Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Play's The Thing

TigerBlog was watching NBC's "Football Night In America" Sunday night when he found Dan Patrick, Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison in a discussion (that included comments from Peyton Manning) about the famous catch that David Tyree of the Giants made in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl against the Patriots two seasons ago.

TB immediately thought of a few points:
* Tyree should have been the MVP of the game on that catch alone, but when you add in that he also had a touchdown reception, how could he not have won it?
* that game was played almost 21 months ago, and yet the player who caught the winning pass in the game has already gone most of the way through another football season, shot himself in the thigh and is in prison
* no matter what happens to Team Good (the Giants) or if Teams Evil (the Eagles and Cowboys) win a championship in the next few years, that Super Bowl win more than makes up for it.

As an aside, if you google "David Tyree" and click on "images," you'll see about nine million different pictures of the same catch.

TigerBlog remembers watching on TV at the house of one of FatherBlog's friends when Franco Harris completed the "Immaculate Reception" for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Oakland Raiders in the 1972 NFL playoffs. TB was a kid, and all the adults had left the room, leaving TB to watch the end by himself. None of the adults believed TB when he relayed what had happened, and of course, there was no internet or all-sports cable station to confirm what TB was saying.

TigerBlog also covered some of the greatest plays in NCAA basketball tournament history, including the 1992 Duke-Kentucky game, whose end is considered by many to be the great play in college basketball history.

TB has seen some amazing plays at amazing times, some that are helped by having great historical significance attached to them. Others are lost as just footnotes to meaningless games, such as the time Darryl Strawberry hit one off the clock in St. Louis.

Still, for TB's money, Tyree's catch is the greatest single play of all time, because of the catch itself and the job Eli Manning did getting the pass off in the first place. And everytime TB sees it, he becomes more amazed by it.

This leads, of course, to the question of what the single greatest play in Princeton athletic history is. That leads to an awful lot of possibilities, since there are probably tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of plays at Princeton each year.

There are some very famous ones from years ago, such as the 1935 football game against Dartmouth when a local cook jumped from the Palmer Stadium stands to join the Big Green line for one play. Or the fourth-down play near the goal line in 1922, when Princeton's "Team of Destiny" stopped Chicago en route to a perfect season and the national championship.

TB isn't sure if 1981 counts as years ago, but Bob Holly's winning touchdown run on the final play of the game to snap a 14-year losing streak against Yale has to be in the top 20.

Princeton's three greatest athletes of all-time are Hobey Baker, Dick Kazmaier and Bill Bradley, but TB thinks of them for their entire resume, rather for a single play. Talking about Bradley, his career was built on "A Sense of Where You Are," meaning that he always knew where he was on the court and had practiced each shot from each spot so many times that it became second nature. In that respect, picking any one single play would be somewhat insulting.

Besides, when great plays are discussed, they can come from anyone at any time, like Tyree in the Super Bowl. To that end, maybe the greatest play in Princeton history was Ed Persia's full-court heave at the buzzer to beat Monmouth in 2002.

TigerBlog has seen probably all but 10 of the last 315 games the Princeton men's lacrosse team has played. When he thinks of great plays, the first thought normally is of the four game-winning goals in overtime of NCAA championship games. Of those four, the best individual effort was the first one, when Andy Moe took the ball after the face-off to start the second OT and scored.

But when TB thinks of simply great plays, he doesn't think of those four. Maybe Moe's, but not he other three. They were great moments in big pressure situations, but not great plays on their own merits. If TB thinks of men's lacrosse, he goes back to either Jesse Hubbard's behind-the-back goal in the mud at Hobart in 1996 and the Chad Wiedmaier-to-John Cunningham longstick-t0-longstick goal against Hopkins a year ago.

Can TigerBlog go sport-by-sport and pick out great plays? No, because he hasn't seen them all. Each sport has its own, though.

So TigerBlog will end with three choices, two of which are quite possibly the most famous plays in Princeton history and the third that isn't something many remember.

First, there was obviously Gabe Lewullis' layup in the 1996 NCAA tournament to beat UCLA. For the combination of high profile, great play, history and everything else, this is without question the No. 1 play in the history of Princeton athletics.

Jeff Terrell's touchdown on a pitch from Rob Toresco in the second overtime against Penn in 2006 is also up there. TigerBlog was the PA announcer for the game, and he was on the phone with TB-Baltimore (who was at the soccer field) giving an update as Terrell took the pitch. TB doesn't remember word-for-word what he said, but it was something like "that's the most amazing play I've ever seen."

