Monday, September 28, 2009

Sideline Pass

Back in the newspaper days of covering high school football games, TigerBlog would stand on the sideline rather than sit in the press box. It's a fairly standard practice, at least in these parts, for high school football coverage.

Maybe it's because the press boxes are too small. Maybe it's because the fields don't usually have hash marks between the yardlines, or maybe it's just because there's nobody keeping official stats, so the reporter has to do it. Whatever the reason, TB spent many Friday nights and Saturday afternoons on high school football sidelines from 1983-88.

TigerBlog used to choose which sideline to stand on based on a few factors: 1) would the sun be in his eyes?; 2) which sideline was more crowded; 3) was there someone on the other sideline he didn't feel like talking to for the entire game; 4) random. Of course, TB also remembers the frequent comments made to him about how he had chosen to stand on, say, Steinert's side of the field instead of Nottingham's because of his obvious Steinert bias (or Nottingham bias, if he'd stood on the other side).

Fast forwarding more than 20 years, TB was again on the sideline for a football game this past Saturday, this time at Goodman Stadium for the Princeton-Lehigh game. TB hasn't really spent much time on the sidelines for Princeton games, due to either radio, media relations, stat keeping and now public address responsibilities.

Still, there is no better place to watch a game from than the sidelines, and it took only a few moments Saturday to remember that.

The sideline for a football game is a wild place. Forget the sheer quantity of players or coaches. There's also doctors, athletic trainers, equipment managers, photographers, videographers, sideline reporters, security people and any other assorted people who managed to get a field pass.

As an aside, the game was 0-0 as Lehigh drove in the first quarter when Beverly Schaefer, the official photographer of TigerBlog HQ, said that Princeton was about to intercept a pass and run it back for a touchdown and that she would definitely get the picture. Two plays later, Steven Cody did just that, picking off a pass and returning it 77 yards, and she got the picture.

Princeton is committed to a broadbased athletic program, and as a result there are 38 varsity sports here. One of TB's favorite things about Princeton is that no sport is designated as more important than any other; the football game story cycled through between water polo and tennis. Still, there really is nothing like a football game in the world of collegiate sports.

Lehigh's pregame information says that the school has been voted No. 1 in the Patriot League for gameday atmosphere, and it's easy to see why. The grass hill behind one end zone was filled with families and kids, and the hills beyond the stadium make it a great setting. To stand on the sideline and look up at it all made it even more impressive.

During the game itself, it's amazing to see just how fragmented a football team is, as the defense gathers to make adjustments while the offense plays and vice versa. Coaches and players on one side of the ball probably miss half of the plays the other side runs.

As for longsnappers, punters and kickers, they have their own space carved out to practice, practice, practice and stay loose, waiting for their turn. All of this happens inside the box designated for the team. Outside of that, there is the rest of the sideline crowd doing its own work.

Roger Hughes always says that the football season at Princeton is like a "10-round fight," with each week a different round. While that may sound like "coach-speak," there's a great deal of truth to it. Football, more than maybe any other sport, can separate out each individual game as its own mini-season, which is probably a result of the fact that there is more practice time per actual game in football than any other sport.

And so at the end, the level of satisfaction of winning is tremendous. TB has been in the winning lockerroom of Princeton teams late into non-championship seasons many times and seen how each individual win is savored.

Saturday afternoon at Lehigh, the Tigers held off a late Mountain Hawk rally to win 17-14. As TB was walking off the field, he went past the ambulance parked at the end of the Princeton sideline nearest the locker room and the exit to the parking lot.

TigerBlog looked in to find two paramedics, faces down, texting on their phones (hopefully not to each other). TB thought it was the perfect end to a day on the sidelines: a Princeton win, and no one needed to leave in the ambulance.

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