Friday, April 29, 2011

The Leg Of Honor

TigerBlog can't remember what it was that made Peter Farrell ask what is considered the greatest moment in Princeton football history.

Of course, it was only 24 hours ago, so TB is surprised it's not ringing a bell. Actually, maybe it was just out of nowhere.

TigerBlog stopped for a minute to think about it. The obvious answer would be the 1951 season, when Princeton went undefeated for the second straight year and Dick Kazmaier won the Heisman Trophy.

Farrell, the only women's track and field coach Princeton has ever had, had his own answer. In typical Farrell fashion, it took him awhile to tell the story and, by the time he got to the end, he had drawn a ton of laughs.

In Farrell's mind, the best moment was the 1981 game between Princeton and Yale, the one that the Tigers won 35-31 to end a 14-year losing streak to the Bulldogs.

In that game, Princeton quarterback Bobby Holly threw for 501 yards, a league single-game record that would stand for 27 years, and four touchdowns before running in on the final play for the winning score.

To TB's credit, back in 1999, he wrote a long piece about that day, which he considered the Princeton football game of the century.

TB remembers talking to Scott Oostdyk, a wide receiver for Princeton in that game, as he prepared his story. Oostdyk caught a pass on a fourth-down early in the game-winning drive and got a favorable spot, and TB remembers how Oostdyk basically said that he always feared the day would come when someone would call, tell him he didn't really get 10 yards and take away the win.

Farrell's version of the story has him in the Palmer Stadium stands surrounded by 20 friends who were rooting for Yale. He described the game-winning play as having Holly back to pass and, finding no one open and with the middle of the field wide open, barely getting it across the goal line as he was swarmed by Yale defenders.

And then he was off to the Penn Relays.

A day earlier, he had been in the office to talk about the Penn Relays. In this case, though, he was talking about "The Cosby Show," specifically the one where Cliff runs in the event, entitled "Off To The Races."

As Farrell recalled the episode, Cliff tells his wife that he has to skip the family event to run the anchor leg in a charity race, or as he calls it, "the leg of honor."

The episode was filmed during a running of the Penn Relays back in the 1980s. The event still continues to flourish, and it annually outdraws any other athletic event played on an Ivy League campus (other than perhaps Harvard-Yale football, depending on how you do the accounting).

The event began yesterday and runs through tomorrow, at Franklin Field on Penn's campus. Princeton's Emma Ruggiero won the hammer throw on Day 1, and in all the Tigers will have 35 athletes in 11 different relays competing before the meet ends.

The Penn Relays are now in their third century, as they date to 1895. If you go to the Penn Relay's website, the first picture you see in the history section is of Jesse Owens as he competes.

TigerBlog did not know that the Penn Relays grew out of head-to-head relay event between Princeton and Penn in Philadelphia that was held in 1893. From the website:

When the University Track Committee, chaired by Frank B. Ellis ‘93, looked for ways of adding interest to their 1893 spring handicap meet, they struck on the idea of a relay, four men each running a quarter mile in succession. The idea created enough interest that a team from Princeton was invited to contest the event. Held at the end of the meet on May 12, the Princeton team of J.A. Chapman, George McCampbell, Isaac Brokow and Theodore Turner pulled away in the homestretch to beat Penn by eight yards with a time of 3:34.0.
The following year Penn exacted its revenge against the Princeton team on the University Field track, located at 37th and Spruce Streets, where the Quad Dormitory is now. Interest in the first two years’ races was such that the committee decided to sponsor a relay meet in 1895 with hopes of reviving sagging interest in Penn track. The first Penn Relays also served as the dedication for Franklin Field, built on the same ground it occupies today, but under a different guise. The only grandstand at the time was a wooden single-tiered bleacher on the South side of the field, along what is now the sprint straightaway.

For the record, TB lived in the Quad for two years.

TigerBlog isn't usually in the business of trying to get people to go to events on other campuses, but if you've never been to the Penn Relays, it's worth the trip.

Unless you want to go to baseball here today or women's lacrosse here tomorrow, of course.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mitch And Brian

TigerBlog woke up early on July 29, 1981. Very, very early. Like around 4 a.m. early.

Then he made pancakes, or was it french toast?, for a bunch of people.

Of course, TB's small breakfast party wasn't the only pre-dawn one going on at the time. It was the thing to do that day, wake up early, throw something on the griddle and then settle down to watch the royal wedding between Princess Diana and Prince Charles.

As an aside, TB's fingers are so conditioned to typing a certain word that he - without thinking - typed the word "Princeton" before both "Diana" and "Charles" in the last sentence and had to go back and change it. Princeton Charles?

TB isn't sure why he bought into the whole royal wedding thing. Maybe he just wanted the pancakes.

And TB wishes he could remember back all those years, to what his thoughts about British royalty were. He knows that they are now, though.

The United States broke away from England largely to get away from the idea of a monarchy, and the best part about this country is that it's all about the individual. Anyone from anywhere, no matter what their inherited hardships, can grow up to literally be the President.

