Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Time Well Spent

TigerBlog's first trip to Palmer Stadium was back in the 1984 season, when he was doing student radio for Penn.

Princeton and Penn had played an epic game in 1983, a 28-27 Penn win that featured at the time the longest play in Princeton history (a 95-yard touchdown pass from Doug Butler to Derek Graham) and a sack on a two-point conversion attempt that would have won the game after Princeton scored a touchdown in the final seconds on a fourth down. Chuck Yrigoyen, who was then the sports information director for Princeton and who now is the commissioner of the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, said that the 1983 Princeton-Penn game was the best he'd ever seen.

The intro to the 1984 game included the final call from the game the year before, when the play-by-play announcer was a kid from St. Louis named Sandy Friedman. TB remembers what Friedman - now a lawyer - said after the call of the sack, which was by a player named Dave Smith: "How about that defense Jon Hock?"

For those who don't know, Jon Hock is now an award-winning documentary filmmaker who has done several pieces for ESPN, including the famous one about Sebastian Telfair's senior year of high school on Coney Island entitled "Through the Fire."

Hock, who started his career at NFL Films, also did a documentary for the ESPN "30 For 30" series entitled "The Best That Never Was," about former Oklahoma running back Marcus DuPree and his life as one of the most highly recruited football players of all time through his struggles after a devastating knee injury.

That 1984 Princeton-Penn game was the first Princeton football game that TB saw, after he missed the 1983 game to cover a high school game. If he had to guess, he'd say it was, oh, Council Rock vs. Pennsbury or maybe Ewing-Steinert?

Since then, TB estimates he's seen about 165 or so Princeton football games. He began to cover them basically full-time when the current Tiger head coach was the center.

The only two sports he's seen more than football are men's lacrosse and men's basketball.

In men's lacrosse, TigerBlog has seen every game since the second game of the 2004 season, a 14-5 loss at Hopkins that TB skipped to be at Dartmouth when the men's basketball team wrapped up the Ivy League championship. In counting up the total just now, TB realizes that he's seen exactly 100 straight Princeton men's lacrosse games.

TB's first Princeton men's lacrosse game was the 1990 game against Bucknell on Finney Field. In all, TB would estimate that he's seen around 275 men's lacrosse games.

In men's basketball, the number is probably around 450.

As an aside, looking at those numbers, TB wonders how many people have seen more Princeton football, men's basketball and/or men's lacrosse games than he has. It's probably a higher number than TB would guess, though if you factor out coaches (Pete Carril, Bill Tierney) and Princeton alums, then TB might be near the top.

Bill Carmody was the head coach for 117 games at Princeton (92-25, a .787 winning percentage that ranks second in program history to J. Hill Zahn's .800 with a 36-9 record from 1921-23); TB saw 116 of those games, missing only the 1998 game at UNC-Wilmington because of a conflict with the final football game of the season.

The one game that TB missed was also the only one of Gabe Lewullis' career that TB did not see, and of course, it was the game where Lewullis had his career high of 30 points.

The most recent Princeton game was the one in which Kareem Maddox scored 30 points in the Tigers' 86-77 win over Siena Sunday.

Princeton is now 2-0 at home, and both have been thoroughly entertaining games, with overtime wins over Rutgers and Siena.

TB tried to think of times he'd seen a Princeton player reach 30 points in a game, and he came up with all of the correct ones:
* Noah Savage (now the radio color commentator) had 35 against Brown in 2008
* Judson Wallace had 31 against Holy Cross in 2003
* Chris Young had 30 against Harvard in 2000 despite leaving very early after needing stitches
* Spencer Gloger scored 34 against UAB in 1999, making 10 threes along the way
* Steve Goodrich with 33 against Penn at the Palestra in 1998; Goodrich went 10 for 12 from the field in that game and missed his first two shots of the night
* Rick Hielscher with 34 on 16 of 20 shooting at Dartmouth in 1995 on a night when the rest of the team went 8 for 39
* Kit Mueller with 32 against Harvard in 1990

In each of those games, TB came away thinking that it was so effortless of these guys to reach 30 that it seemed like it should be a normal night for them. Certainly Maddox looked the other night like he could have scored 100 against Siena if he'd needed to. And yet, in the last 20 years, it's only happened eight times by a Princeton player.

But hey, that's the beauty of going to all these games. You never know when something unique is going to happen.

Monday, November 29, 2010

And Don't Call Me Shirley

There's a movie from 1957 called "Zero Hour" that starred Dana Andrews as a former World War II pilot who had a bit of a lapse during a key moment and as a result six men were killed. Since then, he's lived with the guilt, and it's affected every aspect of his life.

Now it's 12 years after the war, and Andrews hasn't been on a plane since. This time, though, he's flying from Winnipeg to Vancouver to try to keep his wife from leaving him, only the plane is flying through bad weather and the pilot and co-pilot, as well as others on the plane, have gotten food poisoning from eating bad fish.

As an aside, if your choice is flying the plane with a bad stomach ache or crashing, TigerBlog would hope that the average pilot would chose the stomach ache.

Anyway, Andrews takes the controls, flies through the storm and lands the planes safely, saving the day and turning his life around.

Oh, and his character's name? Ted Stryker.

TigerBlog saw the movie "Airplane" in the movies in 1980 when it came out and about 100 times since. He never knew that it was based on "Zero Hour," in some cases word-for-word, until he saw the older movie on TCM one day a year or so ago.

Watching "Zero Hour," TB couldn't help but laugh, not at the movie but about how "Airplane" turned it into such an epic, legendary comedy using many of the same lines of dialog, including the one spoken by the doctor who happened to be on board in both movies:

"The life of everyone on board depends upon just one thing: finding someone back there who can not only fly this plane, but who didn't have fish for dinner.“

In the first movie, it's a corny line. In "Airplane," when spoken by Leslie Nielsen, it's hilarious.

And in fact, it's not nearly the funniest thing Nielsen says in the movie. It's probably not in the top 10.

Somehow, TigerBlog didn't hear until this morning that Nielsen had passed away yesterday, at the age of 84, after suffering from pneumonia.

By the time he found out about Nielsen, he'd already written 235 words of what was going to be today's entry, which instead gives TB a 235-word head start on tomorrow's entry.

Instead, today has to be about Leslie Nielsen, a complex actor who spent decades doing dramatic roles before exploding as a comedic actor in "Airplane" and then in "The Naked Gun" series.

TB remembers watching an episode of "Columbo," where Nielsen plays the boyfriend of a woman who kills her brother after the brother tries to stop her from seeing Nielsen. As with all "Columbo" episodes, the detective figures it out in five seconds and then hounds the murderer from there.

That episode was in 1971, nine years before "Airplane." Following basically the same exact script as "Zero Hour," "Airplane" is one of the funniest movies ever made, and Nielsen, with his deadpan deliveries, ranks, oh, in the top five of the funniest characters in any comedy movie TB has ever seen, up there with:

1. Rodney Dangerfield in "Caddyshack"
2. John Belushi in "Animal House"
3. Woody Allen in "Bananas"
4. Michael Keaton in "Night Shift"

"Airplane" cost $3.5 million to make and made more than $80 million. It features these classic lines from Nielsen:

"How soon can you land this plane?"
"I can't tell you."
"You can tell me. I'm a doctor."

"You have to tell the captain that we have to land as soon as possible. We have to get these people to a hospital."
"A hospital? What is it?"
"It's a big building with patients, but that's not important now."

And of course, the granddaddy of them all:
"Can you fly this plane, and land it?"
"Surely you can't be serious."
"I am serious... and don't call me Shirley."

TB had to go to IMDB to get some quotes from "The Naked Gun," which he hasn't seen nearly as many times as "Airplane."

Among those:
Ed: Don't you worry, Wilma. Your husband is going to be alright. Don't you worry about anything. Just think positive. Never let a doubt enter your mind.
Frank: He's right, Wilma. But I wouldn't wait until the last minute to fill out those organ donor cards.
[Wilma cries again]
Ed: What I'm trying to say is that, Wilma, as soon as Nordberg is better, he's welcome back at Police Squad.
Frank: ...Unless he's a drooling vegetable. But I think that's only common sense.


Mayor: Oh, Drebin. I don't want any trouble like you had last year on the south side. Understand? That's my policy.
Frank: Yes, well when I see five weirdo's dressed in togas stabbing a guy in the middle of the park in full view of a hundred people, I shoot the bastards, that's my policy.
Mayor: That was a Shakespeare in the park production of "Julius Caesar" you moron! You killed five actors, good ones.

The "Don't Call Me Shirley" line from "Airplane" was one of the clips used on the video board during the Hyatt Regency movie contest during the recently concluded football season.

For those who missed it, each game featured a contest in which two teams (usually a husband/wife) competed to see clips on the video board and guess what movie they were from. The first team to get three clips won a night's stay at the Hyatt Regency and dinner for two while there.

The movies used ranged from "The Godfather" - "Fredo, you're my older brother and I love you, but don't ever take sides against the family again" to "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" - "if I'm here and you're here, isn't it, like, our time?" to "Pulp Fiction" - "I'm Winston Wolf; I solve problems."

The challenge each week was to come up with scenes where people would get the movie without having it be too obvious, while also being diligent about not letting anything R-rated slip through. It seemed to be a well-received promotion.

TB has been thinking about how to spruce up the promotions now that it's basketball season. Yes, the sneaker search and the kids-put-on-the-oversized-uniform are established classics. And yes, Princeton has had success bringing fans on the court to shoot for prizes at halftime.

Still, there's something new out there waiting to be done. The debut of the digital video boards leaves the potential for something like the movie game from football, but TB isn't quite sure yet.

The best contests are the ones that are winnable but require some effort on the part of the contestants. TB is open to suggestions, and hopefully the group here will be able to come up with something.

And yes, it wasn't much of an effort in relating Leslie Nielsen back to Princeton Athletics, but some people transcend the normal way of doing business. Nielsen, who spent much of his career as dramatic actor only to finish it as one of the great comedians ever, is one of them.

Unfortunately, there was no TigerBlog back when Rodney died in 2004. If there had been, that would have been at least a three-part series.

