Monday, November 30, 2009

Same Old, Same Old

The NCAA women's soccer Final Four will be contested this weekend at Texas A&M, and it's not hard to guess who will be participating.

North Carolina? Check.

UCLA? Check.

Notre Dame? Check.

Those three teams seem to be a given in any women's soccer Final Four (real name: the College Cup, but TigerBlog doesn't like that term). UCLA's appearance this weekend will be its seventh straight, while Notre Dame will be there for the fourth straight time and seventh time in 11 years. North Carolina is only there for the third straight time, though the Tar Heels will be making their 25th semifinal appearance and will be chasing their 20th championship.

The fourth team is actually the top-ranked team in the country, Stanford, who is unbeaten and untied. The Cardinal are making their second-straight appearance in the Final Four, which means that the four teams who meet in College Station this weekend will be the same four who came together a year ago in Cary, N.C., when Carolina defeated UCLA and Notre Dame defeated Stanford in the semis before Carolina defeated Notre Dame in the final.

Clearly, it's a pretty elite group that reaches the Final Four in any sport, but in women's soccer, it's practically a closed club.

There have been 40 Final Four berths in women's soccer this decade, and those 40 spots were taken by just 12 teams, out of more than 300 who play the sport on the Division I level. One of those 12 was Princeton.

It's been five years since Princeton made its magical run to the Final Four, crashing the party along with UCLA, Notre Dame and Santa Clara. Princeton sprinted to a 15-2 regular season in 2004, earning the No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament.

The Tigers then defeated Central Connecticut 5-0, Villanova 1-0 in double overtime (on Maura Gallagher's goal off a corner kick), Boston College 2-0 (on two Emily Behncke goals) and then Washington 3-1 (second half goals by Esmeralda Negron and Kristina Fontanez) to advance to the Final Four. UCLA then defeated Princeton 2-0.

TigerBlog was at the Princeton men's opening round NCAA soccer game against Bucknell, which was the first postseason game played on Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium. Watching the rain fall and seeing how the field held the water and seeing the fans in the stands with access to a real concession stand and real bathrooms, TigerBlog couldn't help but think back to Lourie-Love Field, which used to stand on the same spot and was the site for all four of Princeton's 2004 NCAA women's games.

Lourie-Love had none of the amenities that Roberts Stadium has, and to be honest, Princeton is decidedly lucky to have the new stadium. In many ways, it's a direct result of the women's team's 2004 run.

Still, there was something charming about the rickety old wooden stands at Lourie-Love, stands that were jammed with more than 2,500 fans for the quarterfinal win over Washington.

TigerBlog has served as the sports information contact for football, men's basketball, men's lacrosse, men's and women's squash, sprint football, wrestling, men's and women's water polo and men's and women's rowing during his time here at HQ. He also spent three seasons as the women's soccer contact, including the 2004 Final Four run.

At the time, TB had no real context of the historic nature of what Princeton was accomplishing. Sure, he knew it was the first - and still only - women's soccer Final Four appearance by an Ivy League school, and clearly Princeton was treading in unchartered waters in terms of national rankings.

Now, looking back five years ago this week to Princeton's appearance in the Final Four, it's apparent that what the Tigers were able to accomplish then was extraordinary.

Getting to the Final Four in women's soccer? A handful of teams have done it, including the group that seems to do it every year. More than 300 never have and probably never will. Only 12 have done it this decade, including a history-making team from Princeton that joined the club five years ago.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving As A Great Fall Nears Its End

As holidays go, you can't do much better than Thanksgiving. It's got it all, really: a huge meal (with turkey, no less), football, family, history (dates back to 1621), start of a four-day weekend for most people, leftovers. It's even a secular holiday, so every American can dive right in, regardless of religion.

TigerBlog attended many Manalapan-Marlboro Thanksgiving games a long, long time ago (the latest edition will be at Manalapan at 10 a.m. tomorrow). The Lions and the Cowboys, obviously, always play at home on Thanksgiving, and the NFL has now added a third game (maybe a little too much), which this year features the Giants and Broncos. Beyond watching football, how many out there have played their own Thanksgiving football games, all of which, by the way, are named "the Turkey Bowl?"

The holiday may lag behind Christmas in terms of great Hollywood movies, and "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" is no match for "A Charlie Brown Christmas" or "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." Still, there are some great moments in movies and TV shows around Thanksgiving.

Rocky and Adrian had their first date on Thanksgiving – "To you it's Thanksgiving; to me it's Thursday," Rocky said romantically – as did Meadow and Jackie Jr. on "The Sopranos" (it didn't quite work out as well as it did for Rocky and Adrian). "Everybody Loves Raymond" had two pretty good Thanksgiving episodes, the one where Marie makes a low-fat dinner and the one where Debra makes fish instead of turkey. As an aside, TigerBlog's Aunt Regina once made Cornish game hens instead of turkey, so he knows how they all felt. And of course, there was the Thanksgiving episode of "Cheers," which has the big food fight at the end.

The Woody Allen movie "Hannah and Her Sisters" starts and ends on two different Thanksgivings. "Miracle on 34th Street" is a Christmas movie, but it does start with the Thanksgiving parade in New York City.

And of course, there is the best of all Thanksgiving movies: "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." It'll make you laugh a lot and cry a little, and it ends on Thanksgiving.

Today, the day before Thanksgiving, is much like the days before and after Christmas here at HQ, as there is almost nobody here. Some teams are on the road (women's basketball is already in California, with the men's team soon to follow; those trips are probably easier to make than the one the men's hockey team has to make tonight to Connecticut to play Quinnipiac.

It is a rare Thanksgiving when Princeton still has fall teams who are competing; in fact, this is the third time TB can remember. The first was in 1993, when the men's soccer team reached the Final Four. The second was 2004, when women's soccer and men's water polo played in the Final Four.

The third time is now, with men's water polo again in the Final Four, which will be played next weekend at DeNunzio Pool, no less. It's an achievement that will end a remarkable fall for Princeton teams.

Men's water polo will be the second Princeton team to compete in an NCAA Final Four, after the field hockey team did a week ago. A third team, women's cross country, finished fifth nationally, out of 321 Division I schools that sponsor the sport.

TigerBlog watched the cross country championship on television, and it doesn't exactly translate to how TV likes to televise sports. For starters, a 19-minute race doesn't need two separate two-minute breaks or a "sideline" reporter.

Still, the race was fascinating for two reasons. First, there was the story of Colorado's Jenny Barringer, who was supposed to win by a huge margin. Instead, after leading for much of the first half of the race and pulling away with Florida State's Susan Kuijken, Barringer slowed noticeably, was passed by numerous runners and ultimately collapsed. Amazingly, she got up and finished – a distant 163rd. The fact she finished was stunning because 1) she managed to go another two or three miles after falling and 2) because nobody stopped her from doing so (imagine the lawsuit if something bad had happened).

The second part of watching the race was the total inability to figure out what happened. As runners started crossing the line, it was impossible to keep track of who was from where and what it meant for the team scoring. Eventually it came out that Princeton was fifth, which is an incredible achievement.

Beyond the two Final Four teams and the cross country finish, there was also an NCAA appearance for the men's soccer team, who started and finished strong and earned a bid out of the incredibly tough Ivy League.

The women's soccer team went .500, but with the nucleus of freshmen assembled, the team is positioned extraordinarily for the next few years. Women's volleyball got off to a slow start under its new coach Jolie Ward, but the Tigers surged in the second half of the season to finish third in the league.

The men's cross country team finished second in the league by a single point to Columbia, also with a young team. The football team won its final two games and is now looking at a new start with a new coach, and the sprint football team, well, bless their hearts they keep trying.

All in all, it was an extraordinary fall for Princeton, one that doesn't want to come to a close.

So get your water polo tickets, as they're going fast.

And have a great Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Help Wanted

TigerBlog isn't sure when "at the end of the day" earned such superstar status among American catch phrases. It's certainly not something people said 10, 20 years ago, or maybe it was, and TB never noticed.

It's never been one of TigerBlog's favorite ways of punctuating a thought with great finality, and apparently he's not alone. TB much prefers to say "here's the deal" to "at the end of the day."

Still, it's such a normal part of speaking these days that TB has been known to thrown it out there as well, as in "At the end of the day, maybe the best way to measure a Director of Athletics is by his or her track record in hiring head coaches."

Princeton has seven head coaches who predate the current AD, Gary Walters. Of those seven, two (men's track and field coach Fred Samara and women's track and field coach Peter Farrell) predate the previous AD, Bob Mylsik, and were hired by Sam Howell during Ken Fairman's tenure.

Myslik hired five coaches who are still here, and all five are among the greatest coaches in Princeton history: men's squash coach Bob Callahan, women's squash coach Gail Ramsay, women's swimming and diving coach Susan Teeter, men's swimming and diving coach Rob Orr and women's lacrosse coach Chris Sailer. Myslik also brought legendary coaches like Bill Tierney in men's lacrosse and Glenn Nelson in volleyball to Princeton.

As for Walters, he has hired 41 head coaches in his 15+ years at Princeton, beginning with women's soccer coach Julie Shackford (the only coach ever to take an Ivy team to the women's soccer Final Four and a national Coach of the Year) in 1995.

To look realistically and honestly at Walters' record, only two of his 41 hires have not worked out at all: former men's basketball coach Joe Scott and former men's hockey coach Len Quesnelle. TigerBlog remembers the day Scott was hired, when almost every single person felt that Princeton basketball was headed to perpetual Top 25 status under the man who had such a great history at Princeton and who had taken Air Force to the NCAA tournament. TB remembers only one voice of caution, and it came from Brown SID Chris Humm, who suggested that it might not go as smoothly as everyone was predicting. Who knew the Hummer would be the one who'd get it right?

The hiring process at Princeton under Walters has been pretty standard, with only a few exceptions (men's basketball, mostly). A committee is assembled, comprised of athletic administrators, representatives of the sport itself and sometimes representatives of the University administration or faculty. The candidates meet with the committee as a whole, and the members of the committee speak freely about their own views about which direction they would go in once the final candidate has been interviewed.