Look at where Ronald Reagan started. Or Bill Clinton. Or Barack Obama.

In fact, the way that President Obama was almost deified, as if he was royalty, after his 2008 election frightened TigerBlog. In this country, no person is supposed to be looked at that way.

Of course, the royal family now has little in the way of constitutional power or responsibility, so they're more celebrities than anything else. And in today's world, where celebrity is so valued regardless of the reason for it, TB understands why people would embrace a young, attractive, royal couple like the two getting married tomorrow morning.

Yes, it makes for great theater, and there's certainly something to be said for a bit of escapism every now and then. Still, there's something about it that TB just can't embrace.

The more TB thinks about it, the more he thinks it was pancakes, not french toast, that he served that morning in 1981.

His favorite french toast story is about the time at the 1996 NCAA basketball tournament in Indianapolis that TB tried to order french toast for breakfast, only to be told that they didn't have french toast.

"You have bread, milk and eggs, right," said Mark Eckel, who was covering (the game, not breakfast) for the Trenton Times.

"Yes," the waiter said with a confused look.

"Then you have french toast," Eckel said.

This morning, two members of that 1996 team - and the two that followed it - sat in TigerBlog's office, arguing about which of them would win if they played tennis. Despite the fact that neither has ever seen the other play, they both were supremely confident that they would win.

In fact, the idea that the other even had a chance was too ridiculous for either to contemplate.

TB took at as another sign that Princeton men's basketball is in the right hands.

Mitch Henderson, the Tigers' new head coach, was one of the two former players. Brian Earl, who will be staying on as Henderson's top assistant, was the other.

Just as TB wishes he could think back to the Charles-Diana wedding and remember what his thoughts were about British royalty, he wishes he could back to the RCA Dome that night in 1996 - or any of the other many nights that Henderson and Earl played together - and remember what he thought of their potential as basketball coaches.

He's pretty sure he thought it was pretty high.

Henderson and Earl played together for three season, from 1995-96 through 1997-98.

During that time, the team went 40-2 in Ivy League games (41-2 if you count the 1996 playoff win over Penn), a record that was 28-0 in their final two seasons.

Overall, they were 73-13, including 2-3 in NCAA tournament games. Their team reached the national Top 25 in both of their final two seasons, going to as high as seventh in 1998.

Combined they went for 2,398 career points, 567 career assists (Henderson ranks fourth all-time at Princeton, Earl ranks seventh), 282 career steals (they rank 8-9 all-time) and 374 career three-pointers.

Their combined numbers in the 1998 NCAA tournament win over Nevada-Las Vegas: 40 points, 16 of 29 shooting, eight rebounds, 11 assists, three steals. Both played 40 minutes.

TigerBlog watched in awe as Earl and Henderson played together here, and he saw every game they played those final three years.

Henderson wasn't the pure shooter that Earl was, but nobody was the passer that Henderson was.

What stands out most to TB as he thinks back is their toughness. They were not going to pushed around, despite the fact that every opponent tried their best to do just that.

Earl, especially, was the target, with his baby face and small frame. For whatever reason, opposing teams and players saved their most brutal comments for him, and TB cannot think of another Princeton athlete he's seen here who was subjected to that kind of verbal abuse on a regular basis.

And how did it affect him? He'd go out and drain another three, that's how.

TB can remember games that Earl simply took over, and TB can see the look that he saw a few times from Earl that seemed to say "get out of my way."

The night that Princeton came from 27 points down to beat Penn? With all due respect to the other four key Tigers that night (Gabe Lewullis, Ahmed El-Nokali, Chris Young, Mason Rocca), that's a 20-point Penn win without Earl.

And the night that Princeton beat North Carolina State in the 1999 NIT in the final Wolfpack men's game at Reynolds Coliseum? That was all Brian Earl.

It's not a coincidence that he did both on hostile courts against teams that knew they had to stop him. It's not a coincidence that he silenced the crowd both times.

TB remembers one sequence specifically from that Penn game. Princeton trailed 42-30 with seven minutes or so left when a three-point play cut it to nine. Earl then stole the inbounds pass and gave it to El-Nokali.

As he made the pass, he was already setting his feet to shoot and clapping his hands at El-Nokali to get him the ball back. Once the return pass was made, Earl let it go in a heartbeat.

TB was sure that shot was going in before the pass ever got back to Earl, and sure enough, it swished in, making it a six-point game.

Earl scored 1,428 points at Princeton, and TB saw 1,417 of them. That one three-pointer stands out more than any other.

One other thing about Earl: TigerBlog has never seen a Princeton player who, when the shot clock dipped under five seconds and there was absolutely nothing there, could make something out of nothing like Earl.

And now, after every other contribution that he's given to Princeton basketball in his life, Earl gives the program continuity as the coaching change to Henderson happens.

Henderson and Earl. They're tough. They're competitive. They're proven winners. They're Princeton guys through and through.