Princeton Athletics will dominate tomorrow's TB, with the first 235 words of it already in the can.

For today, it's all Leslie Nielsen. Rest in peace, and thanks for the all the laughs.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

A year ago, TigerBlog had this to say about Thanksgiving:

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 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). 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.

Now, 52 weeks to the day later, TB started out to write about Thanksgiving again, and he would have basically come up with the same stuff word-for-word that he wrote last year, so he figured he'd do a little copy-and-paste and then add something like:
If the day you pay your income taxes or something like that is the worst annual day of the year, then Thanksgiving has to be in the top three or so, along with your birthday and Christmas or something else.

Unless your birthday happens to fall on Thanksgiving, as is the case this year with Stephanie Sutton in the ticket office, who celebrates a big one tomorrow.

Stephanie has worked in the ticket office since just before TigerBlog started covering Tiger athletics. Strictly guessing, she's probably sold around two million tickets for Princeton events.

Every now and then, TigerBlog touches on the theme that Princeton Athletics has a large number of behind-the-scenes people who never get any recognition for their efforts and who don't seek any out. At the same time, Princeton would not be able to field teams and put on events without these people, who work not with any specific teams but rather for the entire athletic department as a whole.

If you come to a game here, you've already dealt with Stephanie or Clare Baxter or Dee Vertucci from the ticket office and probably didn't realize it.

As you watch the game, you see the work of people like Jon Kurian, Ryan Yurko and Phyllis Chase from the business office, Clif Perry, Gary Audet and Gary Mosely from the equipment staff, Brad Cabral, Garfield Brown, Matt Conti, Jay Hulick, Jeff Madill, Paul Merrow, Elysee Nicolas and Jim Ogden on the grounds crew, Greg Paczkowski in aquatics and technology, Mike McLaughlin in aquatics, Dan Joyce in information technology, Adlay Bugg in schdeduling, Craig Sachson, Kristy McNeil, Yariv Amir and Andrew Borders in communications, Scott Jurgens in marketing, Nancy Donigan in awards/compliance, Rob Hayden and Marie Muhvic in fundraising, David Santoro in operations.

The event staff itself? It's just two people - Karen Malec and Steve Kanaby.

You know the name Gary Walters well, but his administrative staff includes less familiar names like Erin McDermott, Inge Radice, Anthony Archbald, Jeff Graydon, Kim Meszaros, Chris Brock, Kelly Widener and Kellie Staples.

Considering that Princeton fields 38 varsity teams with around 1,000 athletes who compete in more than 600 intercollegiate contests a year both on this campus and around the country, that's not a big staff at all.

They're a hard-working dedicated group, and every Princeton coach is the beneficiary of what they do.

TigerBlog is thankful for a great many things this Thanksgiving.

The opportunity to work with this group of people is one of them.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Finish Line

TigerBlog was a longtime member of the Jadwin Gym lunchtime basketball game, and in fact the email that now goes to 72 different people each day was originally a group of about 10 or so that TB put together years ago.

He even came up with the subject line that lives to this day: "noon hoops."

It's been a few years since TB has actually played basketball in Jadwin at lunchtime, though he can make the claim that he played at lunch with Pete Carril, Bill Carmody, Joe Scott and John Thompson - as well as about 200 others.

TB wrote about his lunchtime hoops experiences earlier this year, when he was finally able to return to playing squash after a 21-month absence due to a knee situation.

These days, he's back in the squash routine full-time. In fact, TB isn't the only one who plays these days, and one of the relative newcomers, athletic department computer guy Dan Joyce, is organizing a department squash ladder and something he calls a "box" competition.

Anyway, TB was on his way to play when he asked his usual opponent it it seemed possible that it had been 10 weeks since they had been at Lehigh for the opening of the football season. Of course the answer was "no way."

In reality, it was only nine weeks and two days since the football opener, and yes, it seemed like it flew by.

Football season in the Ivy League is a total sprint, 10 games on 10 straight Saturdays, starting later than the rest of the world (high school, college, pro, Pop Warner, anyone) and ending before most.

It has a great rhythm to it - and then it's over.

As any Ivy football fan will tell you, there are a few issues with the way Ivy football works:

* the 10-game schedule, which is the reason why the season starts later than the rest of the college football world

* not having any built-in weeks off

* the Ivy League's decision to have its Bushnell Cup winner announced at the National Football Foundation dinner in New York on Dec. 6

* and of course, the granddaddy of all Ivy League sports discussions, the inability of the Ivy League football champion to participate in the FCS playoffs

Let's skip to the third and fourth.

In year's past, when the All-Ivy football team was announced, the Bushnell Cup winner (Ivy League Player of the Year) was the headline of the story. Today, when the 2010 All-Ivy team is announced, the Bushnell winner won't be part of it.

Instead, the announcement will be made in two weeks as part of a Heisman Trophy-style ceremony. TB is fine with this, because it figures to be a better experience for the winner (and finalists, which TB assumes there will be) and it'll spread the Ivy football exposure a little wider.

As an aside, TB understands why Trey Peacock won't win the award, but he would have had around 110 receptions and 1,300 yards or so if Tommy Wornham hadn't gotten hurt.

Getting back to the granddaddy, the FCS field was announced Sunday, with a field of 20 teams that includes four first-round games to play into the final 16. Among the teams that will be playing include Patriot League champ Lehigh and NEC champ Robert Morris, so clearly an Ivy League team would fit nicely into the bracket.

And yet it doesn't happen.

At the same time that Penn, the 14th-ranked team in I-AA, is finished with football season, the men's soccer teams from Dartmouth and Brown are getting ready to travel across the country to play in the NCAA Sweet 16.

TB still doesn't understand why a league that had three at-large bids couldn't muster an RPI high enough to get its outright champion a bye. But hey, he'll get over it. At some point.

The point here is that many Ivy football fans will make the case that if it's okay for the soccer teams to play this exact week (on the other side of the country, no less), how could it not be okay for the football teams?

The answer is that it's obvious that the same standards aren't in place. No rational person could make the argument that football postseason would be any different than postseason in any other sport.

The point is that the powers that be (the presidents) are aware of this double standard and are okay with it. There can be many reasons for it (the foundation of the league was based on that principle, the Harvard-Yale game), but the winning argument isn't that it's okay for other sports so why not football.

And, with the current climate, TB figures this discussion will go on for awhile, all with players who know they came to play in a league that didn't allow postseason participation.

Ivy League football is a sprint. The season from Game 1 to Game 10 runs just 64 days, compared to a minimum of 127 days for hockey, 121 days for basketball and even 78 for an Ivy lacrosse team or two.

Teams build momentum, while others fall off the pace early with no way to get back in the race. The in-league schedule rarely changes, and the rivalries all date back decades and even centuries.

It's certainly unique.

And then it's over. Just like that.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Unofficially, The Fall Is Over

The surest sign that summer is ending is when the local community pool closes. TigerBlog loves the community pool, with a chair in the shade, something to read and a cold drink. Every now and then, TB will actually go in the pool, usually after jumping off the high dive.

The pool opens Memorial Day weekend and closes Labor Day weekend, even though the weather is still great for the next week or so. The reason is that the lifeguards all go back to school.

Anyway, it seems like about 15 minutes ago that the pool closed. And yet, as of today's NCAA cross country championships, the fall athletic season at Princeton officially closes.

Princeton teams won four Ivy League championships in the fall season, taking the outright championship in men's soccer, field hockey, men's cross country and women's cross country. For a little perspective, five of the other seven Ivy schools did not win more than three for the entire 2009-10 school year.

In fact, five of the other seven schools did not win any for the fall of 2010 as well. Princeton's four titles were followed by three for Penn and one for Yale (there are seven official Ivy fall sports, but Yale and Penn tied for the women's volleyball title before Penn won the automatic NCAA tournament bid in a playoff).

Princeton came within one ball excruciatingly deflected off the line in overtime of women's soccer, where the Tigers had to settle for second place. Women's volleyball finished third, giving Princeton six of seven teams in the top three, while football finished eighth.

If you're a fan of the Ivy League's unofficial all-sports standings - and who isn't? - then here are the fall standings:

1. Princeton 45
2. Penn 39
3. Columbia 33
4. Dartmouth 32.5
5. Yale 28
6. Harvard 27
7. Brown 26
8. Cornell 20.5

The scoring, as a reminder, gives teams points for their placings in the final standings. First place is worth eight points, while second is worth seven, and so on. Teams split the points for tying for a position, so if two teams tie for third, then they both get 5.5 points. The winning team gets eight points regardless of how many schools have that particular sport.

For those who keep track of these things, Princeton has won each of the last 24 years.

The Ivy League is most decidedly not keeping track, since this is not an official award. TB assumes it won't become official until Princeton stops winning every year.

A year ago, Princeton won two Ivy titles but then had more NCAA success, as field hockey and men's water polo reached the Final Four and women's cross country finished fifth.

This time, Princeton won twice as many fall Ivy titles, but there were a few disappointments after that. The men's soccer team would loved to get a first-round bye, and clearly a team that went 7-0-0 in the Ivy League - which now has two teams in the Sweet 16 - should have gotten one.

And in field hockey, Maryland is the NCAA champion with only a single loss all year - at Princeton. Could the Tigers have challenged for it all had Katie Reinprecht not broken her leg, an injury she played through in the NCAA tournament?

And of course, the women's soccer team will be smarting for awhile after "losing" to Penn 0-0 in the Ivy championship game at Roberts Stadium. But with a lineup primarily of sophomores this season, Princeton is primed for the next few years.

The obvious question for the Princeton sports fan is this: Would you rather have a fall like Princeton just completed, or would you trade the four Ivy titles for one in football?

With apologies to every other sporting entity in this country - including the NFL - there is nothing that compares to big-time college football. On most of those campuses, the single most important person is the football coach, and so much of what goes on institutionally - image, fundraising, student recruitment - starts with football money and football success.

In the Ivy League, it's not exactly the same thing.