TigerBlog's two questions about hiring at Princeton have always been these: Can you do the job, and can you do the job here? There are unique circumstances to coaching and working at Princeton and within the Ivy League, and it's not for everyone. Identifying coaches who buy into that and have a real understanding of what it means to building a program is as important as finding people who are great at X's and O's.

Walters has also proven himself to be willing to take a chance on younger coaches who might not have a great deal of experience but demonstrate in the search process that they have they're ready and the right fit.

Looking back at his track record, it's hard to argue with the success that Walters has had. Field hockey? Kristen Holmes-Winn had no experience coaching on the college level, as a head coach or assistant; she has taken Princeton to six Ivy titles in seven years and this past weekend to the NCAA Final Four. With its core of All-America freshmen and sophomores, Holmes-Winn has Princeton positioned to make a serious national championship run.

Baseball? Scott Bradley had almost no coaching experience - and none on the college level - when his Major League career ended. Today he's one of the best college baseball coaches anywhere.

Softball? Maureen Barron had one year's coaching experience and then led Princeton to four Ivy titles. Her replacement, Trina Salcido, has won another Ivy title in her two years as head coach.

Women's tennis? Kathy Sell was an assistant coach for one season before coming to Princeton. She left a year ago after winning the Ivy title - to be replaced by another up-and-coming coach, Megan Bradley.

Men's lightweight rowing? Greg Hughes had never been a head coach before; this past year he won the national title.

Women's open rowing? Lori Dauphiny had never been a head coach, and she has built a perennial national contender. Her 2006 team is one of the best, if not the best, in the sport's history.

Men's hockey? Guy Gadowsky was an unknown coach at a frozen school 5,000 miles away (Alaska-Fairbanks) before he came to Princeton and turned one of the worst teams in the country into a back-to-back NCAA tournament participant.

Women's basketball? Courtney Banghart had three years experience as an assistant coach. Now in her third year as head coach, she has Princeton moving from six wins to being the No. 3 preseason pick in the Ivy League with a young nucleus whose best days are ahead.

Men's baskeball? John Thompson was hired after having never been above the position of second assistant; he has turned out to be one of the best coaches in college basketball. As for the current coach, Sydney Johnson, everything that applies to Banghart applies to him as well.

That's just a sample of the coaches who have come out of Princeton's search processes. The result? An athletic program that continues to win the Ivy League's unofficial all-sports points championship (23 straight years) and produce quality teams and athletes (25 of 33 teams that compete in Ivy sports last year finished in the top three in the league; a total of 48 Princeton athletes were named All-America last year).

All of this, of course, brings us to the soon-to-commence football search. As everyone knows by now, Roger Hughes has been relieved of his duties as head football coach. It's easy to point to a coach who has been let go and suggest that it didn't work out, but that's not the case with Hughes: 10 years at Princeton, an Ivy title, continued improvement during his first seven years, a struggle the final three years that finally resulted in the need for a change.

As such, the same selection process that has built much of Princeton's athletic success begins again. Will it be successful?

At the end of the day, history suggests it will be.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Decade Of Roger Hughes

The title character in Pat Conroy's "The Great Santini" called everyone "Sports Fans," regardless of whether it was one person or multiple people.

As for TigerBlog, he remembers three actual people who have had the same knack for assigning a universal nickname to basically everyone they saw. The first was a woman who worked in the dining hall in West Philadelphia who called every student "Dearheart." Not "Dear" or "Sweetheart," but "Dearheart." The second is the teacher from the after-school program where Little Miss TigerBlog goes, who greets every parent by calling them "Sunshine."

The third is Roger Hughes, who was relieved of his duties as Princeton football coach Sunday after 10 seasons. Hughes calls everyone "Tiger," and TB can remember hundreds of times that Hughes has stopped by and said something like "what's up, Tiger?" or "nice day, Tiger" or anything else along those lines. When injuries would permeate his lineup, he'd offer "how'd you like to play for us this weekend, Tiger?"

And it wasn't just to TigerBlog. It was to basically anyone, male or female. TigerBlog always wondered if he had done that his whole life or if he started using "Tiger" as his universal nickname after he came to Princeton 10 years ago.

Hughes is an interesting man, the holder of a Ph.D. who became a college football coach. TigerBlog was a kid when Dick Colman coached at Princeton, but from TB hears, perhaps Hughes is the same kind of professorial coach that Colman was, though in a much different era.

TigerBlog recently wrote a story about the 1964 Princeton team for the game program, and Cosmo Iacavazzi described Colman, his coach at Princeton, this way: "He was a very intellectual man. If you met him and he said he worked at Princeton, you'd probably think he was a professor of humanities. He may have seemed out of place on the football field from a macho stereotype, but he had a great football mind."

How much of that describes Hughes? To those who've never met him and whose only context is what they see and hear, Roger Hughes is one of the nicest people around. He is a quality person who treated the Princeton football program like an extended family, who built great relationships all over the campus and who is never lacking for a smile or a kind, supportive word.

He was supportive of Princeton's overall athletic program, always in a behind-the-scenes way. In many ways, he bought into completely what Princeton athletics is all about, broad-based participation where football does not drive the whole department and athletics as an extension of education.

At the same time, he chose to enter a profession where it's so easy to be defined in one way: your record. Going back to Colman, he may have looked like a humanities professor, but when you look in the record book, he was also 75-33 and is now in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Hughes went 47-52 in 10 years. For those wondering why he coached 99 games, it's because the 2001 game against Lafayette was canceled after 9/11.

For Hughes, the bright spots on his resume are a 16-4 run in 2005 and 2006 that included a 9-1 record and Ivy title in ’06. The 2006 wins over Penn and Yale are among the best for Princeton football in the last 40 years; the nine wins that season are the most since Colman's ’64 team went 9-0.

On the other hand, he did have only three winning seasons in 10 years, with one .500 record and six losing seasons. The last three years were all 4-6.

In the end, Roger Hughes is one of five coaches in Princeton football history to coach for at least 10 years. Of the eight coaches who have been at Princeton since the formation of the Ivy League, he is one of four who has won at least one Ivy title (okay, that's a little unfair to Charlie Caldwell, whose last year of a Hall-of-Fame career was 1956, the first year of the formal Ivy League, when Princeton finished second). He's also the coach who went 31-48 when Jeff Terrell wasn't the starting quarterback.

In decades to come, when TigerBlog thinks back about Rogers Hughes, he won't remember Pete Carril's aura, Bill Carmody's sharpness, John Thompson's charisma, Joe Scott's ferocity, Bill Tierney's intensity, Steve Tosches' organization.

No, he'll remember Roger as a good man who chose to enter a tough business, a man of the highest character and integrity who ultimately was what his record said he was.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Three Things To Take TB's Mind Off Ireland-France

TigerBlog is still annoyed by what happened in the Ireland-France World Cup play-off.

Ireland ranks third or fourth on TB's list of favorite countries in the world, and as such he was rooting hard for the Irish to make it into the 32-team field. TB was in Ireland during the 2008 European championships, an event Ireland did not qualify for, and every local he spoke with was optimistic about the chances for being in South Africa in 2010.

So how does France simply in good conscience go to the World Cup knowing that it blatantly cheated to get there? What should FIFA do?

And what does this have to do with today's three subjects? Nothing.

Subject No. 1 - The Princeton field hockey team plays in the NCAA Final Four for the fifth time in program history when it takes on undefeated and top-seeded Maryland at 2 p.m. at Wake Forest. The Final Four is the Tigers and the ACC, as Virginia and North Carolina meet in the second semifinal; the championship game is Sunday at noon.

Princeton lost in overtime to Maryland during the regular season 3-2 after the Tigers had leads of 1-0 and 2-1.

By TigerBlog's count, Princeton has had eight teams compete in NCAA Final Four events: men's basketball, women's soccer, men's soccer, women's lacrosse, men's lacrosse, field hockey, men's water polo and men's volleyball. Of those eight, all but men's basketball have done so in the last 16 years.

This doesn't count teams that compete in NCAA championships in sports that don't have a team Final Four concept or teams like squash that are not NCAA sports.

As for the rest of the Ivy League, TigerBlog isn't doing all the research, but he is pretty sure that no school has as many teams that have reached the Final Four. The sport that has the highest percentage of league teams having reached the Final Four has to be men's lacrosse, where Princeton, Cornell, Yale, Penn and Brown have all done so. Of course, Princeton has done it 10 times, which TB believes equals the others combined.

Subject No. 2 - The men's soccer team fell 1-0 to Bucknell Thursday night in the opening round of the NCAA tournament on rainy Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium. The game was delayed for 30 minutes with 24:47 to play by lightning; Bucknell scored shortly after that.

TigerBlog's prediction that the game would be decided 1-0 and that the goal would be scored when he wasn't looking came true: He was walking down the stairs from the press box to the concourse when the Bison scored.

It's a tough way for the season to end, but Princeton men's soccer had itself a great year. Perhaps no team at Princeton has it tougher, as the Tigers' regular regional opponents are always in or around the Top 25 and then the league itself is perhaps stronger nationally than in any other sport. Congrats to Jim Barlow and the team for getting to the tournament with a 4-0-1 run to end the regular season.

There are two other things to talk about regarding soccer. First, the crowd in the rain was still a strong one, with a great number of students in attendance. It goes to marketing rule No. 1 - you can market all you want; people either want to go to the game or they don't.

The other issue is that leading scorer Antoine Hoppenot did not play in the game due to the fact that he picked up his fifth yellow card in the season finale and therefore had to sit the next game. Issues like this always put people in sports information in a tough position: You want to be as forthcoming as possible, but at the same time, coaches will often want you to withhold information that might impact the other team's preparation for the game.

It's an issue that TigerBlog has dealt with his entire time here at HQ, and to be honest, he's still not sure what the right course of action is.

Subject No. 3 - The football season ends tomorrow in Hanover as Princeton takes on Dartmouth. For years, Princeton and Penn would open their seasons at Dartmouth or Cornell and then end the year at home against the other and then flip-flop the next year. It wasn't until 1991 that Princeton began to open with Cornell every year and finish with Dartmouth, regardless of home or away (the point was to avoid bad weather in Ithaca or Hanover in November).

