Friday, October 15, 2021

Another Friday, Another Big Weekend Ahead

There was a Princeton Department of Athletics monthly staff meeting yesterday. 

Maddy Plank and Charlie Bagin were part of the agenda. The two Princeton basketball players gave a recap of their cross country bicycle trip from this past summer, a trip that TigerBlog kept you updated on a few times as it was happening.

TB has never met either one of them. He didn't get the chance to do so yesterday either, since they both had to leave before the end of the meeting to get a class. 

As a result, TB emailed them to say that he enjoyed their presentation and that he's still looking forward to saying hi. And that he's extremely jealous of their trip. What they did was extraordinary, and perhaps only the kind of thing you can do when you're in college. 

Could TB ever do something like that at this stage of his riding life. Perhaps he will try it at some point. He can guarantee you that it won't be starting this weekend.

There are too many good Princeton athletic events on the calendar for that. While it's not quite crossover season yet (though it is looming), it is a busy few days for the fall Tigers, with some great events on campus and on the road.

The field hockey team has two home games this weekend, this afternoon at 4 against Cornell on ESPNU and then Sunday at noon against Penn State. Here are some things to know about the weekend in field hockey: 1) Princeton and Harvard are the only Ivy unbeatens, and they meet next week in Cambridge, 2) Cornell and Brown are both 2-1 and either would win the league's automatic bid by winning out, which makes today's game huge, 3) Penn State is currently ranked fifth in the country (the Tigers are 16th this week) and 4) Beth Yeager needs one goal to break the school record for goals by a freshman (she's currently tied with Michelle Cesan and Amy MacFarlane with 14).

So that's the field hockey weekend. It can be summed up this way: The game next week in Cambridge is huge, but it's not time to be looking to that quite yet, not with the challenges on Bedford Field this weekend.

There's a soccer doubleheader tomorrow against Columbia. It starts at 4 with the men's game, and then it concludes at 7 with the women.

If you look at the Ivy League women's standings, you'll see Princeton is 2-1-0, behind 3-0-0 Brown and Harvard. There's still a very, very long way to go, but every game is huge now, not just for the league but also for a possible at-large bid. Columbia comes into the game 1-2 in the league and 7-4-1 overall.

On the men's side, Princeton and Cornell are the only unbeaten, untied teams in the league, after just two league games for each. That tells you something about the depth and balance of the Ivy League. 

After just two games, in fact, five teams have at least one league loss. Yale is 1-0-1. Columbia, this week's opponent, is 0-1-1 in the league and 1-6-3 overall.

There is also home women's volleyball, tonight (Yale) and tomorrow (Brown) as the double round-robin reaches the midway point. Princeton and Yale have been the top teams in the league the last few years, and the Tigers are 5-0 in the league to date. Yale, though, is 3-2, and it is Brown who suddenly is 5-0. You have to go back to 2001 for Brown's last Ivy title, so you know this is a big trip for the Bears.

Princeton's football team will be in Providence Saturday to take on Brown. The Tigers, 4-0 and ranked in every FCS poll now, have six Ivy games in six weeks beginning tomorrow, with kickoff at 12:30.

Princeton is looking to join Harvard and Dartmouth at 2-0 in the league. There are two Ivy games tomorrow (Princeton-Brown and Penn-Columbia).

Brown, led by former Princeton offensive coordinator James Perry, is 1-3 on the season, but the Bears did smash Colgate 31-10 last weekend to get in the win column. Any conversation about Brown begins with E.J. Perry, who leads the Ivy League in every passing category: attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions. Perry and Princeton's Cole Smith are 1-2 in the league in total offense.

There is also home cross country and women's tennis and even a home women's hockey exhibition game this weekend.  The complete schedule is HERE.


Thursday, October 14, 2021

Goodbye, Digger

TigerBlog was going backward.

Literally, as in scrolling back through years and years of old text messages. His mind was going backwards too, back to a few weeks ago, which in turn took him back 30 years before that. 

He smiled a bit while he did all this. It didn't last, though. The only thing that lasted was the hurt and the sadness, which came from the reality of the day, which simply hovered over everything else in a way that TB couldn't escape, despite his best efforts.

There was only one reality. You can't go back. 

Maybe your mind can. Maybe your memories can flood back. The clock, though, the clock is always ticking. Sometimes – sadly, horribly, tragically – the clock runs out.

Steve DiGregorio passed away Tuesday night at the young age of 60. He fought his hardest against the cancer that had attacked him, held on as long as he could. 

He was one of the best friends TigerBlog will ever have. He was one of the best people TigerBlog will ever meet. He had one of the biggest hearts TigerBlog has ever seen. He was one of the most loyal people he's ever come across.

He was someone whom TB looked at more than once and thought "if you could be more like he is, you'd be a better person."

Digger, as he was known to everyone, spent 13 years with the Princeton football team as an assistant coach, leaving after the 1999 season. He became a high school coach and teacher in New Jersey, and as recently as one year ago, he was the New Jersey high school coach of the year after leading Nutley High to a perfect season.