Here, the commitment and philosophy support broad-based athletic participation, with twice the number of varsity teams that most Division I schools have. The football (or men's basketball) coach is not the most powerful person on campus, and they buy into that philosophy. TigerBlog does as well, which is why he's stayed here all these years.

Still, fans don't have to so. Many fans can still think football/basketball first and everything else after that.

As the fall went along, TB wondered what Princeton fans were thinking about having the kind of success Tiger teams did while the football team struggled.

Again, the Ivy League offers seven fall sports, and Princeton won four. TigerBlog will take 57% of the league championships in any season - regardless of what sport they come from.

It's been a great fall for Princeton. After the cross country championships, it's all indoor events for the winter, until the next outdoor event, which happens to be Feb. 26.

Men's lacrosse at Hofstra. Well, maybe not all sports are created equal.

Friday, November 19, 2010

On The Banks Of The Ol' Raritan

When you talk college fight songs, you naturally start with how they "Cheer, Cheer For Old Notre Dame," and it's not too long until you join with the rest of the crowd and give "Hail, Hail To Michigan, The Champions Of the West."

The USC fight song is another good one. It's the one that was used for the credits of the 1970s college football highlight show that ran on Sunday mornings before the NFL games and was narrated by Bill Fleming.

The Rutgers fight song isn't usually thought of when the great ones of college athletics are mentioned, and that's something of a shame. TigerBlog is a huge fan of the song, with its great up-tempo melody that ends when the entire band yells "RU, Rah-Rah, RU, Rah-Rah, Hoo-Rah, Hoo-Rah, Rutgers Rah. Upstream, Red Team, Red Team, Upstream, Rah-Rah Rutgers Rah."

TigerBlog knows this song, because he's heard it so many times through the years. Of course, he's heard all of the Ivy League fight songs as well and can't remember any of those other than Princeton's, Penn's and Cornell's.

TB heard the RU pep band last night at the women's basketball game, which Rutgers won 54-53 on a shot with 4.4 seconds to go that ended what was just a great early-season game. The Rutgers band, seated in the student section to the left of Princeton's bench, sounded as it always does, which is a solid A.

The Princeton-Rutgers rivalry is an interesting one for TigerBlog.

Here are two schools separated by 15 miles (though on a weeknight at 5:30 or so, those 15 miles aren't easy to cover) who operate in completely different athletic worlds, one in the Big East and the other in the Ivy League.

Rutgers made the commitment a long time ago to go "big-time," as it were, and the result is a financial and institutional commitment to fielding teams that compete on the BCS level. Making that commitment entails a bunch of things, such as having a football coach with a great deal of power and resources, the reality that all of the school's programs are going to be competing against national championship contenders, the need to generate revenue by having successful teams who draw fans and the knowledge that football and men's and women's basketball are going to be more equal than the other teams.

In the Big East, money rules. It's just how it is these days. Money from football bowl games and NCAA basketball and such. Money from corporate sponsorship. Money from luxury boxes at football.

Princeton, when it joined the Ivy League, went in a different direction. Princeton has 38 varsity teams, and the commitment is essentially the same to all of them. Of course, the Ivy League's approach to athletics is well-known, with rules in place governing admissions, out-of-season practice/competition, financial aid and any number of other areas.

And yet Princeton and Rutgers have fashioned a pretty good rivalry in a bunch of different sports. Rutgers has 24 varsity teams, and maybe 15 of those will play Princeton in most years. Some years, it's even more.

There are eight Division I schools in New Jersey. Princeton almost never if ever plays St. Peters and NJIT and rarely plays Monmouth, FDU and Seton Hall in most sports.

Rider, which is six miles away, is a very rare opponent for Princeton.

And yet Rutgers, which has the biggest student-body and what TB assumes is the highest (by far) athletic budget, is a team that almost always plays Princeton. Oh, and Princeton wins more than it loses across all sports against Rutgers.

The reason there are so many games between the schools, of course, is history. For starters, Princeton and Rutgers played the first football game ever, back in 1869, and played 71 football games before the series ended in the 1970s when RU headed to the Division IA route.

Going back in the record book, there are any number of examples of long-standing rivalries between the schools, including men's basketball (first game in the 1916-17 season), men's lacrosse (first game in 1888), baseball (first game in 1866, before the football game) and men's fencing (1927).

On the women's side, Rutgers' first-ever women's basketball game was against Princeton.

As for the most recent women's basketball game between the schools, it was a great one.

Princeton rallied from down 15 with 18 minutes to go to take the lead, and the second half featured eight lead changes. The Tigers led 53-52 and had possession in the final minute, but Rutgers got a stop and was able to score the winning basket with 4.4 seconds to go.

TB was struck by a few things from the game.

First, the 54-53 score was the same as the 1976 NCAA tournament men's game between Princeton and Rutgers, back in the year when RU made it to the Final Four.

Second, the game didn't have the feel of November. It felt more like major big conference game in February or an NCAA game in March. It was intense and physical, and Princeton stood toe-to-toe with Rutgers the entire time. Had RU not made 4 of 5 three-pointers in the first half, then Princeton wouldn't have been playing catch-up and it might have been different. Hey, if Rutgers' Khadijah Rushdan didn't make a tough shot over Devonna Allgood - one that Allgood later said she got a piece of - then Princeton would have won despite falling behind.

Ultimately, TB couldn't help but be impressed by the Tigers. They play fast, they can score in any number of ways, they rebound, they cause turnovers. There's a reason they were 26-3 a year ago.

It was a great night of basketball at Rutgers. One team, Rutgers, is built to go after UConn and Notre Dame and the rest of the Big East, as well as compete for NCAA tournament bids and Final Fours. The other, Princeton, is an Ivy League school that is every bit the equal of the Knights.

Had history played out a little differently, Rutgers might have been an Ivy League school. Instead, Princeton went one way and Rutgers went another.

Still, they intersect often enough to have a great rivalry going.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Must Not See TV

The first four seasons of "The Office" were as funny as any television show has ever been.

It was impossible to watch any episode of the show in that time without having an absolutely hysterical moment, and the show developed at least two of the funniest characters - Michael and Dwight - and possibly a third - Creed - in the history of American sitcoms.

The next two seasons were okay, though they were definitely a step down from where the show had been. This season, the seventh, has been very disappointing.

It actually reminds TigerBlog of what happened with "Seinfeld," which was also as funny as any show ever for four seasons and then disappointing for the final five.

TigerBlog knows what went wrong with "Seinfeld." The first four seasons were four very believable characters doing very believable things, and the show was funny because you could watch it and say "that happens all the time."

The last five seasons turned the four characters into caricatures, and the show became more interested in having people start to use its jargon - "low talker," "soup Nazi" - than it was in being funny. The plots went away from "that happens all the time" to "this is ridiculous."

Still, because of how great the first four years were, TB and everyone else remained loyal to the very end, which was about the worst final episode of any major show in history. Even now, TB will watch the reruns, even of the ones that aren't funny.

"The Office" is the same way. TB won't miss an episode, even if the show isn't nearly what it once was. In the case of "The Office," it seems like the running plots dealing with relationships have taken over, making it more of a soap opera than a sitcom.

Anyway, like "Seinfeld," "The Office remains a must-watch for TB, since he never gives up hope it'll recapture the magic.

This week's episode will have to wait for viewing on the computer at a later date, though.

Why? There are two bigger must-watches in Princeton sports tonight.

The first is the men's soccer game against UMBC in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Princeton, still smarting from not getting a first-round bye, will host a team that has been almost as hot as the Tigers down the stretch, going unbeaten in its last six to win the America East Conference championship.

Princeton has won 12 straight, a school-record, and put together the first perfect Ivy season in program history. The Tigers were 1-3-1 in mid-September; they enter the tournament at 13-3-1.

The Tigers will be playing in their second-straight NCAA tournament, and this year's game will be different in many ways from last year's 1-0 loss to Bucknell.

For starters, that game was delayed by lightning and played in a downpour. The forecast for tonight is about as perfect as you could hope for Nov. 18.

In addition, Princeton was thrilled to be back in the NCAA tournament a year ago, when the team was the recipient of an at-large bid and happy to get a home game. This year, the Tigers got the Ivy League's automatic bid, and a first-round loss this time will be more disappointing.

Also in that game against Bucknell, Princeton was without Antoine Hoppenot, who couldn't play because he had received too many yellow cards. This time, Hoppenot - the Ivy League Player of the Year - will be out there as Princeton's top scoring threat.

Of course, that game will start 30 minutes before and 15 miles south of the women's basketball game at Rutgers.

Princeton hasn't beaten Rutgers in women's basketball since Jan. 5, 1978, when no current player on either team was even close to being born. RU leads the all-time series 14-3, and two of Princeton's three wins were against Douglass, before the women's teams competed for Rutgers.

This time around, Princeton is coming off a 26-3 season that included a 14-0 run through the Ivy League and a first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament. Princeton's season-opener this year was a 41-point win over FDU.

Rutgers, led by Hall-of-Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer, opened its season with losses against Cal and Stanford and come in at 0-2. Still, the Lady Knights are one of the best programs in Division I women's basketball, and other than the 14 Ivy games, there is no game Princeton more wants than the one tonight.

So pick your game. Men's soccer at Princeton. Women's basketball at Rutgers. And get there.

Like TB, you can watch "The Office" tomorrow at work.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Name On The Back

When TigerBlog used to watch his favorite show of the early 1970s - This Week In Pro Football, with Pat Summeral and Tom Brookshier - the Philadelphia Eagles were something of an afterthought.

TB established early on that the Giants were his team, and he knew from Day 1 that he hated the Cowboys. The Eagles? They were never any good, so who cared about them? They were just a team with pretty cool uniforms that the Giants - who also weren't very good in those days - had to play twice a year.

In recent times, TB has come to dislike the Eagles nearly as much as the Cowboys, though for different reasons. TB doesn't like the Cowboys because they're the Cowboys and if you're not from Texas, how could you ever dream of rooting for them? Besides, if TB has to see another cutaway to the Dallas owner during a TV game, he's not sure he'll be able to handle it.