Through the years, Princeton has played at Dartmouth on mostly pleasant days, and tomorrow is supposed to be fine as well.

Princeton and Dartmouth for years played for the Governor's Trophy, a mostly forgotten award that has been somewhat replaced by the Sawhorse Dollar, a 1917 dollar bill with a sawhorse on the back. It was the result of a friendly wager between a Princeton alum, Tad LaFountain, and a Dartmouth alum, T.J. Rodgers, who is the founder and CEO of Cypress Semiconductors. When Princeton won and Rodgers owed LaFountain $1, he paid off with the 1917 Sawhorse Dollar.

LaFountain then donated it to the winner of each year's game annually.

Two postcripts to the Sawhorse Dollar story. First, it is the "Sawhorse Dollar," not the "sawbuck," which is a term for $10. Second, TigerBlog does not condone gambling in any way.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thoughts On Tip-Offs at 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.

College basketball, TigerBlog fears, is doing everything it can to destroy itself.

The sport has become more about the coaches, refs and TV broadcasters than it is about the players. Think about it for a second. How many coaches can you name? How many refs? Especially how many TV on-air personalities? Now ask yourself how many players on Top 25 teams you can name? More than 10? More than 25? Unlikely.

It's also not because the best players all leave early and go to the NBA after one season. It's because the players are not what's marketed in college basketball; it's the coaches.

Still, that's not the biggest problem as TigerBlog sees it. In fact, there are two of them. Second is that the regular season (which begins three weeks too early) that spreads out now from mid-November through early March is essentially meaningless. Look at Rider. The Broncs opened with a win at Mississippi State, which is great, but for the team to get into the NCAA tournament, it almost surely needs to win the MAAC tournament over a three-game stretch in March, as only once has the MAAC sent more than one team to the NCAA tournament.

For the power teams, the regular season is about getting into and then getting a good seed in the tournament. And, because matchup means everything once the tournament is announced, it can sometimes be better to be the three-seed in one region rather than the two-seed in another.

But the No. 1 problem is television. There is such an oversaturation of games available that it has vaulted past "wow, this is great exposure" into "wow, every game looks the same" mode. It's only Nov. 19, but how many games have already been on? How many times can you watch North Carolina, Kansas, Syracuse, Ohio State - and especially Duke - before it's numbing. The only exception for TigerBlog is Georgetown, because it's coached by John Thompson with Mike Brennan on his staff.

The ESPN-driven 24-hour basketball event that happened the other day isn't even the problem. At first thought, TigerBlog reasoned that it was idiotic for teams to agree to play at 6 a.m. or 8 a.m., all in the name of getting on TV. After he thought about it more, TB changed his mind.

The 6 a.m. game was between Monmouth and St. Peter's. Had that been a normal, run-of-the-mill 7 p.m. start, who would ever remember it?

Take last night's Princeton-Manhattan men's game. It was a nice win for the Tigers, who twice looked to be in trouble (early on and then midway through the second half) before turning it around. Still, it's unlikely that this game will be etched in anyone's memory for very long.

But the Monmouth and St. Peter's players will never forget the day where they got up at 2:30 ("I can say without a doubt that I've come in at that time a lot more than I've gotten up at that time," said Monmouth coach Dave Calloway, one of TB's favorite coaches.) and played at 6 a.m. Yes, it was driven by the chance to play on ESPN, but ultimately it will be remembered more as an experience by itself rather than for a TV show. And good for the people at Monmouth and St. Peter's for having that experience.

Getting back to Princeton, it's been a pretty encouraging start to the basketball season, as both the men's and women's teams are both 2-0. This might not seem like such a big deal, but it's only happened four times since the women's program started in 1971-72 and not since 1995-96 (the other three were 1989-90, 1974-75 and 1973-74).

The women have gotten 18 points in each of their two games from freshman Niveen Rasheed and had four players in double figures while taking apart American Monday night. Princeton will be heading off to California to take on UCLA and UC-Irvine next week before returning to take on, among others, Rutgers before the Ivy League starts.

Dartmouth was the preseason pick to win the women's title, but Princeton has to be happy with the progress it has made. The same is true of the men's team, who like the women feature a good balance of young players and veterans and who are flying a bit under the radar in a league where all preseason attention has been focused on Cornell.

The men have defeated Central Michigan and Manhattan to start their season, reversing two losses of a year ago. More importantly, Princeton won games that could have gone either way, a pair of games in which the Tigers trailed either in the final minute (CMU) or late in the second half (Manhattan).

Ian Hummer already looks like quite a player (his ability to pass and see the court particularly impressed TigerBlog), and Princeton has all kinds of options, including the ability to put big men Pawel Buczak and Zach Finley on the court together.

In short, it's a good time to be a fan of Princeton basketball. On top of that, as TigerBlog sat in Jadwin last night, he couldn't help but think of what a great place it is to see a game these days. Tickets are affordable, fans can sit right on top of the court and there's plenty for kids to do there. Last night's game started at 7 and ended at 8:40, so it wasn't too late on a school night.

Also, it's two teams that play hard and are getting better. What more can you want?

The next chance is Saturday, when you can see both on the same day. The men host Army at 2, followed by the women against Delaware.

Best of all, it's not on TV.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

First-Team, Four Times

When the All-Ivy men's soccer team was announced Tuesday, the first thing TigerBlog noticed was that Princeton's four first-team selections included a freshman (Mark Linnville), a sophomore (Antoine Hoppenot), a junior (Josh Walburn) and a senior (Devin Muntz).

It's quite an honor for an athlete to be selected first-team All-Ivy League in any sport, even once. The overwhelming majority of players in the league never earn an All-Ivy honor of any kind (first-team, second-team, third-team in some sports, honorable mention in some sports), and it's not something that any of them take lightly, TigerBlog assumes.

For what it's worth, every single one of Princeton's head coaches who are alums was a first-team All-Ivy League selection at least once as an undergraduate: Jim Barlow (men's soccer), Bob Callahan (men's squash), Marty Crotty (lightweight rowing), Greg Hughes (heavyweight rowing), Sydney Johnson (basketball), Jeff Kampersal (women's hockey coach, obviously a men's hockey selection). Director of Athletics Gary Walters was also a first-team All-Ivy selection (basketball).

Linnville's selection in men's soccer puts him in a position to join a highly exclusive club, the four-time first-team All-Ivy League selection club. It's one that doesn't exactly have widespread membership.

TigerBlog went to the Ivy League website to total up how many four-time first-team All-Ivy selections there have been in league history. Keep in mind that in almost every sport, freshman participation didn't exist until the 1970s or later, which eliminates some of the greatest Ivy League athletes of all time.

TB only counted sports where coaches vote for the teams and did not count sports where All-Ivy status is determined by placing in league championships. This eliminated fencing, rowing, cross country, track and field and swimming and diving, where there are hundreds of four-time (or more) All-Ivy picks.

As for the voted-on-by-coaches variety, in Ivy League history there have been 154 four-time first-team All-Ivy League selections. Of those 154, 64 have come from the sport of squash (34 women, 30 men).

The next highest totals? Women's soccer has 19, followed by softball with 12 and women's tennis with 11. No other sport is in double figures.

Baseball and men's basketball have never had a four-time first-team All-Ivy selection. Men's lacrosse (Cornell's Max Siebald) and field hockey (Princeton's Amy MacFarlane) have had one each.

Of the 154 four-time first-team All-Ivy selections, 43 of them - or 28% - are Princeton alums. TigerBlog didn't total up every other school's selections, so he can't say for sure the 28% is the highest total, but if he had to guess, he'd say it is. Only Harvard appeared to be close.

Broken down by sport, nearly half of Princeton's four-timers came from squash, with 11 women and 10 men, including three (Mauricio Sanchez, Hesham El Halaby, Kimlee Wong) who graduated last year.

The next highest number belongs to softball with seven, followed by women's hockey with four and then women's soccer and wrestling with three each.

As for active athletes who have been named first-team All-Ivy each of their years to date, Princeton has nine, including three from this fall: Linnville and field hockey players Julia Reinprecht and Michelle Cesan. Reinprecht's sister Katie (who by the way has been the Ivy Player of the Year each of her first two years) and Kathleen Sharkey, also a sophomore, give Princeton field hockey four of the eight active players who could reach four-time status.

The other four are men's lacrosse player Chad Wiedmaier, women's tennis player Hilary Bartlett and women's squash players Neha Kumar and Amanda Seibert.

It takes a lot to get to be first-team All-Ivy four times, including staying healthy, maintaining performance level and other intangibles.

And of course, getting it done the first three years doesn't mean the senior year is a lock.

Consider Scott Bacigalupo, the goalie on the Princeton men's lacrosse team from 1991-94. Bacigalupo was first-team All-Ivy League as a freshman, sophomore and junior. As a senior, he was the national Player of the Year and the MVP of the Final Four.

And second-team All-Ivy League.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

We're In

There's nothing quite like an NCAA tournament selection show, at least from an anticipation standpoint. There's a helplessness to watching, since there's absolutely no pre-show warning or knowledge of what's going to happen.

TigerBlog remembers back to 1991, when he watched the men's basketball selection show in Kit Mueller's room with the great Princeton center and the rest of the team. The team was so wound up for the show that it collectively booed a human interest story that ended the network news, which preceded the selections themselves.

For awhile (and maybe still, TigerBlog isn't sure), the NCAA tournament men's basketball selection show received higher ratings than the games themselves that followed. And, of course, the TV people noticed, as selection shows across many sports now are all over television, many with the same basic format of some general banter between the announcers (which nobody cares about) followed by brackets that are slowly revealed, to build the drama. There are often cutaways to teams who joyously react at being selected (the reaction is always the same, regardless of the seed, draw or probability that the team would get a bid; the players, coaches, staff and friends all gather in a room, peer nervously at the screen and then leap to their feet, raise their arms and scream when their school's name comes up on the line) or "bubble" teams that haven't been picked yet.