There was a lot of sadness yesterday. There were tears from every Princeton football player and Nutley football player that Digger ever coached, wherever they were when the found out the news, however long its been since they last saw him.

Digger beat the cancer once, and in fact he was working in a non-coaching capacity with the Princeton football team as training camp this summer was beginning. Then it all turned, quickly, shockingly, tragically.

There aren't too many families out there quite like the DiGregorio family. There aren't too many people tougher than Nadia DiGregorio, Digger's wife of 30 years. If there is someone tougher, it might be Derek DiGregorio, their middle child, who has faced head on a rare disease called Ataxia-Telangcietasia, something nobody had ever heard of when the diagnosis first came around all those years ago. 

Together, the DiGregorios attacked, forming a foundation called "Derek's Dreams" and raising money and awareness for research and a cure. The family, including Derek's brothers Zack and Aaron, reached out to the people they knew for help, and everyone they knew dove in to do whatever it was they could.

That's how much the DiGregorios are loved. 

TigerBlog met Digger when he was still in the newspaper business. They became really close once TB started working in Jadwin, and he would often head down the hall to Digger's office for breaks here and there. They would talk about anything and everything - Princeton football, history, raising kids who were very little at the time and their mutual love of the 1970s TV show "The Odd Couple."

Yesterday, as TB was trying to process what happened, he scrolled back through all of his old text messages from Digger. Each year on Nov. 13, Digger texted TB the YouTube clip of the opening credits of "The Odd Couple," which includes "On Nov. 13, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence."

The text messages brought back a lot of laughs with Digger. And that's what Digger loved to do. Laugh. He had a deep, husky, staccato voice with an accompanying laugh, and there was no way to be in his presence for long before you heard it. His humor was dry and sarcastic, and he loved to make fun of people and be made fun of himself. 

Going back through those messages was nice. It's just that, as TB said before, it didn't change the reality of the situation.

It was early September when it all started to become clear that this was not going to go well for Digger. Soon he was in hospice care, first in the hospital and then at home. That the end was coming didn't make it any easier when it finally rolled around. 

TB went to see him several times in the last few weeks of his life. One of those times, while he was still in the hospital, it was just two of them for a few minutes. Digger asked TB if he knew what the prognosis was, and TB nodded slowly. Then Digger asked if TB would do him a favor. 

"Of course," TB said. What was the favor? "Would you write my obituary?"

And so TB did. it wasn't easy. It's not something that he wanted to do. It was chilling, actually. It was horrible. It made TB cry. But it was important to Digger, so it was something TB wanted to do perfectly for him.

The last time he'd see Digger was two Sundays ago. He went over to the DiGregorio's house, where Digger was set up in a hospital bed downstairs. The TV was on, showing the Giants-Saints game. Nadia was there. So were the three boys. A few other friends came in and out. Hank Towns, the former Princeton equipment manager, was there.

As they sat there, it was, again, like old times. Aaron got up and left the room, and immediately everyone else started ragging on him. Derek gave TB a hard time for eating more than one of the soft pretzels. Everyone told funny stories, and everyone laughed. That's what there was more than anything else. Laughter.

It's how it should have been, even in the final days of Digger's life. Or maybe especially in those days. 

Digger could still laugh. He was still into the football game. He was, if it's possible to say this, happy.

TB, from his seat, could look out the window at the sunshine. He remembers clearly thinking one thing: It's too bad this day has to end. 

The clock, though, kept ticking.

Eventually TB got up to leave that day. He walked around the side of the bed, and put his hand on Digger's. He bent over to say goodbye, still hoping he'd get to see him again. Maybe Digger knew that wasn't going to happen. 

As TB said goodbye, Digger whispered – he could only whisper by then – what as it turned out would be the last thing he'd ever say to TigerBlog. After 30-plus years of friendship, 30-plus years of being invested in each other's lives, of being there for each other, of sharing lines from an old TV show that would crack them up, after so many nights of watching Princeton basketball in Jadwin Gym, after all the bike rides to raise money for the fight against A-T, for all of that, this is the last thing Digger ever said to TB:

"I love you brother."

TB will never forget that. He'll never forget Steve DiGregorio. And he'll never forget what his response to his friend was:

"I love you too."

They both meant it. 

Rest in peace, Steve DiGregorio. It was an honor to be your friend. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Tee Shot

TigerBlog Jr. spent six years or so as a Princeton basketball ballboy back when he was a kid.

At the time, he was also learning to play the saxophone, and at some point he set as his goal to play the national anthem on his saxophone before a Princeton game. As such, he began to practice the song, to the point where when he was 11, he felt he was ready.

Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn't. Half the time he'd try to play it, he'd do it well. The other half? It wasn't always smooth.

Still, he was determined, and so it was on the night of the men's home game against Cornell on Feb. 6, 2009, that TBJ stood out at center court, all by himself with his sax, and began to play.

TigerBlog was on the radio that night. He stood courtside and watched, helpless really to do anything about it if it started to go off the rails. 