The Eagles are different. TB's anti-Eagle position stems from the fact that every year, Philadelphia 1) puts a winning team on the field and 2) is a total thorn in the Giants' side. It looks like 2010 will be exactly like most other years.

The only redeeming thing about the Iggles is that they've never won a Super Bowl, while the Giants have won three. Still, if Michael Vick continues to play the way he is, that could change this year.

Vick was ridiculous against the Redskins Monday night, and he dominated that game as much as any player has ever dominated any game TB has ever seen in any sport.

Vick has also put Eagles' fans, who now find themselves in the position of realizing that the man who could be ending their Super Bowl drought in dramatic and entertaining fashion, is also a convicted and recently imprisoned dog killer. It's led to a great moral dilemma for fans in Philadelphia, who fall into several camps:

A) the "who cares what he did as long as he wins games for my team" group
B) the "I will never root for Vick, so now I can't enjoy the Eagles' success" group
C) the "I don't approve of Vick but I want my team to be good, so I'm going to convince myself that it's okay to separate the player from the person" group
D) the "he served his time and appears genuinely contrite and changed, so why wouldn't I root for him" group

TigerBlog knows someone who fits into each group, by the way. And if he had to guess, he'd rank Eagles' fans this way:

50% - Group A
25% - Group C
20% - Group D
5% - Group B

The whole Vick episode opens up the question of whether or not that the sports cliche that "the name on the front of the uniform means more than the name on the back" is true.

In other words, are Eagles' fans supposed to blindly root for their team, regardless of who is on it?

TB's second-favorite professional team is the Knicks, or at least, he's trying to remember it's the Knicks. And while there is hopefully a light at the end of the tunnel somewhere (assuming Isiah Thomas doesn't come back), the team has been impossible to root for during the last 10 or so years.

It hasn't mattered that its says "New York" on the front when the names on the back were "Marbury," "Francis," "Curry," "James (Jerome, not LeBron)" and others.

One of Pete Carril's favorite sayings has always been that "you can't separate the player from the person."

He's always meant this from the athletic standpoint, with the idea that if, say, the person is lazy, then the player will also be lazy.

The converse is true as well. You can't separate the person from the player. You can't just root for someone because he/she is a great athlete without regard for character. Maybe you can a little, but not completely.

On the professional level, with the amount of money that is being thrown around, it's easy to be a little more cynical with the Group C Vick fans.

On the college level, it's not as easy.

For starters, the allegiance between fan and alma mater is usually pretty deep (though ironically not in TigerBlog's case). And, there is also supposed to be an inherent element of having student-athletes who represent a school that conjures up middle school and high school themes of spirit and camaraderie.

Of course, on many big-time levels, that thought is long gone, with athletic dorms, academic scandals and one-and-done players. This fall, the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy and BCS championship game is playing under a cloud of suspicion.

All of this is why TB loves being at a school like Princeton, where the names on the back of the uniform make it easy to root for the name on the front.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Highly Selective

Back in the 1998-99 men's basketball season, Princeton had non-league wins over schools like Florida State, Texas, Charlotte and Alabama-Birmingham, as well as a win over Ivy League champion Penn.

The Tigers finished the regular season at 20-7, 11-3 in the Ivy League after crushing overtime losses at Yale and Harvard kept Princeton from the league championship.

For those who remember, that was the year Princeton had the never-to-be-repeated comeback at Penn, rallying from down 40-13 in the final 15 minutes to win 50-49 on a Tuesday night. That Friday, Princeton was in New Haven, where it lost in double overtime to Yale under very strange circumstances.

Yale led by three in the final 10 seconds or so of the second overtime when Brian Earl hit a shot that one ref signaled was a three and two refs signaled was a two. The scoreboard operator put the three points on the board, which meant that it reflected a tie game.

In reality, Yale was up by one. The Tigers, assuming tie game, didn't immediately foul when Yale inbounded the ball. Yale, equally as confused, called timeout, perhaps assuming it needed to set up a winning play. It was only then that the refs ruled Earl's shot was a two, not a three, and that Yale was up one.

TigerBlog has always wondered what would have happened if Yale ran out the rest of the clock and Princeton didn't foul. Would the refs have ruled game over, or would they have played it back from the point where Yale inbounded the ball?

Yale inbounded, got fouled and made one of two to go up 60-58. The Tigers had just enough time for Gabe Lewullis to put up a shot from around halfcourt that ended up hitting the rim.

Anyway, the point of the story is that Princeton didn't win the league and therefore didn't get an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. That is the only time that TigerBlog has watched the selection show thinking that the Ivy runner-up had a legitimate shot at an at-large bid.

Instead, Princeton ended up in the NIT, which sparked a great run with wins over Georgetown at home (five players played the whole game for Princeton; can you name the five?) and at North Carolina State in the final game in a very rowdy Reynolds Coliseum followed by a loss at Xavier in the quarterfinals. Had Princeton won that game (in which it led by 17 in the first half), it would have been guaranteed two games in Madison Square Garden and Earl would have finished third all-time in scoring at Princeton instead of fifth.

All these years later, and still no Ivy League team has ever gotten an at-large bid in basketball.

Oh, and the five were: Chris Young, Mason Rocca, Ahmed El-Nokali, Earl and Lewullis.

Contrast that with the men's soccer NCAA tournament draw, which was announced yesterday afternoon.

Princeton knew it was going to be in as the league champion, with the first-ever 7-0-0 league mark in program history.

And it figured that there'd be other league representation, what with Penn and Brown having been ranked in the Top 25 much of the season.

So as the field was announced, who was the first league school announced? Dartmouth.

That meant at least two league teams were in, and there was no chance that Brown wouldn't also get in. Penn, who lost to Princeton and Harvard to end the season, was looking less and less likely as the field came up. In fact, it wasn't until the final line of the bracket that the Quakers saw their name.

Eight Ivy League men's soccer teams. Four of them get into the tournament.

The league has had four men's lacrosse teams in the NCAA tournament before, but as much as TB cringes to admit this, lacrosse is still something of a regional sport and Ivy League schools are able to compete strongly with anyone.

There are 60 Division I men's lacrosse teams; there are 200 men's soccer teams spread out all over the country, including in all of the power conferences.

For the Ivy League to place four teams in the soccer tournament is extraordinary. It shows how tough Ivy League men's soccer is top-to-bottom and how the seven-game league schedule is treacherous.

Knowing that, it also means that Princeton's feat of running the table is even more impressive. In fact, it's up there with any athletic accomplishment by a Princeton team in recent years.

Of course, at the same time, it begs the question of why Princeton didn't get a bye in the first round coming from a such a competitive league. The Tigers were ranked 11th in the NSCAA poll last week, but apparently their RPI was slightly lower than the 16 teams who received a bye.

Instead, Princeton will host a very good UMBC team Thursday night at 7 on Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium.

As an aside, when the draw was announced, it said 1 p.m. for the Princeton-UMBC game; how great would that have been?

The winner of the first-round game will play at William & Mary in the second round Sunday. The Tigers had hoped that there'd be no game Thursday and a home game Sunday, but it didn't work out that way.

A year ago, when the selections were announced, Princeton got an at-large bid and home game and was ecstatic. This year, the Tigers might have been disappointed by not being in the top 16, but there's nothing they can do about it now other than go out and play hard and see what happens.

The goal at the beginning of the season might have been an Ivy League championship. With that in the bank, the Tigers' new goal is to be the last of the four Ivy teams who made it into the tournament to still be standing.

And to make the next few weeks something special.

Monday, November 15, 2010


TigerBlog Jr. is the only person TigerBlog knows who eats tuna salad with mustard and pickles.

A few Sundays ago, TB and TBJ went to a Wawa for lunch, and TB said that he'd eat whatever sandwich TBJ came up with for him. The result was a chicken salad with pickles, oregano, lettuce, tomato and cheese that was surprisingly good.

TBJ was in the process of coming up with another surprise from Wawa when TB got a text message from men's soccer coach Jim Barlow that said "put on WFAN." Since TB was sitting in the car waiting for his lunch - which turned out to be a pedestrian turkey on wheat with lettuce and tomato - he flipped on the New York sports radio station to hear the Giants' pregame show, which featured an interview with Chris Barlow.

The older Barlow, a Penn grad, works at NFL Films, and he was on the radio to talk about the new documentary he recently completed on Bill Parcells.

A few hours later, TB got another text message, this one from a huge Cowboys' fan who was enjoying the fact that Dallas was thumping TB's favorite team, the Giants.

The second text message said this: "Is it too early to start the Lombardi/Garrett comparisons?"

The "Garrett" in question is obviously Jason Garrett, who made his debut as interim head coach of the Cowboys with a 33-20 win over the Giants yesterday. It was Garrett who back in the 1987 season quarterbacked Princeton to a 34-3 win over Dartmouth on opening day to give another interim head coach a win in his first game.

Back in August of that year, Princeton's 44-year-old head coach Ron Rogerson suffered a tragic heart attack and passed away while on vacation shortly before training camp started. The task of carrying on went to Steve Tosches, who was named interim head coach.

After Princeton took apart Dartmouth in Week 1, Tosches had the interim label removed by then-Director of Athletics Bob Myslik. Tosches would coach the Tigers for 12 seasons and win three Ivy League championships.

Will Garrett have the interim tag removed as well? Maybe not after one win, but if the super-talented Cowboys wake up and play hard, then Garrett could very well be the head coach beyond this season.

And watching the game against the Giants, it was obvious that his team responded to him, at least for one week.

As an aside, the Tiger center for that 1987 Princeton-Dartmouth game was Bob Surace, who was the only center Garrett played with at Princeton. Surace is now the first-year Tiger head coach.

TigerBlog was mostly covering high schools in the 1987 and 1988 football seasons, so he never got to see Garrett play for Princeton. He did see him throw in Jadwin Gym one day while working out and thought "who is that guy?" until he was told the answer.

It was quite a show that Garrett put on that day, and it was obvious that he was a quarterback with NFL-caliber skills.

In fact, Garrett was a backup quarterback for five NFL teams - and a starter in the World League of American Football and the Canadian Football League - including an eight-year run with the Cowboys that included Super Bowl rings in 1993 and 1995 and an NFL Player of the Week award after he threw for 311 yards to rally Dallas past Green Bay on Thanksgiving Day 1994.