Of course, the words "Princeton" and "bubble team" rarely go together. For the most part, Princeton teams know if they're in or out before the selection show, either because they hold an automatic bid, they are a shoo-in for the tournament or they obviously have no chance.

Largely, this is because the Ivy League is a one-bid league in basketball and some other sports (field hockey, which Princeton dominates), and, in the sports where there are multiple bids to be had, it's often obvious what's going to happen. In men's and women's lacrosse last year, for instance, neither Princeton team won the automatic bid but both knew they were locks for the tournament.

In fact, TigerBlog can only think of one time when a Princeton team could be considered a bubble team, and that was in men's basketball in 1998-99, when Princeton defeated teams like UNC Charlotte, Texas, Florida State and UAB but had some other tough losses, especially in overtime to Harvard and Yale, that ultimately sent the Tigers to the NIT, where they would beat Georgetown and North Carolina State before falling to Xavier. TigerBlog watched that year's selection show thinking that Princeton had at least a small chance.

All of this brings us to Monday's men's soccer selection show, at 5:30 on ESPNEWS. Princeton's men's team finished its regular season in style, blasting Penn and Yale to finish 9-5-3 with a strong RPI. It seemed like Princeton had a pretty good shot at a bid – but not a 100% lock. In other words, a genuine bubble team.

When ESPNEWS has a selection show, it doesn't go to the picks right away. Instead, it starts out with its normal programming and fits the selections in during the course of the half-hour.

When 5:30 rolled around, the first story was about how the Bengals were thinking of signing Larry Johnson and then mentioned how two guys TigerBlog had never heard of were named the baseball Rookies of the Year.

After that was news that Stephen Jackson had been traded from the Warriors to the Bobcats, which left TigerBlog wondering why teams continually take chances on proven malcontents like Johnson and Jackson. Next was a 10-minute discussion of the NFL, specifically Bill Belichick's decision to go for it on 4th-and-2 from his 28 against the Colts Sunday night (a move TigerBlog defended Monday and continues to believe was a great call).

Then, finally, it was time for the soccer selections. The bad part of selections on ESPNEWS is that they make you wait for 15-20 minutes (or longer) to start the picks; the good part is that they fly through them.

And so it started, with the first group of 12 teams (men's soccer is a 48-team draw; the women's tournament is 64 teams), followed quickly by the next. By this time, Brown and Dartmouth were in the field, and neither one of them had the Ivy League's automatic bid, which belonged to Harvard and meant that three Ivy teams were already in.

TigerBlog remembers full well Gary Walters' time on the men's basketball committee, including his year as chair, and Gary always said that the committee never considers how many teams from a league are in the field. TB has also heard other members of committees for other sports say the same thing, time and again. Still, when Brown and Dartmouth were in and Harvard was still not on the board, TB couldn't help but think "uh-oh."

The third group of 12 didn't include Princeton or Harvard, which made the drama build even more. Finally, the last group was flashed, and Princeton was the last school listed, all the way on the bottom. Princeton vs. Bucknell here Thursday, with the winner to play at Virginia Sunday.

It was torturous for TigerBlog to watch; it had to be twice as excruciating for the team. It had to be a helpless feeling of not having any way of knowing what was going to happen, to pure elation at finding out they were in. And at home, to boot.

Hey, it's what selection shows are all about.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Our Own Peyton vs. Tom

Decisions - in life, sports, whatever - shouldn't be judged on outcomes. They should be judged by the logic that went into making them.

As a result, TigerBlog considers Bill Belichick's decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 from his 28 with a little more than two minutes remaining against the Colts Sunday night to be one of the greatest coaching decisions ever. If the Pats had gotten the first down (and they came really, really close), the game would essentially be over. Basically, what Belichick did was say "hey, Peyton Manning's going to score, whether he has to go 28 yards or 99 yards, so let's keep the ball away from him if we can."

It was a move of pure genius, even if it didn't end up going in favor of the Patriots. It also went completely against the grain of everything TigerBlog hates about pro coaching - the desire to avoid being second-guessed.

If you watched the game, you might have noticed NBC's understated attempt to brand the game (TigerBlog hates that term, by the way) as one between the two "Teams of the Decade" in the NFL's top "Rivalry of the Decade," which can somewhat summed up as "Manning vs. Brady." Also, if you fell asleep early (like TB), you missed one of the great fourth-quarter comebacks you'll ever see.

All the "Peyton vs. Tom" stuff and rivalry stuff got TigerBlog to thinking about Princeton athletics and its rivals. Also, TB asked if Princeton has had a "Peyton vs. Tom" situation that he could remember.

To qualify, it has to be a situation where the individual rivalry between two players transcended the games themselves. Of course, with the nature of college athletics being what it is, it's hard for that type of rivalry to emerge in the span of four years.

Let's get back to that later. Before that, let's talk about the nature of rivalries.

The big thing about Princeton and its rivals is that they're different in different sports. The biggest rival in, oh, let's randomly pick a sport, say, men's lacrosse, is Cornell in the league and Syracuse or Hopkins out of it. In women's lacrosse, over the last 15 years or so, it's been Dartmouth in the league and a host of schools, most notably Virginia, out of it.

In football, you'll find a large group who think Harvard and Yale are Princeton's top rivals and another group (usually younger) who think Penn is Princeton's top rival. Still others think it should be Dartmouth, against whom Princeton finishes the regular season each year (including this week in Hanover).

Some sports, like field hockey and of late women's cross country, have no natural rival, as Princeton has dominated the entire league. A sport like women's soccer might say Harvard is its biggest rival, but in the last decade, Princeton has battled at different times Harvard, Yale, Penn, Columbia and Dartmouth for the top spot in the league.

If you're looking historically, the best rivalry in Princeton athletic history is without question the men's basketball rivalry with Penn. Princeton and Penn dominated Ivy basketball for nearly 50 years, and each time they played was the highlight of the athletic calendar. The rivalry today isn't what it was, though hopefully it'll get back to where it was.

If you're looking for the top rivalry at Princeton for the last few years, especially last year, it's men's squash vs. Trinity. Again, this is without question. The matches the two played last year were epic sporting events, excruciating emotional roller-coasters for both teams.

Getting back to the Tom vs. Peyton angle, it's hard to come up many. If you think men's basketball, maybe the closest you can come is Brian Earl vs. Michael Jordan (the one from Penn), but their games against each other were more team-oriented than a game of one-on-one with teams around them.

TB can really come up with only three from the 20 years he's been around:

* Yasser El Halaby vs. Yale's Julian Illingworth in men's squash, especially from the 2005-06 season, when Illingworth beat El Halaby during the regular season to deny Princeton the outright title, only to have El Halaby come back and wipe out Illingworth 9-6, 9-2, 9-1 in the national final.

* Ryan Boyle vs. Syracuse's Mikey Powell in men's lacrosse. Boyle and Powell had their four years in college overlap, and Powell won the Turnbull Award as the nation's top attackman all four years. Their teams played against each other seven times in four years, and Syracuse went 5-2 in those games. Powell's teams won two NCAA titles to one for Boyle, and the teams went head-to-head in the 2001 and 2002 NCAA final. As freshmen in 2001, Powell scored the game-tying goal with 16 seconds left in regulation in the championship game, and
Boyle set up B.J. Prager perfectly in overtime to win it. By 2004 they were clearly the two best players in college lacrosse.

* Keith Elias vs. Dartmouth's Jay Fiedler. This one goes back to football in the early 1990s. Fiedler (perhaps TigerBlog's all-time favorite non-Princeton Ivy athlete) went 3-0 against Elias on the varsity level (they had an all-time freshman game that TB believes Princeton won), but it was hardly Elias' fault. Dartmouth won the 1991 Ivy League title, and the teams shared the title in 1992 by virtue of Dartmouth's 34-20 win over Princeton to end the season (despite 207 rushing yards from Elias). The 1993 game was the best, though it came on a day when Penn won the Ivy title. Dartmouth beat Princeton 28-22 in Hanover in the final game for Elias and Fielder, and neither disappointed: Elias ran for 188 yards, while Fiedler threw for 224 of his 284 yards and both of his touchdowns in the second half.

In thinking about it, Boyle/Powell and Elias/Fiedler are probably the closest, because when they played against each other, the entire storyline was about that matchup. Also, there are probably others that predated TigerBlog.

There's something special about having that kind of rivalry, team or individual. The Colts-Pats game was great, but it was made greater by having Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Duck Season; Rabbit Season

TigerBlog has always been a huge fan of Bugs Bunny. Even now, as TB closes in on being 50, the right Bugs Bunny cartoon can make him crack up, even if he's seen it a thousand times before.

While TB's two favorites are probably "Racketeer Rabbit" and "Bugs and Thugs," he's always been a big fan of "Rabbit Fire," which is the "Duck Season, Rabbit Season" one where Bugs and Daffy try to convince Elmer that he's hunting the wrong one. Not surprisingly, it's Daffy who gets the worst of it. In the end, Bugs and Daffy start pulling fliers off a tree that alternate "duck season" and "rabbit season" until the dramatic plot twist that TigerBlog will not spoil for you.

Anyway, around HQ these days, it seems to be both duck season and rabbit season and just about every other season. Beginning today and continuing through this weekend, Princeton will have 14 teams in action as fall and winter overlap, and some of these events are huge.

Working at Princeton, it's easy to forget how unusual it is to have 38 varsity sports. Here, it's just something that is taken for granted, something that just is. Director of Athletics Gary Walters often uses the term "broad-based" to talk about the athletic program, and it's a great term for an entity that features 1,000 athletes and nearly 700 athletic contests per year.

The men's basketball team, one of the 14 Princeton teams who play this weekend, opens its season at Central Michigan, a school with 14 teams total.

TigerBlog is always fascinated when he talks to SIDs from other schools, especially those outside the Northeast, who have athletic programs half the size of an Ivy League one and staffs that dwarf those of Princeton or other league schools.