As it turned out, it never did. TBJ sailed through the song without missing a note. It was impressive, for the way he played and also for the way he risked failing.

And so when it TB was offered the chance to do something similar, he didn't turn it down, even with the possibility of failing in a major way. And so too it's why TB was drawing inspiration from his son as he stepped into the moment.

It all started when Ed Calkins, a member of the 1992 men's lacrosse NCAA championship team, sent TB a text. The Friends of Lacrosse golf outing was coming up. Did TB want to hit the ceremonial first tee shot?

This would be like throwing out the first pitch. It's a real honor, and yet it's frightening, in that a lot could go wrong, with no place to hide from it.

TB briefly thought about declining the opportunity. Then he thought back to his son and the anthem. Just do your best, he told him that night. He would have to take his own advice. 

Keep in mind, TB isn't very good at golf. He'd last played in the last Friends of Lacrosse outing, which was in 2019. The time he played before that was the one before that. The time before that? It was before TBJ ever picked up a sax.

Just hitting off a tee at a driving range is an iffy thing. Now factor in that there would be nearly 100 people watching him hit this first drive? Yikes.

Plus TB doesn't even own golf clubs, or golf shoes, or a golf glove. In fact, he had to borrow clubs from one of TBJ's best buddies, Matthew, who was a ballboy with TBJ all those years ago. 

TigerBlog actually remembers driving them to the game the night TBJ was going to play the anthem. What did Matthew say to him? "Ten bucks says you mess it up."

Armed with Matthew's clubs, TB arrived at Springdale early to get in some practice shots. If there is a club that he's consistent with, it's a five-iron, but there were two problems with that: 1) he couldn't really hit a ceremonial tee shot with an iron and 2) Matthew doesn't have one in his bag. He did have a six-iron, but TB instead decided on the five-wood.

He then hit around 100 practice shots. About half of them were good. When he tried to figure out what he was doing right on those shots and do it again, he'd dribble it off the tee or have it never get more than a foot off the ground or hit it really far to the left or right.

"Ten minutes," Ed told him at one point. Was there a way to back out now? Nope.

Eventually, it was time. Ed brought the whole group together and asked TB to come forward. TB then basically said that he thought about saying no but that he decided to do it, knowing that he was going to be doing this in front of the group of people in his life who would more than any other never let him forget it if he messed it up.

He walked up to the first tee. He turned back to see the army following him. Now it was time. 

"What's the worst that can happen?" he said. "We're about to find out," someone behind him called.

Then it was time. He took the five-wood, drew it back, swung, kept his head down and hoped for the best.

Crack. It made that perfect sound golf balls make when you hit them just right. He looked up to see the ball rising majestically and making its way high, straight and far down the fairway.

At first, he was a bit startled. Then relieved. There was applause. There were congratulations. 

And for TB, there was a sense of satisfaction, not at how well he'd hit it but that he'd done it in the first place. 

When he was leaving at the end of the day, the last person he saw was Jon Hess, one of the keystones of the 1996-98 NCAA champions. "Nice shot," Jon said.

"Thanks," TB said. "I'll be living off this forever."

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Good Choice

TigerBlog saw Tom Brady's stats from Sunday's 45-17 Tampa Bay win over Miami, and they looked eerily familiar.

Brady was 30 for 41 for 411 yards on the day. When TB first saw them, he was 30 for 41 for 412 yards, but one yard was taken away for some reason.

If you recall, those are pretty much Cole Smith's numbers from Princeton's opener against Lehigh. To be exact, Smith was also 30 for 41, and he threw for 412 yards, the original number TB saw for Brady. 

In other interesting statistical news, Brady is 44 and Smith is 22. The math there is easy. Whether you like Brady or not, it is unbelievable that someone his age can be doing the things he's doing in the NFL. 

Meanwhile, since the conversation is about Princeton football and the NFL, TB will combine the two subjects. It was great to see Caraun Reid back in the NFL Sunday, now with the Tennessee Titans. 

Reid is a defensive lineman with two career NFL touchdowns. That total has now been matched by Jesper Horsted, another Princeton football alum. 

Horsted caught a touchdown pass in the Chicago Bears' 20-9 win over Las Vegas Sunday. Horsted, if you recall, caught three in the Bears' final preseason game. 

The TD catch against the Raiders was his second in the regular season, after he pulled one in on Thanksgiving Day 2019. The catch Horsted made Sunday makes him an important historical note as well, since he was on the receiving end of Justin Fields' first NFL regular season TD pass.

The current Tigers played a very entertaining game this past Saturday, defeating Monmouth 31-28. Princeton trailed 21-6 at one point and led 28-21 at another. The game was won with 10 seconds left on Jeffrey Sexton's 35-yard field goal into the wind that blew off the Atlantic Ocean, which is about a half-mile or so from the field.

Sexton, by the way, had another field goal of 46 yards to end the first half and was 3 for 3 on extra points. His performance earned him Ivy League Special Teams and Rookie of the Week honors. 