TigerBlog went to the Meadowlands (the real Meadowlands, where the lights used to stay on, and not the new, unnecessary Meadowlands) one night to write a feature about Garrett during his time with the Cowboys.

While the backup quarterback is often the most popular player on the team, it was obvious how much all of the frontline guys - Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith - loved Garrett.

And really, he comes across as a person who is incredibly, well, normal and nice, with no ego issues.

In his current field, that's a rarity.

Also, if you think about it, what are the prime coaching positions in American sports?

Head coach of the Cowboys. Manager of the Yankees? Coach of the Lakers or Celtics? Coach of the U.S. team at the World Cup?

Okay, the last one probably isn't in the top five, but it's in the top 10. And two of those are now coached by Princeton alums (Garrett and Bob Bradley). And, for that matter, the Celtics have an assistant coach (Armond Hill) who is a Princeton grad.

Hopefully, Garrett will be the head coach of the Cowboys next year on a permanent, full-time basis.

If he is, it'll be almost enough to get TigerBlog to root for the team.

Almost, but not quite.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cover Boys

Chris Thomforde, all 6-10 or so of him, ranks fifth all-time at Princeton in free throw percentage.

Thomforde made 382 of 461 foul shots in his career, a percentage of .829. Extra credit for those who can name the four players who are above him (answer to be revealed below). Want a hint? None of the four was a center.

As a senior, Thomforde made 123 of 137 foul shots, a .898 percentage that ranks second on Princeton's single-season list.

This week, Thomforde spoke as part of the Princeton Varsity Club's Jake McCandless ’51 Speaker Series. TigerBlog attended the luncheon at the boathouse to hear some of Thomforde's remarks, which included a question-and-answer session at the end.

Thomforde's life since Princeton has been about spirituality (he's an ordained minister) and education (he's now the president of Moravian College), and all of the questions fell into these two categories.

TB's proposed questions for Thomforde had nothing to do with either. Instead, TB was going to ask three questions: 1) what do you think made you such a great foul shooter when other big men aren't; 2) if you had played with a three-point shot, do you think you would have taken (and made) many; and 3) do you know how many career points you scored?

The situation at the luncheon was a familiar one for TigerBlog, who often finds himself in settings with Princeton athletes from eras before TB was around about whom TB knows basically everything. It leads the fine line of being able to talk to that person about his or her career achievements without coming across as a bit, uh, freaky. As such, telling Thomforde that he scored 1,122 points in his three varsity seasons might have seemed somewhat odd.

As TB heard Thomforde speak, a lot of the story was familiar - a Long Island kid, Thomforde came to Princeton and played his sophomore season under Butch van Breda Kolff and his last two under Pete Carril before graduating in 1969. Thomforde was a two-time first-team All-Ivy League selection, and Princeton won the Ivy title outright in 1967 and 1969 and tied Columbia but lost the playoff in 1968.

And, of course, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1967, along with then-senior point guard Gary Walters, who obviously is Princeton's Director of Athletics.

After Thomforde left the luncheon but before the evening's speech, he and Walters stopped by the Dillon Gym library to recreate their SI cover, the one from 43 years ago.

When TigerBlog put the two pictures side-by-side, his first thought was about all of the times he'd heard any number of coaches say that their favorite part of coaching here is how kids come in as 18 and 19 year olds and meet people in the first few days here who become friends for life after that.

Seeing those two pictures in many ways was a personification of that thought.

Two kids, one from Reading, Pa., the other from Long Island. One a public school kid, the other a parochial school kid. Thrown together completely randomly, with the common decision to play basketball at Princeton. Walters could have just as easily played at Maryland; Thomforde could easily have been at St. John's.

And yes, all of college works the same way. TB's college roommate Charlie, who checks in several times a week, recently sent an email about how his new rabbi is a Princeton alum and could I send him something that said Princeton on it for him.

As an aside, when TB asked what size, Charlie's response was "he's a big friggin' rabbi."

But having the shared experience of being college teammates is unique. In many ways, it's like having been in the Army together, with the physical, emotional, mental and social aspects of practicing and competing together.

All of these years later, Thomforde was telling the story about the only time he was ever able to get Walters and Carril to listen to him and do what he wanted done, which was when he was officiating Walters' wedding in the Dartmouth chapel. And there was Walters, introducing his friends as "the best person I've ever met."

As ridiculous as it may seem, Princeton basketball season starts this weekend, with the men at home against Rutgers tonight (7) and the women home tomorrow at 4 against FDU in a game that will include a banner-raising ceremony for last year's NCAA tournament appearance.

If you're watching these games, keep in mind that you're watching the early stages of friendships that are going to last for decades.

If one picture is worth 1,000 words, than the two pictures - one on the cover of SI and the other a reenactment - are worth much more.

Those two together are worth a lifetime of friendship that grew out of playing college basketball together.

Those two together are a reinforcement of what all those coaches always say, that playing sports at Princeton is about so much more than just four years' worth of results.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Salute For The Veterans

The movie "Cliffhanger" is right in TigerBlog's wheelhouse. How can you go wrong with Sylvester Stallone as he climbs mountains and plunges into icy waters - all without his winter coat - to stop John Lithgow and the bad guys?

It's not quite "Point Break," which is TB's favorite action movie. Keanu Reeves as the surfing FBI agent? Patrick Swayze (alav ha shalom) at his absolute long-haired best? Parachuting into the Pacific Ocean? Bank robbers wearing masks of ex-Presidents?

Action movies with a decent plot, some wild stunts, a little overacting and some not-be-believed plot turns are always good for entertainment. Of course, you have to start out suspending your sense of reality, or else you'll never get past the fact that, say, ol' Sly shot the bad guy through the ice with the gun in his pants after being unable to break through to come up for air and having been under the water for about a minute all with no jacket. Or that Keanu would actually jump out of the plane without a parachute.

TB likes many different kinds of movies. Action. James Bond. Sports. Cops. The Mob. Oldies.

If he had to pick one type over all others, though, he'd go with war movies.

"Sands of Iwo Jima." "Patton." "Apocalypse Now." "The Bridge on the River Kwai." "Full Metal Jacket." "Stalag 17." "The Deer Hunter." "The Longest Day." "From Here To Eternity." "Von Ryan's Express." "Halls of Montezuma." "The Great Escape." The list goes on and on.

The two best movies TB has ever seen (not his favorite, but the best) are "Saving Private Ryan" and "Schindler's List," which should be required viewing in schools.

What is the attraction of war movies? The life and death drama, obviously, is part of it, but it goes beyond. TigerBlog thinks it's because they force the viewer to actually think about what it would be like to be in a war, something most of us mercifully never have to experience.

TigerBlog was never in the military, and he will be the first to admit that he lacks the discipline and courage required to be a soldier in a war. Perhaps had he been 20 years old in 1941 or 1967, he would have been forced to see a side of him that he doubts exists.

Instead, TB was able to go straight from his upper-middle-class public high school directly to an Ivy League college. There have been many times that TB has thought to himself that a few years in the military in between would have really helped him, but it's not something he actually would have done. Why? Because he didn't have to.

MotherBlog once had a job with the Paralyzed Veterans of America, and any event for that group was both inspiring and sobering, as wheelchair after wheelchair rolled in.

The coin toss for last Saturday's Princeton-Penn football game was preceded by something called "The First Pass," which is something the Army is doing to help recognize returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan. It's supposed to be the football equivalent of throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game, and it sort of came across that way.

The premise was to have three generations of Princeton military people throw a football between them. The second member was Peter Yorck, who was a linebacker before graduating last year and who is now a 2nd Lieutenant. The third member was freshman Robert Basile, an ROTC cadet with an eye on a career in the military.

The first person to throw the ball was Brigadier General Mark Milley, who graduated from Princeton in 1980.

General Milley was commissioned through ROTC into the U.S. Army. In the last 30 years, he has served in command and staff positions with the 7th Infantry Division, 2d Infantry Division, 82nd Airborne Division, 10th Mountain Division, 101st Airborne Division, 25th Infantry Division, the 5th Special Forces Group. He is a combat veteran who has served multiple tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan supporting Operation Iraqui Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

Obviously, General Milley has devoted his life to something greater than just his own needs, his own wealth.

Today is Veterans' Day. As TB said last year:
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.

Nothing has changed since; TB still thinks exactly the same way.

Princeton's military history is well-documented, with stories of people like Hobey Baker and Moe Berg. There are also hundreds, thousands, of others like General Milley, whose stories aren't as well-known but whose contributions to this country have been invaluable.

Because of them, every day of the year gets to be your day to do whatever you want, to be whatever you want - or don't want.

Today, though, is their day. They are the ones who made all of this possible for you.

Veterans' Day.

Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave; o'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

It does. Thanks to all of the veterans out there.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thanks, Jordan

Back in October or so of 1997, Bill Carmody - then Princeton's men's basketball coach - came down to talk to TigerBlog about how his team looked in the preseason. Carmody thought his team had a chance to be good, except for the "injury" that point guard Mitch Henderson had suffered.

What was wrong with him? TigerBlog asked.

His foot, was Carmody's response, followed by this: He'll probably walk with a limp for the rest of his life.

Henderson, of course, was fine. He started every game of that 27-2 season and averaged just short of 35 minutes per game. Every time TB has seen him since, he's been walking just fine.

Coaches tend to trend towards the pessimistic when it comes to injuries. It's the nature of their personalities.

TigerBlog has heard coaches talk about players with the most minor of tweaks as if they will, well, walk with limps for the rest of their lives.

When it comes to real injuries, though, there's no humor to it.

College athletes have a small window to compete, and any serious injury wipes out a huge chunk of that. Some athletes who get hurt early on never make it back to where they might have been, as much because someone else takes over their spot as because they physically can't perform.

Even if they do make it back 100%, for Princeton athletes, there's no way to make up for the lost time. Well, there is one, but it's a difficult choice.