Still, TigerBlog wouldn't have it any other way. Where else can you get weekends like this, including:

* the men's hockey team hosts Dartmouth and Harvard.
* the football team hosts Yale in the 132nd meeting between the schools; only Lehigh and Lafayette have played more. The 1964 team, which was a perfect 9-0, will be honored at halftime.
* the men's soccer team also plays Yale, in a game with two added features: 1) it's the Fox Soccer Channel Game of the Week and 2) Princeton still has a good shot at an NCAA tournament spot and some shot at the Ivy title (Tigers' RPI is 14; Princeton needs to beat Yale, have Brown and Dartmouth tie and Penn beat Harvard to create a four-way tie for the league championship.
* the NCAA field hockey tournament will have the first and second rounds played at Class of 1952 Stadium. Princeton faces Stanford and Boston College faces Syracuse in the first round, with the winners to play for a spot in the Final Four.
* the Big Al Invitational in swimming is being held at DeNunzio Pool; the event is in memory of Alan Ebersole, a member of the men's swimming team at Princeton who tragically was killed five years ago.
* the men's and women's cross country teams compete in the NCAA regionals, being held at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore.
* men's and women's basketball season opens with road games for both (men at Central Michigan; women at Stony Brook); the home opener for the women is Monday against American, and the first men's home game is Wednesday against Manhattan.

Of course, the last weekend in February will top the 14 teams that play this weekend as winter/spring overlap rolls around.

Still, this weekend is challenging enough. It stretches athletic department staff in all areas, not only communications but also grounds crew, equipment, event management, marketing and others.

With men's basketball at noon and football at 1 p.m., a decision had to made about radio, since they both share WPRB FM 103.3 (basketball will be on until it's either over or obvious who will win, and then the switch to football will occur; there will be updates on football given by John Sadak during the basketball game).

There are also people who routinely cover two overlapping sports, such as field hockey and men's hockey or football and volleyball. Those had to be worked out.

But hey, it seems the people here at HQ always do so, and events get covered. It's one of the special parts of Princeton athletics, the fact that you can come to one campus and see so many different kinds of sports, played by athletes with such different backgrounds.

And, as an extra plus, most of them are for free. Even the ones with admission charges aren't prohibitive.

So, that's our weekend. What about you?

See you here?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Programs. Get Your Programs.

Yale is at Princeton Saturday in football. As with every other home game, we here at TigerBlog HQ were responsible for making the game program.

These days, with the advances in technology (and more importantly, the presence of Princeton football contact Craig Sachson), the game program is not quite an arduous task.

That was hardly the case 10-15 years ago, when producing the football game program was by far the most time-consuming, labor-intensive project here at HQ. It usually took the entire staff well past midnight on Monday nights in advance of a Tuesday noon deadline, and TigerBlog still has nightmares about writing, editing, laying out, coming up with headlines and everything else.

And this was before there was a TV here at HQ, which meant that we usually missed all of Monday Night Football. Ask anyone who worked here at HQ during that time, and they'll concur.

Of course, if the Princeton Athletic News in the 1990s was tough, imagine what must have gone into the game program from, say, 1908? Oh wait, we don't have to imagine, because while cleaning out a closet here at HQ, someone stumbled upon the Princeton-Yale game program from the 1908 game.

The game was played on Nov. 14, 1908, or just about 101 years ago. Extra credit to those who can instantly name who the President of the United States was at the time and how many states there were (answers are two paragraphs below).

The 1908 Princeton-Yale game predated Palmer Stadium by six years and was played on University Field, which sits where the engineering quad is now located. Unlike the program for this Saturday's game, which is free, the one in 1908 cost $1. How many places can you find something that you can get today that is cheaper than the same product in 1908? Not many.

Oh, and the answers to the questions. Theodore Roosevelt was the President of the United States on Nov. 14, 1908, though 11 days earlier, William Howard Taft had been elected as Roosevelt's successor after Roosevelt had decided not to seek a third term. And there were 46 United States (29 of whom went for Taft in the election; the remaining 17 went for William Jennings Bryan); Arizona and New Mexico were four years from statehood, while Alaska and Hawaii were several decades away.

As for the game program from 1908, it's not all that much different than the one for 2009 in some ways and radically different in others.

Let's start with the similarities. Both have rosters and pictures of administrators and campus scenes for both schools. There is a picture of Lake Carnegie in the 1908 program that looks like it could have been taken yesterday.

There is information specific to the game in each, with starters, all-time records, series history and general information in the 1908 program and game notes, records and such in the current one.

On the other hand, the 1908 one is in the shape of a football, complete with laces and a leather cover. The current program is 64 pages (down from 80 a year ago); the 1908 one is 116.

There are plenty of ads in both, proving that corporate sponsorship was around long before the 1990s. The ads in the 1908 program are overwhelmingly for New York businesses, an indication that many who attended games back then came by train from the city. There are also ads for rudimentary cars and accessories, including a revolutionary product called the "spare tire."

Modern products advertising in 1908 include Gillette razors ("It affords a clean, satisfying shave on any face or any skin, whether freshman, soph, junior, senior or alumnus."), Buick, Met Life, Spalding and Brooks Brothers.

There are three current Princeton-area businesses who advertised in the 1908 program that still exist today, two of which are current sponsors: the Nassau Inn and the Princeton U-Store. The third is Kopp's Cycle Shop; hey, Kopp's, come back to the fold.

There are advertisements for whiskey and beer, as well as tobacco. There are many ads for women's clothes and other women's products, which is interesting in that TigerBlog didn't realize that women attended the games in big numbers.

There's also an ad for the Royal Typewriter Company, which advertises its new standard typewriter for $65. That seems like a lot for 1908, no?

The 1908 program features the rules of football for the day, many of which are the same as now and several of which are different. For starters, games were played in two 35-minute halves for a total of 70 minutes, something TigerBlog did not know. There is also a scorecard, which enables fans to track touchdowns, goals and goals kicked from the field.

The diagram of the field on page 53 shows two goals, a field 110 yards long, and lines that divide the field with what today are the yard lines every five yards from end zone to end zone, as well as another line that divides the field every 16 feet sideline to sideline, a design from which the term "gridiron" emerged.

From an interesting political standpoint, the 1908 program features a picture of Roosevelt, Taft (a Yale alum) and Woodrow Wilson (then the Princeton president). Interestingly, those three would run against each other for President of the United States in the next election, in 1912. Wilson would win.

The 1908 Princeton-Yale game was won by Yale 11-6 on a cold, icy, snowy day. Legend has it that Yale's top back, Ted Coy, yelled before one play "to hell with the signals; give me the ball."

As for the program, TigerBlog can't help but wonder who produced it, how they produced it, how expensive it was, how it was delivered from the printer to the stadium, how many were printed, how long it took to produce and everything else that went into it. Those are, by the way, the same issues that we still deal with here at HQ in regards to game programs.

It's fascinating to find something that old in such great condition. It makes TB wish we had a museum for Princeton athletic artifacts. Who knows, maybe one day we will.

It's easy to forget that we're just passing through here, even those of us who have been here a long time and will probably be here for a long time to come. But that's years and decades.

The lost - and then found - 1908 game program is a reminder that Princeton has been doing this for a long, long time. Times have changed. Methods have changed. Some things are completely different. Others, like some of the sponsors, are still the same.

And 101 years from now? TigerBlog will be long gone. Princeton athletics will probably still be here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Most Important Holiday Of The Year

TigerBlog woke up this morning like he does every other morning: free.

It's certainly not through his own doing, and it's certainly something he takes for granted. TigerBlog is free to do what he wants. Go to work. Not go to work. Work here forever. Quit today. Live here. Pick up and move 3,000 miles away. Whatever he wants.

Why? Because that's how it works in America, and it works that way because of the sacrifice that hundreds of thousands of American soldiers have made in various wars during the last 233 years.

Today is Veterans' Day, obviously. For those who weren't paying attention in school, Veterans' Day is usually Nov. 11 (it can be moved if it falls on the weekend) in honor of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I on Nov. 11, 1918.

TigerBlog can't imagine the horror of fighting in a war, and he saves his greatest respect for those who have. His uncle Herbie fought in Europe and the Pacific in World War II. His uncle Larry fought in Korea and never spoke a word about his experiences there until the day more than 50 years later when he died. FatherBlog was in the Army as well, though it was during the point between the wars in Korea and Vietnam.

Princeton's connection to the military is long and heroic, befitting a school whose unofficial motto is "In the Nation's Service." Visitors to the ground floor rotunda of Nassau Hall are greeted by a memorial to Princeton's war dead.

Princeton lost 355 students in World War II, which exceeded the total number lost in every previous war combined (319 of whom had been killed in World War I). During the war, nearly 80% of Princeton students left campus to enlist in the military, and, according to Mudd Library, the University was able to remain viable only by becoming a training school for the Army and Navy.

Princeton athletics were greatly affected by the two World Wars. The 1917 Princeton football season consisted of two games, against teams from nearby military bases, and the same was true of the three-game 1918 season. Hockey was suspended for the 1917-18 season and only two games were played the following year.

There would be no hockey from 1943 until the 1945-46 season. Football would play seven games in 1943 and 1945 and three in 1944. Lacrosse would play a total of 17 games between 1942 and 1945.

TigerBlog has no idea how many Princeton athletes are among the school's war dead, but he does know the legendary stories of two former Tiger athletes. Moe Berg, a catcher on the baseball team who went on to have a long career in the Major Leagues, was a spy during World War II who came close to having to assassinate the head of Germany's nuclear program and who made maps of Tokyo during baseball barnstorming trips that were later used for air raids.

The other is Hobey Baker, whom TigerBlog considers along with Dick Kazmaier and Bill Bradley to be the one of the three greatest athletes in Princeton history. Baker's story is also famous: After graduating in 1914 as one of the greatest hockey and football players of all-time and finding life without athletics to be somewhat tedious (he was a banker who played club hockey before there was a professional league for either of his sports), he found a replacement thrill when he learned to fly. He flew against the Germans in World War I, and he died while taking a plane for a test flight six weeks after the Armistice. Legend has it that rather than face a life without sports or war, he crashed his plane on purpose.