And with that, TB can get into what he really wants to talk about today. Bob Surace's, um, well, insert whatever word you want to use.

Surace was faced with this situation Saturday: Fourth-and-1, his own 34, two minutes to play, 28-28. What would you do? What did Surace do? He went for it, of course.

If you look at it solely in terms of putting yourself in the best position to win the game, there's only one choice there. Go for it, just like he did.
 

If you don't get it, you can still get a stop, use your timeouts, force the field goal attempt and even if it's good have time to get the ball back. If you punt it, you're giving Monmouth the chance to drive a bit and take it all the way down before kicking the field goal - with the ocean breeze at its back.

The statement that Surace made was that he trusted everyone on his offense and defense. He's saying to Collin Eaddy - "we need a yard; get it for us." He's saying to his offensive line - "he needs yard; make sure you give him the chance." He's saying to his defense - "if this doesn't work, you'll get us the ball back."

The issue isn't whether you should go for it or not. The issue is whether coaches have the courage to do it. TB has no doubt that the smart play is to go for it there. He also has no doubt that very, very few other coaches would have had the courage to do so.

Why? Play it out. If Eaddy had been stopped, then Monmouth gets the ball back with a chance to win it. If the Hawks did so, then Surace gets the blame for his decision. If he punts and Monmouth drives and wins it, then he doesn't get the blame.

He doesn't get the blame, but he also doesn't get the win. It certainly had risk involved. If Eaddy had been stopped, then Monmouth had a great chance to win it.

TB saw Surace after the game, and they both shrugged their shoulders as if to say "duh, of course you go for it there."

Eaddy got the first down. Nine plays later, Sexton gave Princeton the win.

There's a time to punt. There's a time to be bold. That was a time to be bold.

Not every coach gets that. 

 


Monday, October 11, 2021

Glory Days

TigerBlog walked into the Princeton football locker room, or more accurately team area, after Saturday's very entertaining 31-28 win over Monmouth and was greeted by very loud music.

The song? "Glory Days." Was the playing of Bruce Springsteen at a stadium that's about five miles from the Stone Pony in Asbury Park some sort of statement about New Jersey? Or was it coincidence?

Either way, the Princeton-Monmouth football game was a great one, and something that is great for the state of New Jersey. Neither the Tigers nor Hawks have another in-state opponent on the schedule, and given that they both came into the game ranked in the FCS, yes, this was a great New Jersey event.

The teams were separated by one spot in the FCS poll, with Princeton at No. 24 and Monmouth at No. 25. On the field, they weren't separated by very much at all. In the end, the game-winner came with 10 seconds to go on a 35-yard field goal by freshman Jeffrey Sexton, or else it would have been overtime between the two.

Sexton's kick came into a fierce wind. TB checked his phone just as the Tigers were lining up, and it said that it was 21 miles per hour. It seemed like more.

The game seemed lost and then won and then who knows what after a crazy second half. Whoever was going to win was going to have come from behind in the second half, and as it turned out, that would be Princeton.

This game had everything. Big plays. Bad plays. Huge momentum shifts. Very brave play calls. Redemption. What it didn't have was anything at stake for either team as far as conference play went, but hey, this was still a great game to watch. 

The Tigers trailed 14-3 when Sexton drilled a 46-yarder with the wind at his back on the final play of the first half to make it 14-6 at the break. With Monmouth set to get the ball to start the third quarter, it seemed pretty obvious where this was going. Get a stop, and the momentum was Princeton's. Let Monmouth score, and coming back might be tough.

So what happened? Monmouth took the ball and went on a 16-play march that took half the third quarter and ended up with a touchdown. Just like that, it was 21-6, and Princeton seemed to be in trouble. From there, though, the defense allowed Monmouth just 56 more yards, 28 of which came on the last play of the day, a seven-lateral attempt to pull a miracle. Monmouth would have three possessions between that 16-play march and the time Sexton's field goal was good, and those three drives combined featured 15 plays for 28 yards.

In the meantime, Princeton punted on the next possession after that third quarter touchdown. The next three drives went like this: TD, TD, TD, with 176 yards of offense mixed in. It took 11 minutes of game time, but suddenly it was 28-21 Princeton.

Those three touchdowns all came from Collin Eaddy, who is basically a touchdown machine near the goal line the way John Lovett was. Eaddy now has 24 career rushing touchdowns, tied for seventh all-time at Princeton.

Those touchdown drives featured the remarkable skillsets of Princeton's top three wide receivers, all of whom were extraordinary on the day. From the game story:

There was Dylan Classi. First he caught a two-point conversion to make it 21-14 in the third quarter. Then he accounted for 51 of the 67 yards on the next drive, with a 17-yard completion to Birmelin to get things started and then catches of nine and then 25 more to the Hawk one to set up Eaddy again, tying it at 21-21. Classi finished with five catches for 64 yards, the last of which was an 18-yard grab on a fourth-and-six that set up the Tigers at the Monmouth 21 in the final minute.
 
