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.

1 comment:

cardrunners said...

Tom Brady clearly outplayed Manning in this matchup and a questionable 4th down spot and terrible call and strategy by Bellicheck handed the game to the Colts.