you've experienced due to Princeton sports
Weirdest fluke plays
Most improbable comebacks
Most inspiring student-athletes


TigerBlog has already answered the first three. You can read them HERE, HERE and HERE.

TigerBlog is skipping over No. 4 for right now and going to No. 5. Who are the most inspiring student-athletes he's seen at Princeton?

He'll get to No. 4 soon.

Let TigerBlog start out by saying that he's not equating disarming a crazed terrorist on a train with competing in sports at Princeton University. He's just talking about inspiration today.

And the answer to the question? Well, it's a bit of a wimpy one, but it's true:

There are too many of them to name.

It's the reason anyone works at a place like Princeton. It's to be around young men and women of the caliber of the ones who compete as Princeton Tigers.

They are, obviously, great players. They are, obviously, great students. They also are out in the community, working with kids and adults, those who are homeless, needy and less fortunate.

There have been so many times in his nearly 30 years around these athletes that TigerBlog has shaken his head and thought to himself "where do these people come from? How did they get like this?"

Yes, for some of them, it all comes easily. They were just born with some sort of mechanism that makes them exceptional athletically and academically. TigerBlog has encountered very few, though, who took it all for granted and were cavalier about it.

You want a few names of those who have really made TB think "who are these people?"

How about Justin Tortolani, Class of 1992? He's one of the best lacrosse players in Princeton history and was one of the keystones of a dynasty that won six NCAA titles in 10 years, the first of which came his senior year, four years after Princeton was 2-13.

Today he's Dr. Justin Tortolani, a pediatric surgeon in Baltimore who in addition to his regular work has done countless hours of free medical care in the city.

How about Donn Cabral, an NCAA champion in the steeplechase who has now been a finalist at both the Olympics (eighth in 2012) and now the World Championships (he runs tonight in Beijing in the final)? You want humble? Talk to Donn Cabral for a few minutes, and you'll figure it out.

How about the late Dick Kazmaier, a man who won the Heisman Trophy and who, in all the years TigerBlog spoke to him, never once talked about "I," only "we?"

How about John Thompson and Jason Garrett, two of the most successful coaches in their respective sports, and yet two men who dropped everything to be at Conte's one night because they were needed their to try to help a young man who has been devastated by an awful disease? Thompson and Garrett, by the way, have foundations that spend a lot of money and offer a lot of time to touch an awful lot of unfortunate people.

How about women's basketball players like Michelle Miller and Alex Wheatley, who have so many academic and service honors that TigerBlog has lost track and yet still combined that with the drive on the court to help their team go 30-0 in the regular season a year ago?

How about Julia Ratcliffe, who is an NCAA champion and NCAA runner-up in the hammer throw and also the winner of the national scholar-athlete award for track and field as well?

Maybe most of all, there was Bob Callahan,  Princeton's longtime men's squash coach, who passed away nearly a year ago from a brain tumor at just 59 years of age? Nobody, anywhere, has ever fought a terminal disease with greater grace than Bob did.

To be honest, TigerBlog could go on forever naming current and former Princeton athletes whose accomplishments are jaw-dropping. Hey, there are all of the alums who have come back to coach at Princeton through the years. Or are in the military. Or have joined Teach for America or the Peace Corps or any number of other noble endeavors.

If you're looking for a place filled with inspirational people, Princeton Athletics is a good place to start.