There was Andrei Iosivas, who caught four passes for 76 yards, including a 30-yard acrobatic reception near the sideline that set Princeton up for first-and-goal at the six before Eaddy's third touchdown and an earlier 38-yard catch and run that at first was called a TD before review placed it at the one, where Eaddy punched it in, prior to Classi's two-point catch that made it 21-4.
 
And there was Jacob Birmelin, who caught nine for 109 yards, including a 22-yard catch on the game-winning drive. It was his third 100-yard receiving day of his career.

All three were amazing. 

Princeton's defense forced a punt on the drive after the Tigers took the lead. Here's where the redemption part comes in. Cole Smith, while trying to run out the clock, instead threw an interception that Monmouth returned for a touchdown to tie it with 2:53 left. Instead of kneeldowns after one more first down, now Smith had to dust himself off and get right back to it. 

And that's exactly what he did. He calmly led the Tigers down the field, completing 4 of 7 for 48 yards to get the Tigers into Sexton's range. He also converted two fourth downs, including one that not too many coaches would have dared to try. 

TB will get back to this later in the week. For now, just think about the situation. Tie game. Fourth and 1. Your own 34. Two minutes to go. You going for it? 

Bob Surace did. And he was rewarded. 

As for Smith, he earlier in the half had taken a bad sack when the Tigers were in field goal range instead of throwing the ball away. Of course that was on one of the TD drives, and Smith bailed the Tigers out on that one by converting a third-and-22 on that amazing catch by Iosivas.

This time, it was on a third-and-10 at the Monmouth 21. A sack would have been disastrous, and Smith seemed to show the moment he realized that, putting his head down and picking up three yards up the middle. The next play was the game-winner.

What did the game mean? Nothing in terms of the league, which now has a gauntlet of six games in six weeks, beginning Saturday at Brown.

In terms of being a bit more ready for that stretch? It meant a lot. Once again, just like it did last week against Columbia, Princeton was at its very best when the game was the tightest.

That's a trait that teams that want to play for championships need to have.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Heading To Monmouth

For its final non-league game, the Princeton football team will be traveling to Monmouth for what figures to be a pretty good matchup.

Before any of that, though, here are TigerBlog's three favorite facts about Monmouth football: 1) the Hawks have only had one head coach in the 29 years of the program, 2) head coach Kevin Callahan is one of 11 children and he is married to a woman who is also one of 11 children and 3) one of his wife's 10 siblings is former Princeton men's basketball coach Bill Carmody. 

That's pretty good stuff, right. First, can you imagine how many cousins that leads to on both sides? Second, it's Bill Carmody, one of TB's favorite people ever.

As for the game itself, well, it's already Week 4 for the Princeton football team.

Time doesn't ever seem to move faster during the year than it does during Princeton football season. It's a 10-week sprint, and it's over in a blink. That's always how it seems to work.

This week is always an interesting one for the Tigers. It's the final non-league game, after opening with two other non-league games and then the league opener.

The last time Princeton's schedule did not start out that way was in 1999, when the Tigers opened with Cornell. Before that, you have to go back to 1975, when Rutgers was the Week 1 opponent, to find a year when the Tigers didn't play at either Cornell or Dartmouth to start the year.

Back then, Princeton and Penn would alternate opening the season at either Dartmouth or Cornell and then end the season at home against the other one. It wasn't until 1991 that Princeton and Penn ended the season in either Hanover or Ithaca. 

This was supposed to be because of the threat of bad November weather in those two places. As it turned out, it was in the 50s that day in Hanover.

Meanwhile, back in the present, Princeton is heading on the road tomorrow for its final non-league game of this season. The ride is a short one, and the opponent is a good one.

The Tigers will make the one-hour drive east to the Shore, where they will take on the Monmouth Hawks. Princeton is 3-0 on the season, having outscored Lehigh, Stetson and Columbia 119-7 between them. Monmouth is 3-2 and has been ranked in the top 25 at times this year.

Monmouth has played five games, and four of them have been decided by at least 27 points, with two wins (over Charleston Southern and Gardner Webb) and two losses (to Middle Tennessee and Holy Cross). The other game was a 26-23 win over Fordham.

Monmouth's two wins have come in the team's first two league games, in the Big South, to be exact. Monmouth has five league games remaining. You might be surprised by one of the remaining five: Robert Morris, which is no longer in the Northeast Conference. The other four games are against Campbell, North Carolina A&T, North Alabama and Kennesaw State. 

Princeton and Monmouth have played once before, back in the Tigers' unbeaten 2018 season. The final score that day was 51-9 Tigers; this one figures to be closer.

Monmouth averages more than 30 points per game and nearly 400 yards of offense per game, including 151 on the ground. Princeton allows 2.3 points per game and has allowed seven rushing yards in three games. Princeton leads the FCS in both of those areas, as well as in sacks per game.

Actually, Princeton leads all of college football in scoring defense and rushing defense. That's FBS, FCS, Division II and Division III. Only Division II Michigan Tech and Division III Lakeland average more than Princeton's 5.33 sacks per game.