Today, as America continues to fight overseas, Princeton and Princeton athletes continue to be represented, and TigerBlog apologizes to those he's missed. Former basketball player Pete Hegseth earned a bronze star while serving in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division, and he has become a nationally known commentator on the American military.

TigerBlog read a story in the Alumni Weekly about a Princeton alum who had been wounded in Iraq and recognized the name, Alex Wilson, from the football roster. Nate Rawlings was a wrestler who has served in the current conflict as well.

When TigerBlog was in Europe with the men's lacrosse team in June 2008, pretty much every player was reading "Lone Survivor," a story by Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell about his experiences in Afghanistan. TigerBlog mandated that TigerBlog Jr. read the book, to see what real dedication and commitment are all about.

Read that book. Watch "Saving Private Ryan" or "Band of Brothers" or "The Last Days of World War II."

Mostly, take a minute to think about what the significance of today is. Veterans' Day lacks the family feel of Thanksgiving and Christmas. It doesn't conjure up the start of summer like Memorial Day or make you think of a barbecue in the backyard and watching fireworks like the Fourth of July.

Mostly, it's just another day for many people, a day to go about business as usual. Except that we do it in a country that is free, and because today salutes those who made it that way and continue to make it that way, it's nothing short of the most important day of the year.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

All-Americas By The Numbers

Sarah Cummings was the "3" in Princeton's history-making 1-2-3-4-5 sweep at the women's Ivy League Heptagonal cross country meet last month. As the Tigers look ahead to the NCAA regionals and ultimately the NCAA championship meet, Cummings will be providing key points for her team, currently ranked fourth nationally.

And none of that is what Cummings wanted to talk to TigerBlog about. Instead, Cummings (a junior from Newport Beach, Calif.) emailed looking for information about All-Americas at Princeton for the last four years. As an aside, she herself was one, having earned All-America honors in the 10,000 meter run outdoors last year.

As another aside, the proper term to describe an athlete who earns this designation is "All-America." An "All-American" can only be used to describe someone from an intangible quality, as in "the All-American boy."

Anyway, Cummings needed the information for a paper for an economic sociology class. Specifically, she was interested in the breakdown by sport and gender for the last four years.

Cummings' request got TigerBlog guessing as to what he would learn. Before totaling it all up, TB figured that there'd be more women All-Americas than men, that squash would have the most and that fewer than half of the sports would have at least one All-America.

For purposes of clarification, the numbers reflect total number of designations, whether first-team, second-team, honorable mention, etc., won by Princeton athletes. To that end, an athlete like swimmer Alicia Aemisegger counts once per year, not once total.

TigerBlog then went back four years and found out that in that time, Princeton had 150 All-America designations, an average of 37.5 per year. And he was sort of right: women had 76, while men had 74.

For the women, there were three sports that produced at least 10: rowing (15), lacrosse (13) and squash (13). In all, 13 of the 18 women's teams produced an All-America, and had TigerBlog gone back one more year, a 14th would have as well.

On the men's side, only two teams reached double figures, but they were far and away the highest of any Princeton's teams. The two? Squash and lacrosse, both with 22. Ten of the 20 men's teams had at least one All-America.

Add it up, and 23 of 38 Princeton teams (61%) produced at least one All-America in the last four years. Not bad.

Of course, some teams have smaller national pools to draw from and therefore have a better chance of having All-Americas selected. The opposite makes it harder for sports like basketball and soccer to do so.

Still, for a non-scholarship Division I school with such high academic standards to produce nearly 40 All-Americas per year across such a wide variety of sports is impressive.

And, with that project behind him, TigerBlog is now available for other research projects. Anyone need help in molecular biology? Mechanical engineering?

Monday, November 9, 2009

I'm Sorry

TigerBlog was at the soccer field at the University of West Philadelphia Saturday afternoon when contemporary American society broke out all over the place.

It all started when the parent of one of the Princeton women's players referred to "the one from youtube." The context? He said that in a high school game, "the one from youtube" had punched his daughter.

If you're among the very few who haven't seen it yet, New Mexico's Elizabeth Lambert picked the wrong game to commit several of the cheapest shots in the history of women's college soccer. It was the wrong game because it happened to be televised, and for some reason, the camera caught everything Lambert dished out: the cheap shot to the back, the kick to the face and especially the yanked pony tail that could have snapped the BYU woman's neck.

As an aside, where were the refs when all this going on? None of those earned Lambert so much as a look from the official, let alone the red card she deserved. And what about the coaching staff? How about getting her off the field and calming her down?

Anyway, if you go to youtube and enter "Elizabeth Lambert" or "New Mexico Soccer," you'll get back any number of versions of what happened, from the SportsCenter piece and the discussion PTI on down. Add them up, and millions and millions of people have seen this clip. Read the text comments there or on, and they give you another glimpse of where society is at right now (hint, the "I want to go out with her" comments far outnumber the "what poor sportsmanship" ones).

Including those who hadn't already seen it at the soccer field in West Philly Saturday. Back in the day, there's no way anyone would have ever seen it, because it wouldn't have been on TV in the first place. Even if it had been something from a televised game, you would have had to wait for the news and then the short sports report in hopes of seeing it.

Then ESPN and the cable explosion came along, and now you had a chance to see it with much greater frequency. But still, you had to be in front of your TV, in your house, to see it.

Not in 2009. Nope, as soon as the conversation turned to "did you see it?," the solution became "let me show you." A few seconds later, and there it was on any number of hand-held devices.

This is how it works these days. If you think there's no affect on the rest of the way society works, you're wrong. Patience in general is thing of the past. People want what they want when they want it, and more and more it's being delivered to them. The more it does, the more the concept of patience disappears from the world.

Ah, but TigerBlog is getting away from the point. Once Lambert was caught by TV cameras and once it was all over the place, the normal protocol sprung into action:
1) suspension
2) apology

The whole world apologizes for everything these days, to the point where almost no apology seems sincere and few actually appear to understand what an apology is supposed to be. To her credit, Lambert's apology (from New Mexico's website) actually seems to buck the trend:
"I am deeply and wholeheartedly regretful for my actions," said Lambert. "My actions were uncalled for. I let my emotions get the best of me in a heated situation. I take full responsibility for my actions and accept any punishment felt necessary from the coaching staff and UNM administration. This is in no way indicative of my character or the soccer player that I am. I am sorry to my coaches and teammates for any and all damages I have brought upon them. I am especially sorry to BYU and the BYU women's soccer players that were personally affected by my actions. I have the utmost respect for the BYU women's soccer program and its players."

Contrast that with the apology that Fox issued after its NFL Sunday crew crossed the line with an animated skit about Jessica Simpson and her weight issues, after she and Dallas quarterback Tony Romo were no longer dating:
"Our poor attempt at humor was insensitive, and we deeply apologize to anyone who might have been offended."

Forget for a minute that maybe someone should have known beforehand that it probably wasn't a good idea for a skit (although in 2009, pretty much anything goes), Fox wasn't apologizing for what it did as much as for the fact that someone may have been offended.

Google "NFL apology" and nearly a million come up. Add the rest of the sports world, and there are apologies out there everywhere. Almost all of them go the Fox route:

"I apologize if anyone took what I did the wrong way or was offended by it or hurt by it."

Here at Princeton, we've been lucky to avoid the "Lambert Moment," when someone's indiscretions while wearing a Princeton uniform are captured on television or end up on youtube (or both). Sure, we've been in the situation where athletes have been suspended, and TigerBlog has written releases where these suspensions include quotes from athletes that are apologies. But it's been years since TB has written one, and his attitude towards them is much different.

There's nothing less sincere than an apology that has been rehearsed, scripted and written by a PR department. TigerBlog's advice on apologizing is to actually apologize, as in: "I'm sorry, because what I did was wrong, and I will work hard not to make those types of mistakes in the future."

Or even better, how about apologizing directly to the person? Why the need to make every apology public? Everyone sees right through them anyway.

To that end, TigerBlog never wants to see another public apology, because they're worthless.

Of course, TB is sincerely sorry if that position in any way offends anyone.

Friday, November 6, 2009

For You, Gail

It was on Nov. 6, 1939, exactly 70 years ago today, that MotherBlog - real name Gail - was born in New York City.

It was 15 years ago today, in 1994, that she celebrated her 55th and final birthday; she died of lung cancer five weeks later, having been done in by 35 years of smoking. She passsed away all too soon, never having used a cell phone or email, never having used the internet, never having met her two grandchildren, never knowing that her oldest son became a lawyer.

As an aside, TigerBlog believes MotherBlog would not have been a fan of online shopping. She liked to be out with the people, talking to them, listening to their stories, telling them her own.

She remains to this day the single most tolerant person TB has ever met. If she was intolerant of anything, it was intolerance itself. To attend a holiday party at her house was to mingle with every subset of society; Thanksgiving with Gail (never "Mom" or "Mommy" or even "MotherBlog;" always "Gail") meant a collection of young couples with kids, gay and lesbian couples, elderly couples, whites, blacks, people from all over the world, Republicans and Democrats - anyone who had no other place to go was welcome.

She stood around 5' 3", if that, but when she hugged you, you knew you'd been hugged. She loved Steve McQueen, and she loved to curse. She was very far to the political left, and she and her younger son spent hours and hours playing point-counterpoint about their two favorite subjects: Ronald Reagan and the Giants-Redskins rivalry.

She was a nomad of sorts, a wanderer who lived in New Jersey and then relocated to Washington, D.C., because it sounded like a fun place to be and then later to Augusta and Atlanta in Georgia, again, because it seemed cool.

She was a graduate of Mt. Sinai School of Nursing, and in her reinvention of herself around the age of 40, she earned a bachelor's degree in politics and became something of a lobbyist for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society on the subject of long-term care, long before health care and its costs and issues became fashionable.

She traveled around all over the country, visiting chapters for the M.S. Society and nursing homes, meeting with elected officials, even testifying before Congress. She had friends from all over the country, and TigerBlog still has a container full of sympathy cards from everywhere, from total strangers, all talking about Gail and what she meant to them. One person called her "the bravest person I'd ever met."