Because of the University's academic rules, Princeton athletes have to withdraw from school for a year to maintain a year of athletic eligibility. If they stay in school after getting hurt, they cannot get that year back at Princeton.

TigerBlog isn't sure what the exact number is of athletes who have suffered season-ending injuries who have chosen to stay and lose the year versus those who have chosen to withdraw and graduate a year later. Still, many, many athletes have had to choose both.

Of course, injuries are a part of any sport. They may seem like they're more prevalent in contact sports like football and hockey, but TB is pretty sure that each sport has its own injury issues to deal with.

Some athletes are healthy for very little of their time here, but what they show in that time is so dominant that it leaves everyone wondering what might have been. The No. 1 example of this that TigerBlog can remember at Princeton is former men's basketball player Mason Rocca, who had one injury after another but yet was absolutely unstoppable when he was healthy.

And yet, above and beyond anything that TB has ever seen here before is the story of Jordan Culbreath. His story is just downright unfair.

Culbreath, as everyone knows by now, was essentially a walk-on running back at Princeton who emerged as a sophomore and then exploded as a junior, when he led the league in rushing and became a first-team All-Ivy League selection.

What Princeton football fan will ever forget Culbreath's game against Dartmouth his junior year, when he ran for 276 yards to push himself over 1,000 for the year (and over 1,100 and 1,200, as he finished with 1,206).

His numbers were great. He passed the 150-yard mark five times and scored at least one touchdown in eight games. He led the Ivy League and finished ninth nationally in rushing yards per game, and he was of course a unanimous first-team All-Ivy League selection.

The next chapter of the story is old news, but it doesn't make it any less heartbreaking. Culbreath's senior year - the one where he was going to reach what, 1,500 yards? - ended shortly after it started, when an ankle injury led to the discovery of a blood disease that nearly claimed his life.

And yet he fought his way back, all the way back, to good health (though he will have to take some serious medications for the rest of his life) and then, ultimately, to football health.

Bob Surace, Princeton's first-year head coach, came into the OAC one day in August and said that Jordan had been cleared to play again. TB, for one, couldn't believe it, couldn't believe that someone could go through all of that and make it back to the football field.

But Culbreath did just that. No, he wasn't the 1,000-yard back he'd been two years ago, but he was still is Princeton's leading rusher and he is averaging 5.3 yards per carry. For the record, he averaged 5.7 yards per carry as a junior.

Unfortunately for Culbreath, he's also carried the ball for the last time as a Princeton Tiger. He hurt his knee against Penn last week, and while the extent of the injury isn't yet known, he won't be able to play in either of the final two games of the season.

It's one last bit of unfairness in his career, though on the bright side, it's nothing compared to what he's already been through.

He finishes his career with 1,935 rushing yards, good for eighth-best in program history. With 15 more yards, he would have tied Dick Kazmaier for seventh.

At the time, the 2008 Princeton-Dartmouth game figured to be the last time Culbreath played at home against the Big Green, and that's how it turned out. It's just that nobody at the time would have predicted the reasons why.

It wasn't going to be because Jordan Culbreath put up a monster senior year and then graduated in 2010.

It was going to be because he fought through a life-threatening moment, made it all the way back and then was stopped short for the most common of football reasons - a knee injury.

So thank you to Jordan Culbreath, an athlete unlike any other that TB has seen here at Princeton.

His on-field story didn't end happily, and it's not one of great football victories.

Instead, it's one of great perseverance and inspiration.

It'll be a long time before anyone around here forgets it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I Didn't Know Commies Had Mothers

"Of course, there are still a few bugs in the system."

That is the punchline for the first Doonesbury cartoon that ever ran, back on Oct. 26, 1970, meaning that the strip recently turned 40.

TigerBlog was a bit late to the Doonesbury party, and it was probably 1976 or so before he actually started reading it.

It didn't take TB long to catch up, and in the years that have gone by, he's read every single Doonesbury strip that's ever been written.

Of course, being a political moderate, TB doesn't always like the constant swing to the left that the strip takes.

Still, it's hard to argue that it's been ground-breaking stuff, from its treatment of the Vietnam War through its use of icons to denote each of the Presidents who have been lampooned right up through to the present time with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There has been no issue that Doonesbury - written by Gary Trudeau - wouldn't address. He's had a character die of AIDS, had several injured in the wars, dealt with poverty, written about race relations and dove head-first into any number of areas.

TB has always loved several comic strips. Peanuts? Of course. Beetle Bailey. Bloom County. Calvin and Hobbes. Today, it's Dilbert.

But Doonesbury has always been there, with its storylines and ability to deliver the punchline and then the sarcastic follow-up comment in the last panel.

The best part about Doonesbury is the characters, from the title character Mike Doonesbury to the roommate he's matched to in the first strip, B.D., to Zonker, Duke, Honey, Joan and Joanie Caucus, Mark Slackmeyer, Rick, Alex Doonesbury and all the others.

If you're looking for TB's single favorite Doonesbury cartoon, it ran on Jan. 27, 1985, and it didn't feature any of the regular characters. Instead, it talked about the state of higher education and still to this day makes TB laugh.

B.D. began the strip as a football star, and he was never shown without his helmet until after he was injured in Iraq, which resulted in the loss of a leg (and for a few days, the reader didn't know if one of the most popular figures on the strip had been killed off).

During his service in the Vietnam War, B.D. befriends an enemy soldier named Phred, remarking after he hears his new buddy talk about his family that "I didn't know commies had mothers." Later, Phred becomes the Vietnamese ambassador to the U.N. and then an executive with Nike in Vietnam.

As for B.D., it actually stands for Brian Dowling, who was Yale's quarterback in the late 1960s and a classmate in New Haven of Trudeau's.

Dowling was Yale's quarterback in its famous 29-29 tie with Harvard, the one that led to the headline "Harvard Defeats Yale, 29-29."

Dowling started for Yale as a junior and senior and led the team to wins over Princeton in 1967 and 1968, which started the Bulldogs on their 14-game streak against the Tigers that wouldn't end until Bob Holly led Princeton to a 35-31 win in 1981 in what Princeton Athletic News called the best Princeton game of the 20th century.

Princeton is at Yale this Saturday in football. The Tigers enter the game at 1-7 overall, 0-5 in the Ivy League, and with an army of injured players on both sides of the ball.

Yale, on the other hand, is still alive for an Ivy League championship and is actually in the position of having to root for Harvard to beat Penn this weekend. Should that happen, then Yale would play Harvard for the following week for a share of the title provided Yale beats Princeton (and assuming Penn then beats Cornell in Week 10).

Anyway, the current state of Princeton football got TigerBlog thinking back to another era of Ivy League football.

Back when TB is remembering, there was a team that went 4-33-1 over a four-year stretch.

The last of those four years was the first for a new head coach, whose team won its first game under him in highly dramatic fashion and then went winless the rest of the way.

By his second year, the team had tied for the league title, starting it on a run of five straight championships and six in seven years. Now, three decades later, the winning is still there.

The team was Penn, which was awful in the late 1970s. Jerry Berndt began the Quaker turnaround in the 1981 season, and Penn is closing in on its 14th since the day he stepped on campus.

In other words, looking back at the Berndt era, nobody judges him by his first season.

Princeton has a new head coach this year, Bob Surace. Will he have Berndt's success? That's asking a lot.

But will he be judged by his first season? No. No new coach ever should be.

This hasn't been the greatest season in Princeton football history, and it's certainly not the way Surace would have wanted to start his career. But the near future?

Who can tell.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fall Back

There is no more depressing time of the year than around 5:00 in the afternoon on the day the clocks are set back. Spring ahead, fall back, remember?

There it is, bright sunshine around 4, and then just an hour later, it's already getting dark. It's like being hit by a giant brick that says "you may have been going to the pool two months ago, but winter is just around the corner."

Of course, if you're the parent of a kid (or worse, multiple kids) under the age of 3 or 4 or so, then the morning after you set the clocks back could be worse. You know it's an hour earlier, even if your little angel(s) don't.

As an aside, Louise Gengler, the lovable-if-somewhat-absent-minded former longtime women's tennis coach at Princeton (who recently got married; mazel tov Louise), once came into TigerBlog's office and had this actual conversation:
LG: Is it 2 or 3?
TB: 2.
LG: Good. I have a meeting at 3, and I can't remember if I set my clock back or not.

The whole idea that you get an extra hour of sleep is ridiculous as well. All you do is get up an hour earlier.

It'd all be different if you could turn the clock back on Sunday night into Monday morning. How great would that be? Then you wouldn't have to be at school/work until an hour later than usual. Then you'd really get an extra hour of sleep.

Contrast it all with March 13, 2011, when Daylight Savings Time will begin. It'll be like being hit the face with the spray off the ocean, announcing that spring and summer are on the horizon after the long winter.

Anyway, let's turn back the clock to the past weekend at Princeton, especially for the five matchups against Penn.

Princeton and Penn met in five sports and went 2-2-1. Penn won football and sprint football, while Princeton won men's soccer and field hockey. Women's soccer finished in a tie, which sure felt like a loss for the Tigers.

The result of the five events? The winner of each either won a championship or put itself in position to do so, while the tie resulted in a championship.

The Penn sprint team tied Army for the CSFL championship after the Quakers beat Princeton 70-0 and Army edged Navy 32-30. Navy actually scored late to pull within two and had Army jump offsides on the two-point attempt, making it a 1.5-yard try to tie the game, one that came up about six inches short. Navy got the onsides kickoff back but couldn't get the winning score. TB knows all this because he was following the livestats for both games.

The sprint game was 10 touchdowns to zero, which was reversed in the first of the four games on Princeton's campus, at which the field hockey team defeated Penn 10 goals to zero. The result of that one was that Princeton completed the season with a perfect 7-0 record to take the Ivy title for the 16th time in 17 years. Princeton will find out its NCAA opponent and whether it's playing at home or on the road at tomorrow night's selection show.

Penn won the football game Saturday, scoring four first-quarter touchdowns on its way to a 52-10 final. The result is that Penn plays Harvard Saturday with first-place on the line, as the Quakers have no league losses while Harvard and Yale have one each.