Princeton's defense has been extraordinary through three games. Only twice since 1933 has Princeton allowed fewer than seven points in its first three games combined. Any guesses? 

The last time was in 1963, when Princeton shut out Rutgers and Penn and held Columbia to six in between. In Week 4, Princeton added another shutout, this time against Colgate.

Before that, it was 1956, when Princeton gave up six to Rutgers on opening day and then shut out Columbia and Penn before allowing 20 to Colgate (a 28-20 win) in Week 4.

Offensively, the passing game stood out in the first two games. Last week, it was the running game, especially Collin Eaddy, who ran for 103 yards and became Princeton's seventh career 2,000-yard rusher. 

Once this game is over, Princeton has six more Ivy League games to go, only two of which are at home. There are big Ivy games this weekend, with Yale-Dartmouth and Cornell-Harvard. Princeton can't look ahead to any of that now, though.

First up is a very, very good Monmouth team. Hey, who is Bill Carmody rooting for in this one?

Thursday, October 7, 2021

National Coaches Day

TigerBlog has no idea how something becomes "National Whatever Day."

It just seems like every day, there's something incredibly random that is being celebrated. National Donut Day. National Baldness Day. National Small Dog Day. Really. Those were actual days.

Do small dogs have a good communications team at work? How'd they get their own day? Who runs the small dog lobby? 

For the record, by the way, TigerBlog prefers small dogs to big dogs. His general rule is the shorter the legs, the cuter the dog. Hey, maybe he should try to sell that to the people behind the small dog movement.

As for National days, TB could look this up for you, but nah. There are some things that are better left mysterious.

Most of the time, these National days are hardly worth noticing, with all due respect to small dogs and their PR agents. 

Yesterday, though, turned out to be something a bit different. It was National Coaches Day.

There are few professions that make an impact on other people, particularly young people, like coaching can, for better and for worse. Forget the coaches who make millions of dollars a year. The vast, vast majority of coaches are making way less than that but are having a major impact on the lives of the people who come to play on their teams.

Pete Carril, Princeton's Hall of Fame former men's basketball coach, used to say that there was nothing better than a great high school coach. As TB has said before, one of Carril's disciples once bemoaned the fact that a player with great potential had instead had a lousy foundation in the fundamentals of the game and would never be able to catch up. His high school coach, he said, should be "taken into the town square and flogged." It sounds like a medieval England thing.

Princeton has put together an incredible history in athletics, dating back to 1864, when the baseball team played Williams in the first intercollegiate game in school history, and to 1869, when Princeton and Rutgers played the first football game. There were no coaches for those teams, only captains, and it wasn't until around 1900 that teams first started to have actual coaches.

Since then, some of the greatest coaches in the history of their sports have coached at Princeton. The list is long, and it's not worth going down it for fear of leaving someone out.

Coach at Princeton is not for everyone. To be successful, you have to buy into what the University and athletic program are all about. There are no athlete dorms. There are no nights in hotels prior to home games. That's not what student-athlete experience means at Princeton.

No, what Princeton means is having a well-rounded educational experience that values both the student experience and the athletic experience. It's about allowing the people who play at Princeton to succeed at the highest level of both.

What TB has always admired most about Princeton's coaches is that they truly believe this. They don't fall back on the idea that they can't compete against other schools with scholarships or different admissions standards. They use Princeton's perceived disadvantages as advantages and use them to find the right athletes for what they're trying to do. The results through the years speak for themselves.

Because of this, it's not for everyone. Would Nick Saban be a better football coach at Princeton than Bob Surace? No, he wouldn't. 

It's not always easy. You have a large roster, and not everyone can play, even if everyone wants to and thinks they should. You have kids from all over the country and in the case of many teams, internationally. You have wildly different personalities. On some teams, the best player is the hardest worker and best leader. On others, the best player hates to practice. It's all such a difficult dynamic to navigate.

In addition to all of this, Princeton's coaches make a lifelong, lasting impact on their athletes. What's most fascinating is that the impact isn't always immediate. 

TB has spoken to many athletes from 10, 20, 30 or even more years ago who want to apologize to their Princeton coach for not understanding what they were doing as it was happening. Only years later did they see the light, and they have been so grateful for the lessons learned.

So yes, happy National Coaches Day a day late to all of Princeton's coaches, current and former. They are an amazing group of people who do amazing work, and they deserve to be saluted.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Excellent

Congratulations go out to Syukuro Manabe, the Princeton professor who yesterday was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics.

Manabe just turned 90 years old two weeks ago, which means two things. First, it means that this is a pretty nice belated birthday present.

Second, since Manabe was born and raised in Japan, it means he grew up in a country that was at war with the United States and the Allies for much of his formative time. He was a few months past his 10th birthday on the day that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and he was just short of his 14th birthday when World War II ended with the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay. That's a lot of stuff for a kid to live through in those years.

TigerBlog would love to know what his memories are of his childhood. Maybe he'll get the chance to ask him at some point. 