Before she died, she insisted on being cremated and having her ashes scattered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, to serve as a permanent reminder that there's at least one person out there keeping an eye on what was going on.

And so it was, on Mother's Day 1995, six months after her death, that TigerBlog, BrotherBlog and a group of her friends traveled to Washington to fulfill her wish. As an aside, TB thought we would be the only people who had ever done this task; instead, there were two other similar memorials going on at the same time. Gail insisted that no tears be shed and that instead glasses be raised, and she in fact had written her own obituary, which TigerBlog read on the steps of the Capitol.

She was a big sports fan, even if she knew little about sports other than the fact that she loved the Redskins. She loved to talk about her son the sportswriter; she'd listen dutifully to a report on the latest men's basketball weekend or whatever it was that TigerBlog had just covered, even if she didn't exactly care about the games themselves.

TigerBlog remembers only one Princeton game she ever attended, the 1991 men's basketball game at Penn. She was passing through Philadelphia or Princeton or wherever, something she hardly ever did, and she agreed to go to the game. TB remembers how she sat by herself in the stands while TB took care of the radio and then his story.

When it was long past the end of the game and the Tigers were getting ready to get on the bus, TigerBlog introduced Gail to the head coach and chuckled when she called him "Mr. Carril."

Looking back on that moment, TigerBlog can see some similarities between the two. They were both born to very little money. They shared a strong work ethic. They were impossible to BS. They both gave so much to their professions and were well-known and well-respected across the country for it.

And yet they traveled in completely different universes. So, for that matter, did TigerBlog and his mother.

Please forgive TigerBlog for a little personal indulgence today, but it is his mother's birthday.

Happy 70th, Gail. It would have been nice to tell you in person.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Gritty, Gutty Yankees

So the Yankees won the World Series. Congratulations to them, even though to TigerBlog, it feels roughly the same as it would if a student got all B's one year, went out and paid three guys a total of $420 million to do his work the next year and then became valedictorian.

Besides, the Yankees are only a side note to today's thoughts. The real issue is Major League Baseball and how willing it seems to be to destroy itself.

This isn't about the economic model that currently exists that enabled the Yankees to outspend the next highest team in baseball this year by $70,396,382 or to outspend its World Series opponent by $110,811,699. As an aside, the second-highest payroll belonged to a team that shares the same city as the Yankees, a team that went 70-92 this year.

And for those who say that the Mets this year are evidence that money can't buy success, that is true to a certain extent, except that the Yankees go so far above everyone else that it's ludicrous. And if you're keeping score, that's five World Series championships, seven World Series appearances and 13 postseasons in 14 years for the Yankees.

Under any normal economic model, the Yankees wouldn't be able to amass that record of domination without being much shrewder on personnel choices. In other words, the Yankees would be more like the Jets or Giants.

Ah, but TigerBlog digresses. The real issue here isn't money or the Yankees or even steroids or ticket prices or anything else about baseball. It's about television.

Much like Cole Hamels, TigerBlog could barely get out of the fifth inning of a postseason game. The deciding game of the World Series began at 7:57 when the temperature was 47 degrees, relatively warm considering it was Nov. 4. Time of game? Three hours, 52 minutes. Temperature at game's end? 39 degrees.

The World Series used to end in early October and has since gradually drifted back towards and finally into November. All games used to be day games. Now all games are night games, some starting at 8:20.

The league championship series used to be best-of-five. Now it's best-of-seven, with extra off days built in so that the NLCS and ALCS can both be shown in primetime.

Why has all this been done? In the name of squeezing every possible dollar out of television, that's why.

Can there be anything more shortsighted? TigerBlog's interest in baseball grew when he was a kid, fueled largely by watching the 1969 and 1973 postseasons and rooting for the Mets. It peaked while watching the Braves in the 1990s, and it has declined steadily since. TigerBlog Jr.? Little Miss TigerBlog? The only interest they or their friends had this year was generated by school-wide attempts to get the kids interested in the Phillies. TBJ will watch football, basketball, hockey and lacrosse all day and all night, but he had almost no interest in watching the World Series. Or in playing baseball.

As an aside, the manager at the Dicks Sporting Goods near the Oxford Valley Mall told the father of one of the kids TBJ plays football and lacrosse with that of every 10 kids who walked into the store in the spring, nine were buying lacrosse equipment and one was buying a baseball glove.

If baseball keeps up at this rate, it can't possibly survive on the level it is at now.

Here at HQ, our attitudes towards television are not quite what they are in Major League Baseball, but television definitely drives the decision-making process in many ways. Some of it has been good; some of it has been bad.

At least our motivations are a little purer, as our relationship with television is based not on money but on exposure (a chance for fans throughout the country to see Princeton teams play on television), recruiting (a chance for recruits to see the games and to know that there's a chance they'll be on TV as well) and student-athlete experience (hey, everyone, I'm on TV).

Princeton is fortunate to have pretty good access to TV, through deals with ESPN and Verizon Fios 1 Sports, as well as some other outlets. In the last two years, those deals have enabled Princeton teams in football, basketball, lacrosse, soccer, hockey and water polo to play on television.

TigerBlog operates on the idea that in a few years, television as we know it will have evolved radically, away from the traditional "game is on this channel" to "let me watch the high-def video stream on my i-phone-type device." For now, though, Princeton does see the value in having its games on television.

The question then becomes, how far are you willing to go to accomplish this? Princeton-Colgate football, for instance, drew 5,685 fans on a Thursday night, a day and time determined by ESPNU. How many would have come on Saturday? Probably more.

The No. 1 impact television has on Princeton is altering the start time, and as in the case of the football game, the day of the contest. Is this always good? No. Princeton started a basketball game a few years ago at 9 p.m., and the resulting overtime took the game past 11:30 on a weeknight. That season, Princeton actually played two of its seven Ivy home games at 9 for television; it would be somewhat counter to the philosophy of trying to draw families with young children to games to start them at 9. In fairness to us, we have resisted subsequent attempts to start basketball at 9 for TV.

On the other hand, TV has also enabled Princeton to stumble into some good start times. It was TV that moved a Saturday men's basketball game from its decades-old, etched-in-stone time of 7:30 to 6; now all Saturday games are at 6.

Television has moved the face-offs for the coming Princeton men's lacrosse season all over the map, from a noon game against Hofstra on Feb. 27 to a 5 p.m. start against Cornell to a 6:30 start against Syracuse. For that matter, the top five drawing men's lacrosse games on Princeton's campus has been against either Syracuse or Johns Hopkins; TV has moved those games off campus altogether.

Even beyond that, TV has influenced games for those watching in person, or even the strategy of games. TV timeouts have long since became SOP at basketball games, with timeouts at the first deadball at the 16, 12, 8 and 4 minute marks and the first 30-second timeout called in the second half. How often have you heard announcers talk about or seen in person teams playing to "get to the media timeout?"

For the Colgate football game, there were three TV timeouts per quarter, and the elapsed time was 3:19. The game two weeks earlier against Lehigh, with no TV timeouts, was 2:35.

Is it really fair to ask fans to sit through these TV timeouts? Or, put another way, it shows how conditioned fans have become that they sit through the TV timeouts like it's nothing. And at least nothing here is as bad as score-commercial-kickoff-commercial-play, as the NFL routinely does.

Where do we draw the line? Hopefully we're smart enough not to destroy what we have going here, which is family-friendly, low-cost, high-quality college athletics, in the name of television.

On the other hand, TigerBlog was in a meeting once where it was suggested that the department adopt a rule that would prevent teams from scheduling events on holidays. Among other problems, TB pointed out that if ESPN called and said "we want Princeton at North Carolina basketball on Dec. 25," it was pretty obvious what the response would be:

"Merry Christmas, from Chapel Hill."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

15 For 16

The newsroom at the Trenton Times – or at least how it was back when TigerBlog worked there – was an L-shape, with the sports department on the short part of the "L" and the various news departments spread around the long arm.

The news side was usually done with its day when the sports people were just getting started, with the notable exception of election day. Each year on election day, the news side would come in late, bring in a big spread of food and stay past midnight as results came in.

In other words, it was the one day of the year when the news side did what the sports department did every night.

The Trenton Times was probably not unlike most any other newspaper in that respect, and in many respects, for that matter. One way the Times was different, though, was in the amount of space it devoted in the sports section to the coverage of local college sports, especially sports that might not have been considered "mainstream."

To that end, TigerBlog spent more time in the late 1980s and early 1990s covering sports like soccer, swimming, rowing, lacrosse (it wasn't mainstream back then), track and field and others than the average sportswriter. TB has certainly covered more women's sports (especially non-basketball) in his five years working with colleges than most lifers ever do.

One sport that has always stood out is field hockey. Back then, TigerBlog covered field hockey at Princeton and Trenton State (now the College of New Jersey), and in all the time he covered both teams, he can never remember either losing.

As an aside, when Trenton State changed its name to TCNJ, TigerBlog remembers the furor it caused on two campuses and found it funny because 1) he never met a person at TSC who loved that the school was affiliated with Trenton and 2) he never met a person here who was enamored with being associated with the state of New Jersey.

Princeton field hockey played back then on Gulick Field, a grass field located above old Lourie-Love Field. Today, Plummer Field (the practice FieldTurf field at Roberts Stadium) stands where Gulick Field used to, and the Gulick family is remembered with a plaza at the new stadium.

The field hockey team relocated to the artificial turf of Class of 1952 Stadium in 1995. The team underwent a coaching change in 2002, when Beth Bozman left for Duke and Kristen Holmes-Winn replaced her.

Through all that, Princeton field hockey has continued to win. In fact, the Tigers clinched at least a share for the 2009 Ivy League title last Friday with a 10-1 win over Cornell, and a win over Penn Friday night would mean the outright title and a perfect record in the league.

Princeton has scored 19 goals in its last two games, which is more than all but one other Ivy team has scored in all of its league games this year. The Tigers are currently 13-2 and ranked fourth nationally, and excitement is high for the program as the NCAA tournament bids are less than a week away.