A Harvard win, and then the Harvard-Yale game the following week becomes a co-championship game, provided Penn would come back to beat Cornell. A Penn win over Harvard would clinch at least a tie for the Quakers, who would be a huge favorite over Cornell the following week.

As for Princeton, the Tigers have games at Yale and then home against Dartmouth to end the year.

Then there was the soccer doubleheader at Roberts Stadium, which the biggest crowds that the facility has seen in its three-year history and the largest crowds for Princeton soccer on campus since the 2004 women's quarterfinal game against Washington at Lourie-Love Field.

The women's game began with Princeton in need of a win, while Penn merely needed a tie or a win to take the championship. The best chance - the haunting chance - for Princeton's women came in the final minute of the second overtime, when Caitlin Blosser's header that appeared to be going in was instead knocked away by Penn defender Colleen Barry, who was standing on the goal line.

As a result, the game ended at 0-0, which gave the league title to the Quakers. It's a helpless feeling, knowing that a tie was a loss and having the immediacy of the end of a season come up on you like that.

None of that applied to the men's game, where both teams were ranked in the Top 20 and assured of NCAA tournament spots regardless of who won the league. Still, for the Princeton men, it was as big a game as the program has had in a long time.

Princeton's last Ivy title was in 2001 - until Saturday. The Tigers got out on Penn 1-0 at the half and then 2-0 in the second before a late Quaker goal made Princeton sweat out the end.

Ultimately, 2-1 was the final, giving Princeton a program-record-tying 11th straight win, its second win over a Top 20 Ivy opponent, the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament - and no worse than a share of the league championship.

The Tigers finish the regular-season this Saturday at Yale (game time was moved from 4 to 3), and a win or tie or Penn tie or loss would mean the outright league title for Princeton.

If you feel good for anyone, it's Princeton head coach Jim Barlow, who endured a stretch of difficult seasons as Ivy League men's soccer grew into a minefield of national powerhouses all over the schedule. Rather than accepting the status quo, Barlow instead has turned his team into one that has now gone toe-to-toe with six league opponents - and beaten them all.

They've done it with a few stars at the top of the lineup, some great depth and a lot of toughness, and they are now what the men's hockey team was a few years ago - the team that reversed the tough times and became a must-see event.

After Saturday's win, they also became a championship team.

Of course, with the five Princeton-Penn matchups this weekend, being a championship team was not unique.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Tigers And Quakers x 5

If you, like TigerBlog, grew up in New Jersey and attended public school, then this was your favorite week of the academic year.

You'd have school on Monday and then be off on Tuesday for Election Day. Then it'd be back to school for Wednesday, followed by the New Jersey state teachers' convention, which would mean no school Thursday or Friday.

Factor in the two weekends, and it was two days of a school in a nine-day period. For a kid, what could be better?

TB always looked forward to the first week of November, knowing that it meant free days off.

Sadly, eventually everyone has to grow up, and so it is that the first week of November no longer means the same thing that it used to.

Actually, though, the first week of November is still a pretty cool time of year, since it means Princeton vs. Penn in all of the fall sports.

Yesterday, TB was trying to find the text he'd written about Princeton University last year for the NCAA water polo championship program. He started out with a search for any documents on his computer that had "water polo" or "NCAA" and then ultimately "Princeton," which of course brought up a bunch of files.

Among them was a certain video from a certain football play from four years ago:

Perhaps if you're a fan of Princeton - or Penn, for that matter - you remember the play?

If you don't remember the exact details, it was the second overtime of the 2006 Princeton-Penn game. The Tigers had fourth-and-goal at the Penn 1, and Rob Toresco tried to drive it in the through the middle. After two attempts at that, he realized he was going nowhere, and then, in one of the great heads-up moments of all-time, he turned and pitched the ball back to quarterback Jeff Terrell, who took it around the right side into the end zone.

It took Penn only one play to score a touchdown to make it 31-30, pending the extra point. There was a bad snap on the conversion, though, and the holder almost ran it in before being knocked out of bounds at about the 2, giving Princeton the win.

The play immediately became one of the most famous in Princeton football history, up there with the time the drunk fan jumped from the stands to join the Dartmouth line, the time where Bob Holly scored against Yale on the final play in 1981 to end a 14-year losing streak against the Bulldogs, the time Kevin Guthrie - or was it Derek Graham? - ran 95 yards for a touchdown after catching a short pass from Doug Butler in 1983 at Franklin Field.

The announcer, a nice young man named Keith, was so startled by what happened that all could he do was mutter that it was "one of the better plays" he'd ever seen, while his color man simply screamed.

As for TB, he was the public address announcer in the stadium, and he was on the phone with TB-Baltimore, who was covering soccer but wanted to get the details on the play. TB is pretty sure he said something like "Princeton just scored on the greatest play TB has ever seen."

A week later, Princeton rallied from two touchdowns back to beat Yale 34-31 as Terrell threw for 442 yards, and a week after that, Princeton zipped past Dartmouth to win the Ivy League championship.

The 2010 Princeton-Penn football game has championship implications for the Quakers and an opportunity for the Tigers to erase the frustrations of an entire season in one afternoon.

In all, Princeton and Penn will meet in five events in about 28 hours, four on this campus and one in West Philadelphia. Included in these events is a soccer doubleheader unprecedented in Ivy history:

Sprint football (tonight at 7 at Franklin Field) - Penn is looking for its 24th straight win over Princeton, though the fact that the series history is in Penn's favor by 55-41-2 gives an indication that Princeton was once a very good lightweight football team. Penn is in a three-way tie for first in the CSFL along with Army and Navy, who play each other tonight. A Penn win over Princeton would give Princeton its 70th straight CSFL loss and would give the Quakers a share of the title with the winner of the game between the academies.

Field hockey (tonight at 6 at Class of 1952 Stadium) - If you're a fan of national anthems, then this is the game for you. Princeton will honor its seniors by playing the anthems of each of their home nations, which means the U.S., Canadian and Dutch anthems will be played. As for the on-the-field situation, this is the end of the regular season, and Princeton has already clinched the Ivy League's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament (and could very well host the first two rounds next weekend). A win would give Princeton the outright Ivy title; a loss and a Yale win over Brown would mean a co-championship with Yale. Penn is 3-13 overall, 1-5 in the league.

Football (tomorrow at 3 on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium) - Penn is the only undefeated team in the league, ahead of Harvard, Yale and Brown, who have one loss each. The Quakers are home with Harvard next weekend in a game that could lead to a two- or three-way tie for the championship. As for Princeton, the Tigers are winless in the league with three to play, but there is still a lot to play for, including this game and then next week at Yale before finishing at home against Dartmouth.

Women's soccer (tomorrow at 4) - The first of the two Ivy League soccer championship games, the women's game is the simpler of the two as well. Either Princeton (with a win) or Penn (with a win or tie) will win the Ivy League's outright championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament; the other six teams have all been mathematically eliminated. Julie Shackford has already led Princeton to five Ivy titles and seven NCAA tournament appearances, including a run to the 2004 NCAA Final Four.

Men's soccer (tomorrow at 7) - You can't really ask for much more than this game. Princeton and Penn are both 5-0-0 in the league, with more than double the points of the next-best team. Both are ranked in the Top 20 (Penn is 13th, Princeton is 16th); Princeton has won 10 straight. The only downsides of the game, if there are any, is that 1) both teams will get into the NCAA tournament regardless of who wins and 2) there's another week to the season. Still, the winner of the game clinches at least a share of the Ivy title and definitely gets the automatic bid. A tie means that next week will decide the final standings, as Princeton is at Yale and Penn is home with Harvard. And how about the job Jim Barlow has done in the last few years, going from 6-8-3 in both 2005 and 2006 to 5-10-2 in 2007 to 5-9-3 in 2008 to 9-6-3 and the NCAA tournament last year and now 11-3-1 right now.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Spin Cycle

It was MotherBlog who really turned her younger son onto politics, way back when the orginal point of contention was the rise of Ronald Reagan. Let's just say that one of the two was for it, and the other was against it.

Ever since, TigerBlog has followed politics as closely as he has sports, and he's come to have his political versions of Princeton athletics one one end of the scale and the Yankees on the other.

Elections, of course, fascinate TB, especially since the mistakes that are made are so easy to spot. And election night? It's like watching the Super Bowl - especially in even-numbered years.

The day after the elections also makes for great theater, and there it was yesterday in all its glory.

On the one hand, TigerBlog read a column by a conservative he respects a lot that said that the mid-term elections were perfect for the Republicans and that it couldn't have worked out better for the GOP than to win the House and not win the Senate. The point - with some merit - is that President Obama cannot now spend the next two years positioning the Republicans as merely obstructionists.

On the other hand, TB saw on TV a liberal whom he respects a lot as well, who said that it was actually something a win for the Democrats, because he had heard so many prognostications that it would be much, much worse than it was.

Of course, TB didn't hear any conservatives before the election saying that it would be great to only win the House but not the Senate. And, at the same time, he never heard any liberals suggesting that losing around 65 House seats and six or seven Senate seats would be good, because it would be below the expectations that some on the other side had.

It's known as "spin," which is the art of taking something and turning it from its actual reality into something that favors the particular point of view the spinner happens to represent. At its most beautiful, like after yesterday's election, two completely opposite sides can take the same result and make it seem like nothing better could possibly have happened.

The ability to spin is a huge in the public relations world, where the best are called "Spin Doctors."

Here at Princeton, there is an organization of all of the communications offices - essentially PR offices - on campus, which is known as "The Spin Group."

It's an especially creative venture when done on the athletics communications scale, for a number of reasons. For starters, it's up to each school to tell the story of the game, and regardless of the outcome, the goal is to be as positive as possible about your own school.

Consider these two headlines:

1) Crimson Rushes Past Princeton In Wild 45-28 Football Showdown
2) Harvard Too Much For Princeton In 45-28 Football Road Victory

Or these two different leads after Princeton beat Penn 11-10 in overtime last season:
1) The Princeton men's lacrosse team has won 21 in a row over Penn, but the Quakers have sure given the Tigers a scare the last two years.
2) Jeff Froccaro made the huge plays, Chris McBride made the hidden play and Princeton broke Penn's heart again.