The news of another Princeton Nobel Prize winner was very exciting, as always. It's hard to say it's routine, but it does speak to what Princeton University is that it's hardly the first time there has been this kind of celebration involving a Princetonian.

In fact, it appears that there have now been 45 Princeton alums or professors who have won the Nobel Prize and another 25 more who at some point had a Princeton affiliation. That's impressive stuff.

Congratulations to Syukuro Manabe for joining that list. TB will definitely be reaching out to him.

Meanwhile, back in athletics, there is also a history of excellence. Princeton has had by far the most successful athletic program in the Ivy League's history, and the celebration of the 500th championship in 2020 speaks to that. Princeton currently stands at 503, where it was after the winter of 2020 when the pandemic hit.

It'll be most of a decade before another school gets to 500 and it'll be many decades before a third school does. That alone puts Princeton's success in perspective.

The fall of 2021 is just getting going in terms of Ivy League races. It's a fun fact that Princeton's teams are a combined 9-0 in Ivy events to date, but that doesn't really mean all that much so far. 

There is no Princeton team who is the only unbeaten in the league in any sport, and there are either two, three or four unbeaten teams in all of those sports.

To that end, every weekend is big for every team in the league. While none of them have won a league championship or are even close to doing so with so many games left, they all have established that they expect to be playing for championships next month.

There will be two Princeton teams who play games this weekend against other unbeaten Ivies. They'll both do so on the same field as part of a doubleheader, which, unfortunately, won't be in Princeton.

Still, if you want to see some good games and you're going to be in the Providence area, then there is a soccer doubleheader you might be interested in attending. 

It starts at 3 with the women at Brown, followed at 7 by the men's game. You can get something to eat in between. Providence is a great place for a nosh.

Princeton, Brown and Harvard are all 2-0-0 in women's soccer in the league. They're also a combined 24-4-2 overall. They're also all in the top 50 in RPI now. Can all three get to the NCAA tournament? Possibly. The winner of the league gets an automatic bid and doesn't have to worry about such things. 

This weekend is the first of three straight with a game featuring two of these teams. Brown is at Harvard next Saturday. Princeton is at Harvard the Saturday after that.

On the men's side, last week was the first weekend of Ivy games. There are three 1-0 teams (Princeton and Brown joined by Cornell) and two teams who tied last week (Yale-Harvard finished 0-0).

Princeton got a 3-2 win over Dartmouth on Malik Pinto's game-winning goal, which followed his first career goal to make it 2-0 earlier before the Big Green tied it. Pinto, a freshman, was the Ivy League Player and Rookie of the Week.

Pinto, by the way, comes from quite the soccer family. He grew up in Durham, but the Pintos are decidedly more UNC than Duke. His father Hassan played soccer at Carolina, as did his sister Brianna, a three-time All-ACC player who scored 31 goals as a Tar Heel and who now plays in the NWSL. He also has an older brother Hassan who played at Elon. His mother Meleata was a Tar Heel as well, though her sport was softball.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Party Time

If you're looking for someone to plan your next party, you could do a lot worse than Kim Meszaros.

If you don't know who Kim is, she is the assistant to the athletic director at Princeton. She is a fixture in Room 1 of Jadwin Gym.

Kim, who by the way is a past recipient of the Presidential Achievement award at Princeton, has had her fingerprints on pretty much every Department of Athletics celebration of the last few decades. If TB had to guess, he'd think that even though they are a great deal of work to put together, Kim probably missed having them a lot during the pandemic.

Also, keep in mind that Kim's primary responsibilities do not include planning parties. She has a ton of stuff to do to keep the department flowing smoothly, so TB always appreciates the effort that she puts in to these parties, which in turn keep a widely distributed department connected.

Princeton's athletic department has offices in facilities all over the campus. Those who work closely in other capacities with the athletes, coaches and administrators are even further spread out. This is good in many ways, especially since it keeps athletics integrated with the rest of the University.

The down side is that the entire group isn't always able to get together on a regular basis. The social events that Kim makes happen achieve that goal.

The most recent party Kim threw was the pregame "Team Around The Team" tailgate Saturday prior to the football game Saturday against Columbia. Like the rest of her events, there were plenty of the core things that make one of these parties great: 1) lots of refreshments, 2) orange and black, 3) people.

This one was a bit different, though, since it was the first big event since everyone has returned to campus. It was held above the baseball field while the team was having an Orange and Black scrimmage (though TB did not get to see head coach Scott Bradley get behind the plate).

What TB did see were a lot of familiar faces. Because of the Zoom world that everyone lived in for so long, seeing faces was easy. Seeing them in person was a rarity. TB, like everyone else, went months without seeing more than a small handful of people from Princeton actually in person.

Coming back to campus every day was always going to be a bit of a new dynamic. Now that it's here, one thing that TB can 100 percent say for sure is that it's been great to actually be around his colleagues. 

The party Saturday was great on two levels. One, it was fun. Two, it was something else that's been missing that is now doable again. 