The Ivy championship that the field hockey team salted away Friday was the 15th in the last 16 years, and it led TigerBlog to do some research about other Princeton teams and the championships they've won in their last 16 seasons of competing. TB found out that there were three other teams that have reached double figures in that time, and you now have two paragraphs to think about the answer.

In all, 21 of the 33 teams that compete in Ivy League sports at Princeton have won at least five Ivy League championships in their last 16 seasons. That means that 64% of the Princeton teams that compete in the Ivy League have basically won at least one title every three years.

For the record, the five teams that don't compete in Ivy sports are men's volleyball, men's and women's water polo, sprint football and women's lightweight rowing.

And the answer is: men's lacrosse (12), women's swimming and diving (10) and men's indoor track and field (10).

Here at TigerBlog HQ, there are all kinds of pictures hanging on the walls of great moments in Princeton sports. There are also the pictures that are used all the time in publications (at least the ones we still do) and videos.

One of the absolute favorites is a shot of the field hockey team as it celebrates its 4-1 win over UConn to advance to the 1998 NCAA final (Princeton has played in two finals and four Final Fours).

The 1998 semis were played at Franklin Field on a night when it poured, and the picture is fondly known here at HQ as "the rain-soaked celebration shot." It's a great picture, and it's the best picture we have here of the team during its remarkable run.

The best picture so far, that is.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Partners In Lax

The binder for the 2001 men's lacrosse season sits on a shelf here at TigerBlog HQ. After spending much of Monday afternoon speaking with Ryan Boyle and Matt Striebel, TB broke out the binder of that season to look up one fact – and came away wondering why TB had gotten it wrong all those years ago.

Boyle's arrival at Princeton moved Striebel from attack to midfield, a fact that wasn't represented in the starting lineup listed in the game notes in the binder in any of the games that season until the last, which just happened to be the NCAA championship game against Syracuse, won by Princeton 10-9 in overtime.

The starters on attack for the opener are listed as Striebel, B.J. Prager and Sean Hartofilis. Boyle isn't listed as a starter until Game 3, though he started every game. Hartofilis is listed as a midfielder as Prager, Striebel and Boyle are listed as the starters on attack for much of the year.

TigerBlog has no idea why it is like this, as the attack unit for every game was Boyle, Hartofilis and Prager. By season's end, Striebel was a first-team All-Ivy midfielder.

Anyway, the reality is that Boyle moved Striebel out of the attack position he had played for his first three years – and the result has been a partnership between two Princeton athletes unlike any other TigerBlog can think of or remember.

All of this came to the forefront Monday, when Striebel and Boyle were named to the 23-member U.S. team for the 2010 lacrosse World Championships.

As an aside, the 2010 championships will be held in Manchester, England. The host team is one that has played Princeton three times in the last 16 months, and the ties between the English and Princeton are pretty strong right now. Were it not for the whole being American thing, TigerBlog would be rooting for England.

Boyle and Striebel won that national title together at Princeton in 2001, their only year as Tiger teammates. Back then, they "barely knew each other," as Boyle said. Since then? They've more than made up for lost time.

The two have gone on to win three championships in Major League Lacrosse as teammates with the Philadelphia Barrage (who no longer exists). They were also teammates in 2002 on the U.S. team that won the World Championship and in 2006, when the U.S. was stunned by Canada in the final. The two, along with Kevin Cassese (Duke alum and current Lehigh head coach), are the only three players to be on each of the last three U.S. national teams.

TigerBlog can't think of another pair of Princeton teammates who have won the championship together in college, professionally and internationally. They've played together all over the world, in Perth, Australia, for the 2002 championships, in Ontario in 2006 and now in England next year.

Beyond that, they also work together with Trilogy Lacrosse, which promotes youth lacrosse and general physical fitness throughout the country.

They're an interesting partnership, Striebel and Boyle. They're somewhat different, with Boyle the quiet, understated, soft-spoken one and Striebel the one who instantly lets you know that he's in the room. Or, as was the case Monday, on the phone, as when Boyle politely said "how are you?" and Striebel blasted "you want some quotes about being an old man and still playing?"

They are high on the list of TigerBlog favorites. Boyle came to Princeton with unbelievable hype and then spent four years exceeding it, beginning with his first game freshman year in which he had four assists against Johns Hopkins and culminating with the second-to-last game senior year, when he carried Princeton past Maryland into the 2004 Final Four in what remains the best clutch performance TB has seen from a Princeton athlete.

As for Striebel, he was a soccer/lacrosse player who played in the NCAA tournament in both. He was part of the great Princeton lacrosse Class of 2001, one that came in on top and went out on top. For someone who has become one of the best midfielders in the world for the last few years, he was not a dominant player at Princeton. In fact, it wasn't until after he became an assistant coach with the Tigers for a year that he really began to emerge professionally and internationally.

Boyle, one of the greatest lacrosse quarterbacks of all time, is a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer one day. Striebel has played himself into a borderline one since he left Princeton.

Striebel oozes personality, whether it's playing lacrosse or lunchtime basketball in Jadwin or working with kids. Mention his name to anyone who knows him, and the first reaction is usually a laugh.

Boyle oozes charisma, a slightly different commodity. In fact, TigerBlog puts Boyle up there with football's Keith Elias as the two most charismatic athletes he's met at Princeton.

Together, they have built quite a legacy. Individually, their accomplishments are tremendous; when coupled with the fact that they have done it largely on the same teams the whole time, it's even more extraordinary.

TigerBlog Jr. plays with his Twist team in tournaments that often feature teams from Trilogy. At one tournament a year ago, TigerBlog saw a Matt Striebel jersey for sale in the merchandise tent and couldn't help but think how much of a star to the lacrosse kids he has become.

And then there's Boyle. Every time anyone sees a Trilogy team, the kids always point to the other coach and say: "That's Ryan Boyle." When TigerBlog points out that Trilogy has many teams and that this coach isn't Ryan Boyle, he's inevitably asked how he knows and then is hit with the same comment, always uttered with awe: "You know Ryan Boyle?"

Yes, he knows Bolye - and Striebel. He's seen them develop up close as lacrosse players and followed their careers ever since, including Monday, when they were named again to the U.S. team. They are unique in Princeton history, and they are great ambassadors for the University and the sport.

Partners in lax, one might say.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Good To See You Again, Jordan Culbreath

TigerBlog has only spoken with Jordan Culbreath once, last year during a halftime interview on the radio during a men's basketball game. TB found Culbreath to be nice and polite, if not quite verbose.

His story was also fascinating, in that he was an unrecruited walk-on from Virginia who had gone on to lead the Ivy League in rushing in 2008 with 1,206 yards.

That total would prove to be 1,114 more than he would gain in 2009, a season that ended for him after just 23 carries.

By now, his story is familiar to Ivy football fans. Culbreath began to feel fatigued and weak during summer camp, and an ankle injury early on that required treatment led to a diagnosis of aplastic anemia, a potentially fatal disease that left him in the National Institute For Health in Washington, D.C., and not at Princeton University.

His situation is still extremely serious, with his sister not a match for a bone marrow transplant. He has responded to other treatment, though, and his health improved to the point where he was able to attend this past Saturday's game against Cornell.

His presence on the sideline, in the locker room and at midfield for the coin toss clearly helped inspire Princeton, who snapped a four-game losing streak with a 17-13 win.

For the record, Princeton is now 2-1 at games Culbreath has been to and 0-4 in games he could not attend.

As an aside - well actually, not an aside - the coin toss told you a great deal about where Princeton football is in 2009. Culbreath and linebacker Scott Britton are out for the year, and Wilson Cates was slowed about 90% by an injury. Mark Paski, the fourth captain, has started every game and has played through his own pains.

But the story of Princeton football in 2009 is really about Culbreath. His performance against Dartmouth to end last year was an epic series of one long run after another, a day where the normal definitions of a big game (100 yards, a touchdown or two) were shattered early on in what became a 276-yard afternoon. He was a unanimous first-team All-Ivy running back, becoming only the second Princeton running back (along with Cameron Atkinson in 2002) to be first-team All-Ivy since Keith Elias graduated in 1994.

He was to the cornerstone for the Tigers as a senior, the 2009 version of Jeff Terrell, who quarterbacked an unheralded team to the 2006 Ivy title. Instead, something was obviously wrong from the start.

It's the nature of football to lose players to injury, and to paraphrase former men's basketball coach Bill Carmody, the woods are full of teams that overcame the loss of key players and went on to win championships.

But that's about torn ACLs and broken arms, not about this. Culbreath is 21, an athlete in his prime. To be knocked down by something called aplastic anemia, something attacking his bone marrow, seems so unfair, so hard to contemplate.

TigerBlog is hardly on the inside when it comes to Princeton football, but it is easy to see that this is a team that's had its spirit stomped on by Culbreath's illness. Forget what he would have meant to a first-year starting sophomore quarterback or how much pressure he would have taken off the other running backs and the receivers, which might have taken some of the pressure off the defense. This has been more about having to perform at your best when the great optimism of just a few weeks earlier vanishes and your best player and captain – and friend – is not even in the hospital but at NIH fighting for his life.

And that's why Saturday was so great for Princeton football.

It's one thing to text and email and read a carebridge page and talk to someone who went through the same thing and hear the coaches talk. It's another to see him standing there, to see how he looked anything but frail, how he looked very much like one of the many college football players who are hurt and not like someone who has been fighting for his life.

Maybe that helped Princeton overcome Cornell Saturday. Maybe Culbreath's presence alone helped to inspire a team that has struggled this season.

Can something like the return of a sick player actually impact the outcome? Did Tommy Wornham's 78-yard game-winning pass to Trey Peacock happen because Culbreath was there?

Who knows. Let's just say that much like chicken soup, it didn't hurt. And from TigerBlog's perspective, it wasn't the biggest part of the day anyway.

TB walked away from the PA booth when the bands came in at halftime to read their scripts, and he saw Culbreath come into the press box to be interviewed. He was wearing his No. 21 jersey with black sweatpants, and he moved easily, smiling the whole time.

At that moment, the entire point of the whole day was completely apparent to TigerBlog: Win or lose, it was just good to see Jordan Culbreath.