Maybe it's his newspaper background, but TigerBlog has never been a great spinner, largely because it's his belief that people can see right through it when you try to distort the truth.

Take the soccer doubleheader this weekend on Myslik Field at Princeton Stadium, for instance.

Princeton and Penn play in women's soccer at 4 and men's soccer at 7. While the other six schools have been eliminated in men's and women's soccer, Princeton and Penn will be playing for the championships.

As a reminder, the women's championship and automatic bid to the NCAA tournament will go to Penn if the Quakers win or tie and to Princeton if Princeton wins. If either team wins the men's game, it would clinch the automatic bid and at least a share of the title; if they tie, then they'll be even heading into the final week, with Princeton at Yale and Penn home with Harvard.

For what it's worth, the Princeton-Yale game starts at 4, while Penn-Harvard is an hour later.

Anyway, by 6:30 or so on Saturday, either Penn or Princeton is going to be celebrating a women's soccer league championship and NCAA tournament berth, and the other isn't. Three hours later, one men's team will possibly have positioned itself to be the champion.

Check out the two game stories. The winners will use words like "victory" and "champion;" the losers will use words like "heart-breaking."

What do you expect from the team that doesn't win? To hear that they choked? It's never going to happen.

Not in the spin cycle.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Soccer Showdowns

TigerBlog figured he'd write today about the last time he went to a winner-take-all game between Princeton and another league rival for an Ivy title and NCAA tournament automatic bid.

Only he can't remember going to one.

Oh sure, there have been variations on the theme. In fact, TigerBlog has been to a bunch of men's basketball games between Princeton and Penn that have fit into one of two categories:

1) last game of the regular season, one team a game up on the other, if that team wins then it has the championship, if that team loses then it's co-champions and a playoff for the NCAA bid
2) the playoff game itself, except while there is a huge prize to the winner, it's not a winner-take-all game for the league championship, since the league considers the regular-season winners to be co-champs

TigerBlog has referred to the 2008 and 2009 Princeton-Brown men's lacrosse games as "Ivy League co-championship games," since the winner was guaranteed a share of the Ivy title with Cornell both times. And last year's regular-season ending game between Princeton and Cornell led to a four-way share for the championship.

The 1991 football game between Princeton and Dartmouth was winner-take-all for the league championship. Dartmouth came into the game at 5-0-1 in the league, having tied Harvard, while Princeton was 5-1-0, with a loss to Harvard (who had lost to Cornell and so was 4-1-1 heading into the last week of the season).

Dartmouth, led by the Ivy League Rookie of the Year Jay Fiedler, beat Princeton 31-13. Yale beat Harvard, but the Crimson had been mathematically eliminated beforehand anyway.

Nope, TB can't remember a winner-take-all game for the league title and NCAA bid.

And now this Saturday on Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium, there will be two of them (sort of).

Back-to-back. And with no admission charge.

It's a Princeton-Penn soccer doubleheader with a lot at stake this Saturday, beginning with the women's game at 4 and followed by the men's game at 7.

Basically, it's like this: On both the men's side and women's side, Princeton and Penn are playing for the championship, and every other team for both genders has been mathematically eliminated.

Ivy League soccer, like the English Premier League, awards three points for a win and one for a tie. Penn, at 4-1-1, has 13 points. Princeton, at 4-2-0, has 12 points, which means:

* a Penn win or tie would give the championship and NCAA bid to the Quakers
* a Princeton win would give the championship and NCAA bid to the Tigers

Simple, no?

For the men, Princeton and Penn have more than doubled the point total of any other league school. The Tigers and Quakers are both 5-0-0 in the league for 15 points, while Brown, who is 0-2 against Princeton and Penn and 10-0-3 against the rest of the world, has seven points at 2-2-1.

The men actually have two weeks left, so Princeton will be at Yale and Penn will be home with Harvard on Nov. 13.

Still, should there be a winner of the Princeton-Penn game, that team would be guaranteed a share of the Ivy title and would have clinched the league's automatic bid to the tournament. A tie would mean, obviously, that the teams are even with 16 points apiece heading into the final week, so yes, this technically isn't a winner-take-all situation.

But hey, it's close enough.

Princeton and Penn both appear to be locks for the NCAA tournament, along with Brown, regardless of the outcome of the league winner. Penn, at 12-3, is ranked 13th nationally, while Princeton is 16th and Brown is 17th.

Still, the league title is special, and the automatic bid could mean a first-round bye in the NCAA tournament.

When schedules are made way in advance, there's no way of knowing if the games at the end of the year will be for championships or will have no significance in the league race.

Back in August, when temperatures were in the 90s and Ivy soccer teams started practicing, 16 teams on the men's and women's side were hoping they'd be the last one standing.

Now it's down to four, two from Princeton and two from Penn, all of whom will be playing on Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium Saturday afternoon/evening.

This is something that doesn't happen very often.

Don't miss it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Politics And Football

The Know Nothing Party was, as TB remembers it, all about curbing German and Irish Catholic immigration in pre-Civil War America. The movement, though essentially political, wasn't shy about using other means, including a violent turn at an 1855 election in Kentucky in which 22 people were killed.

In other words, every time TigerBlog hears that American politics are as messed up as they've ever been, he always thinks back to the Know Nothings. Or any number of other political movements that he learned about back in his days as an American history major.

Still, the current state of American politics isn't exactly shining brightly. TB saw a poll last week in which 65% of Americans - basically two-thirds - favored getting rid of every single incumbent from both parties.

The great thing about America, of course, is that you can go vote. And if you think your one vote doesn't matter, well, that's the wrong attitude to take, considering just how many people have died to give you the right to vote.

The 15th amendment, the last of the three Reconstruction Amendments after the Civil War, says that people cannot be denied the right to vote because of race or because they used to be slaves.

Of course, it wasn't until the 19th amendment 50 years later that women were given the right to vote. And then in 1971, the 26th amendment was passed, lowering the voting age to 18.

TigerBlog has voted every year since he turned 18, whether it was for President or township committee or anything in between. His preferred candidate hasn't always won, and TB has often voted for someone he knew was going to lose, but not voting isn't an option.

Today, obviously, is Election Day, a mid-term election at that. Go vote.

One election that you won't have a say in, unless you're an Ivy League head football coach, is the All-Ivy voting that will take place in a little less than three weeks.

The Bushnell Cup, of course, goes to the Ivy League Player of the Year, and TB has one question about the ultimate winner for 2010: Can he come from a team that finishes at or near the bottom?

In other words, can Princeton's Trey Peacock win the Bushnell Cup?

Well, there are a few things working in his favor.

For starters, TigerBlog is pretty sure that Peacock is the best player in the league. Certainly his receiving stats are amazing, as he leads the league in receptions per game (8.0, or 18% more than the next-highest total) and receiving yards per game (116.3, or 28% more than the next-highest total). He has caught touchdown passes of 92 and 80 yards, which are the two longest receptions in the Ivy League this year.

Beyond that, he has also rushed for a touchdown and played on almost all of Princeton's special teams, where he has made seven tackles.

Yes, you can make the case that Princeton has to throw the ball because it's been behind, and the Tigers do lead the Ivy League with 285 pass attempts, one more than Yale, 13 more than Brown and 132 more than Penn. Still, Princeton lost its starting quarterback, Tommy Wornham, to a broken collarbone in Week 5 against Brown and has now played the last 2.5 games without him.

And, as an aside, Princeton has completed more passes (160) than Penn has attempted (153).

But Peacock's numbers aren't a function of some pass-happy offense, and for that matter, his numbers don't define him. What defines Peacock is the fact that any time he's on the field, there's the anticipation that he might be about to do something spectacular.

Simply put, it's a "know it when you see it" thing.

The other thing working in Peacock's favor is that there is no clear-cut favorite for the award this year. Penn is the only undefeated team in the league, but the Quakers are not led by one superstar. The Ivy League stats reflect that Penn has no one in the top five in the league in rushing or passing yards, no one in the top 10 in receiving and no one in the top 14 in tackles.

What Penn does dominate in the team stats, pretty much across the board, and that's why the Quakers are 4-0 in the league.

So who are the favorites? Well, the leading rushers in the league are Harvard's Gino Gordon, who has 804 yards (including 204 against Princeton) and Dartmouth's Nick Schwieger with 778; no one else has more than 466. Should Harvard win out, it would be guaranteed at least a share of the title, possibly a piece of a three-way championship with Penn and Brown, and that would help Gordon.

The leading quarterbacks are Yale's Patrick Witt (61% completions, 275 yards per game, 11 TDs, 10 interceptions) and Columbia's Sean Brackett (60% completions, 200 yards per game, 16 TDs, three interceptions, 152.4 efficiency). Yale is one of three teams with one league loss and therefore is very much alive in the Ivy race; that helps Witt as well.

Looking back at the history of the award, which was first awarded in 1970, the winner has been a quarterback (13) or running back (18) 31 times (there were co-winners twice). Beyond that, there have been four linebackers, two defensive lineman and one defensive back.

As for wide receivers, there have been four winners, including Harvard's Carl Morris twice and Brown's Buddy Farnham, a co-winner a year ago. The other was Sean Morey of Brown.

As for where the winner's team finished, well, as you might have guessed, the champion has often gotten the Bushnell Cup as well, as 27 of the winners have come from the first place team.

The second-place and third-place teams have had five winners each, while fourth has had one, fifth has had two, sixth has had one and seventh has had zero.

And the eighth-place team? It's happened once, back in 1982, when Columbia quarterback John Witkowski threw for 3,050 yards - including a pair of 400-yard games - for the 1-9 Lions.

Summing it up, the 42 Bushnell Cups have gone to teams in the top three in the standings 37 times and in the bottom five of the standings five times. And no wide receiver has won it without finishing in the top three.

Could 2010 be the first year that a wide receiver from a team not in the top three to win it?

Well, if anyone can do it, it's Trey Peacock, after the year he's put together, one that stamps him in TB's mind as the Ivy League's best player.