TigerBlog saw Peter Farrell, the former head coach of women's track and field, and Kristen Appelget, a rowing Facult Fellow, a huge Princeton sports fan and a the University's Director of Community and Regional Affairs. What do they have in common? They are Notre Dame alums. They were pessimistic Notre Dame alums at that, what with the game the Irish had coming up with Cincinnati. As it turned out, they had reason for pessimism. Cincinnati won 24-13.

Phyllis Chase was there. She used to be the department travel coordinator. She is well-loved still among the group.

He saw Ford Family Director of Athletics John Mack, who continues to meet more and more people from campus. There were coaches there. Other administrators. Faculty Fellows. It was just a group of people who are united in their affection for Princeton Athletics, gathering together before a football game, the way people have for a long time.

At one point, he stepped away from the party to look around the tent. What he saw he's seen hundreds of times before. It almost looked like he was looking at pictures from events in the past. 

As with everything else, though, TigerBlog found himself appreciating it this time even more. It's part of how it is now. 

When things were shut down for so long, it's important to recognize that these aren't moments to be taken for granted.

And so what Kim did Saturday meant a bit more than just a pregame tailgate. It was also something of a reminder, of the people and of the moments that make working in the Department of Athletics the special experience that it is. And so for that, TB once again thanks Kim.

Monday, October 4, 2021

The Big Question

The Princeton football team rolled through the first two weeks of the season, outscoring Lehigh and Stetson by a combined 95-0.

What did anyone learn about Princeton in those first two weeks? The Tigers are good. There's no denying that. 

What was the main question for Princeton heading into its third game, against Columbia Saturday afternoon in the Ivy League opener for both? It was simply this: What would Princeton do when things weren't going easily?

It's a fair question. No team rolls through a 10-game season without ever having to answer that question. Princeton's turn came Saturday afternoon. 

Princeton scored the first 10 points in the game, but it seemed like more. Then, in Princeton's "Drago's been cut" moment, Columbia put together a 10-play, 66-yard march in the third quarter to put the first points of the year on the board against the Tigers. Suddenly it was 10-7.

For the record, by the way, the 10 consecutive scoreless quarters to start the season were the most by a Princeton defense since the 1933 team opened with seven straight shutouts. Digging a little deeper, the 10 straight scoreless defensive quarters to start the season were the most against teams that are currently Division I since 1915, when the Tigers shut out Georgetown, Rutgers and Syracuse.

And none of that mattered at all when Columbia made it 10-7. Now the question was in full force. What would Princeton do when things weren't going easily.

Answer? The Tigers turned it up on both sides of the field. 

From that point, Princeton put together two more touchdown drives. From that point, Columbia had five more possessions. Total yards on those five possession? How about 47. Final score: Princeton 24, Columbia 7.

Diving in a bit, Princeton went three-and-out after the Columbia touchdown. The Lions then put together two first downs, the second of which came after a taunting penalty after an apparent stop. Now Columbia had first and 10 at the Tiger 26.

Things were getting dicier.

Columbia gained seven yards on first down and then threw an incomplete pass. Third and three, Princeton 19. The Lions were on the verge of taking the lead. At worst, they were on the verge of tying it. Dicier indeed.

That's when the one of the two biggest plays of the day happened. Jeremiah Tyler fired in from his linebacker spot and disrupted Columbia quarterback Joe Green, who stumbled and fell for an 11-yard loss (Tyler had that sack and two other tackles for loss among his five tackles). The potential tying field goal then became a 48-yard attempt, rather than a 37-yarder, and it went wide.

The other huge play came right at the end of the first half. Princeton had its 10-0, but Columbia was driving, reaching the Princeton 20 with 13 seconds left but with no timeouts. What happened? A sack by Uche Ndukwe (he had 2.5 for the day). That was it, right? Time would expire before Columbia could get the field goal team on the field, right? Nope. Princeton was called for a delay of game, and one second was put on the clock.

Now Columbia had a chance for a field goal to get on the board. Since the Lions would get the ball to start the second half, this was a huge moment. And .... ?

Blocked. By whom? TigerBlog thought Matthew Jester. The box score says Daniel Beard. In true Princeton defensive form, it hardly mattered. One for all and all.

Princeton's defense may not have had a third-straight shutout, but that wasn't important. The Tigers showed more again Columbia than they did in the first two shutouts. This time, the points weren't coming as quickly. This time, there was a greater sense of defensive urgency when Columbia had the ball.

The Princeton D was impressive. The Tigers were, as the coaches love to say, fast and physical. And they were also something else. They were deep. Anyone could be the next one to make a big stop. 

Columbia came in having scored at least 30 in both of its first two games. The Lions were sixth in the FCS with 271.5 rushing yards per game. They'd score seven points, which was one point fewer than the total rushing yards. Princeton has now allowed nine rushing yards all year.

On a per-game average, that's 2.3 points and 3.0 rushing yards allowed per game. Those are winning numbers. 

Up next is nationally ranked Monmouth. After that would be six more Ivy games. Nothing is easy. 

That's why it was important for this team to show what it could do when things got tough.