Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pop Quiz

You never know where your next abstract discussion of athletics is hiding, just waiting to pounce. In TigerBlog's case, it came up in the supermarket recently, in the dairy section.

That's where TigerBlog stumbled upon Marvin Bressler, the retired professor emeritus of sociology and the model for the Princeton Academic Athletic Fellows program. Dr. Bressler is also one of Pete Carril's best friends and a long, longtime observer of Tiger athletics.

The conversation started as TB saw Bressler furiously studying the nutritional content on a container of yogurt.

"You're 85 years old," TigerBlog said. "What do you care what's in it?"

Marv gave a quick laugh and started in about how he's more interested in the social statement his food choice is making than in its nutritional value. Then it was on to some other subjects.

It began with his thoughts about the Princeton-Colgate football game and went on for the next 20 minutes or so about Princeton coaches Roger Hughes and Sydney Johnson, who both pass Marv's "would you let your son play for them" test.

The main part of Marv's talk (lecture?) was about the nature of athletics and why people care about them. Why should he care so deeply, for instance, if the Phillies win or lose. He also said that when the Flyers were winning Stanley Cups in the 1970s and the entire city was fired up, he was asking what the big deal was that "our Canadians beat their Canadians."

TigerBlog has mentioned this before, but speaking with Bressler is a real treat. He's like life's graduate seminar professor: When you see him, you're almost always going to be left with a philosophical issue to debate with yourself.

In the dairy section, the pop quiz involved the reason why you root for a team. TB had no real answer to that other than entertainment or escapism or something like that, and he actually spent some of the day trying to figure it out.

TigerBlog's favorite pro team in any sport is by far is the Giants, a team that he has rooted for as long as he could remember and a team that has won three Super Bowls while TB has been a fan. The run two years ago to the championship would probably last TB forever if the Giants never win again.

Beyond that, TB has always been a Knicks' fan, though the last few years has made that nearly impossible. In baseball, his team early on was the Mets, but he switched to the Braves in 1990, the year before they started to get good, because 1) MotherBlog lived in Atlanta and 2) TB moved to Trenton, where he could not get Mets games anymore. His interest in the Braves lasted until TBS stopped showing the games, though it didn't hurt that the Braves were so good for so long and that David Justice, whom TB met on a plane trip from Atlanta to Philadelphia, called MotherBlog when she was in the hospital with terminal cancer and spoke with her for 20 minutes.

Anyway, between those teams, TigerBlog has had more than his share of moments where he had to have the "it's only sports; there are much more important things in life" talk with himself after tough losses. TB can understand being crushed by Princeton losses, where at least he knows the people involved, but Bressler is right: Why be so emotionally invested in something where you don't know any of the people involved?

Moving on from there, another big Bressler pop quiz is why universities field athletic teams, which leads to an argument Bressler has always said "he hopes to lose." The answer is actually much different at different schools on different levels, from raising the school's profile to history to habit to, of course, money.

Here at Princeton, it's often said and written that athletics are an extension of the overall educational mission of the institution. The interesting thing to TB is that we actually seem to mean it, and that's among the main reasons that we field athletic teams.

There are others, to be sure. Money, but way more through alumni contributions than from ticket sales, is a huge issue. Tradition is another. Princeton's athletic tradition runs so deep and is so ingrained in what the University is that it's impossible to conceive of it being any other way.

Which is, of course, a good thing. As TigerBlog has often said, the No. 1 point of identity for Princeton and the other seven schools is being called "the Ivy League." TB has heard any number of middle school parents talking about how great or unlikely or impossible or anything else it would be for their kids to go on to Ivy League schools.

And where did the term "Ivy League" come from? Right, it's an athletic designation.

So, there you have it, Dr. Bressler. TB's answers to today's pop quiz.

Now go home and eat your yogurt, and don't worry about the fat content.

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