Lastly, there was Emily Behncke's goal against Harvard in women's soccer in 2004. Behncke scored with 41 seconds to go in regulation to tie that game; Princeton won on Esmeralda Negron's overtime goal. Behncke's goal was an amazing individual shot, but beyond that, it also ended a huge curse against the Crimson and propelled the Tigers to a run that would end in the NCAA Final Four.

Don't like TB's choices? He's pretty sure he left out some great ones that he should have remembered.

Don't like any that have happened yet at Princeton? Don't worry. There are thousands more on the way.


Anonymous said...

If you set the requirements for a truly great play to include context (championship game and, ideally, significance that extends across more than one year), amazing individual effort, drama, human interest (preferably one that reflects individual character) and simply crazy wild-ass luck, then the greatest play of all time in college athletics was Syracuse's goal to force overtime against Cornell in last Memorial Day's lacrosse championship.

The amazing individual effort by at least three Syracuse players was self-evident. The drama and crazy-ass luck (no-look over-the-head pass goes right to a teammate's stick) were there. The context was an NCAA title game that would have completed Cornell's march back to the game's pinnacle after three decades away. But the crowning ingredient was the human interest supplied by Jeff Tambroni's decision not to call time-out with the ball and two of the best athletes in lacrosse (Seibald and Glynn) available to run out the last 23 seconds of what would have been one of the great NCAA championship games of all time. To this day, Tambroni insists that, given another chance, he would still not call time-out. THAT'S the kind of hubris which is the final ingredient to the greatest play of all time.

The connection to Princeton? I don't know. Maybe that the committee jobbed the Tigers by seeding Old Nassau against Cornell in the quarterfinals when Princeton was the third best team in the country. Or maybe that, after all the criticism which Bill Tierney has suffered for having "ruined" college lacrosse by over-managing what used to be a more fluid game, Jeff Tambroni showed what happens when you under-manage a game situation. You give Tierney and the Tigers the ball with 23 seconds left in a title game -- it's over.

Princeton OAC said...

TigerBlog was the official scorer for that game and wrote about it later in this post:
http://goprincetontigers.blogspot.com/2009/05/were-no-3.html. TB agrees that that play is up there with the greatest in college lacrosse and all of college sports. It also shows how slim the difference can be during a career. Bill Tierney won six NCAA titles, four in OT. Had those four gone against him, would he have won the other two? Would he be a Hall of Famer?

Anonymous said...

TB wrote:
"that game was played almost 21 months ago, and yet the player who caught the winning pass in the game has already gone most of the way through another football season, shot himself in prison."

And all this time, I thought he shot himself in the leg, or at least in a NY nightclub. Duh.

Princeton OAC said...

TigerBlog believes that he accidentally deleted the part in between "shot himself in" and "prison." Clearly, Plaxico shot himself in the thigh and is now in prison.

luch said...

as an Eagle I would lose my varsity club membership if I did not voice my opinion that Doug Flutie and his Hail Mary to beat the U was, in fact, the greatest sports play of all time.

gib kirwin '58 said...

5'8" Artie Klein heaving a half court hook shot (back to basket) off an inbound pass at the buzzer to defeat Dartmouth basketball (Rudy La Russo, et al.,)in 1956-7.

The better part of the story is that at practice the following day he was given the "you could never do that again" and repeated it.

Anonymous said...

Nearly all the "plays" cited took place before a large audience (except for that mid-court hook shot) or were in "major" sports. But great things have happened far from the mass audience, and they are nonetheless compelling.

To with, I cite the Princeton Men's NCAA Championship Medley Relays, back-to-back in 1989 and 1990.

Now what makes the story line, and their accomplishments, all the more astounding is that in 1989 the team was comprised of Mike Ross, Richard Korhammer, Ty Nelson, and Rob Musselwhite. Just days prior to the meet, the freestyle anchor Erik Osborne suffered a collapsed lung and was unable to compete. Nevertheless, swimming in the outside lane, the Tigers surprised the entire field to win that event.

Fast forward one year, Korhammer has graduated, to be replaced by freshman Leroy Kim. This time Osborne is healthy, and once again, to the amazement of the announcers, Princeton triumphed.

Can't recall if it was '89 or '90 when the supposedly knowledgeable announcer mentioned that "Princeton, an Ivy League school, can't compete with all the scholarship schools."

Their races can be seen on YouTube at