Princeton basketball is in good hands.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Welcome To Ithaca

TigerBlog, back in his days as the football and men's basketball contact, would often come up with interesting game notes that the coaches wouldn't exactly embrace.

For instance, there was the "1.9 yards and a cloud of dust" note, which mentioned that in one particular year in the late 1990s, Princeton was rushing for and allowing an average of 1.9 yards per carry. He also had one even earlier than that that said Princeton had attempted some large number of passes since it had last completed one to the tight end.

Or there was the basketball note about dunking, back in 2001, maybe? These said that Princeton had whatever number of three-pointers it had but no dunks for the season.

Maybe none of the ones that TB has ever come up with has tortured the coach like his current one about Princeton-Cornell men's lacrosse. In every meeting between the two since 2005 - a total of eight games in six years - the Big Red has scored early and started to build a big lead.

Last year was Chris Bates' first as head coach of the Tigers, and TB told Bates about the Big Red's run as the year went along.

In the regular-season finale, Cornell then won the opening face-off and scored in the first 1:03, eventually building a 4-0 lead at the end of the first quarter and a 9-3 lead at the end of the third. Princeton stormed back and almost pulled it off before falling 10-9.

Princeton and Cornell met in the Ivy League tournament final eight days later. At breakfast on the morning of the game, TB mentioned it again to Bates, who finally turned around and said 75 percent laughing and 25 percent serious: "Would you just shut up about this?"

So what happened next?

Cornell won the opening face-off and scored in 16 seconds. By the third quarter, it was 7-3 Cornell, and it was looking like business as usual - until the Tigers rallied again. This time, Princeton made it all the way back, winning 10-9 in overtime on a goal by Jack McBride.

In the postgame interview room, Bates was asked what he was thinking when Cornell scored so early, and he said something about wanting to find TB and curse him out.

The teams meet again Saturday in Ithaca, and TB will find the first minute or so fascinating. Will this be the year Princeton doesn't let Cornell get off to a quick start?

TB is also looking forward to the fifth meeting between Rob Pannell and Chad Wiedmaier.

Pannell, Cornell's junior attackman, leads the nation in scoring with 5.67 points per game, more than a full point above the next-highest total. He's also first in assists per game and fifth in goals per game, and with 32 goals and 36 assists, he's the only player in the country with at least 30 of each (something that a Princeton player has only done once, David Tickner in 1976).

Then there's Wiedmaier, who like Pannell is a junior who has been first-team All-Ivy League his first two years. Wiedmaier has been matched up against Pannell four times already, and he has held him to two goals on 31 shots. Add in Pannell's nine assists in four games, and his numbers against Wiedmaier are below what they are the rest of the time, though the matchup has been something of a draw so far.

The bigger picture of the game Saturday is whether or not it'll be the end of the season for the Tigers or the first of two trips to Ithaca in six days.

Princeton currently is tied for fourth in the Ivy League with Harvard, both at 2-3. Cornell, at 5-0, has clinched the league's outright title and the host spot for the Ivy League tournament.

As an aside, Cornell (with 26 Ivy titles) and Princeton (with 25) have simply dominated the league since its inception.

For Princeton to get into the Ivy tournament, it needs Harvard to lose to Yale; a Crimson win in that game means that Princeton is eliminated.

Should Yale beat Harvard, then Princeton would get into the tournament one of two ways. The easiest would be to beat Cornell, which would give Princeton fourth place to itself.

The hard way would be to have Harvard lose, Princeton lose and Dartmouth beat Brown, setting up an unbreakable three-way tie between Princeton, Harvard and Dartmouth that would have to be settled by a random draw.

It's not the ideal way, in TB's mind, to decide who plays on and who doesn't. Perhaps RPI? Perhaps goal-differential between the three teams head-to-head?

Of course, both of those currently favor Princeton, but TB would be in favor of that even if they didn't.

And should Princeton get into the Ivy tournament, it's locked into playing Cornell in the semifinals (Harvard would be the No. 3 seed with a win over Yale, who would drop to four; Penn is locked into the No. 2 spot).

That would require two trips to Ithaca, to watch two opening face-offs and two matchups between Pannell and Wiedmaier.

TB would be fine with that.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Is There Anything In My Box?

Joe Taylor is an autistic man who is probably in his 50s.

He works at McCaffery's supermarket in the Princeton Shopping Center, where TigerBlog often sees him. The other place that TB sees him is at Princeton sporting events, where Taylor is a regular for just about every team.

TB doesn't know a great deal about autism, a disease that robs people of their ability to communicate and socialize in a normal manner. In Taylor's case, he must be high-functioning, since he can clearly carry on conversations and process the information.

TB has known Joe since his newspaper days and has seen him in the office here at Princeton regularly for 20 years or so. There used to be a box in the back room by the printer that was "Joe Taylor's box," a place to put any old publications that were otherwise going to be thrown out.

Joe would come in and walk away with all of these guides and programs and such and take them home and read them. And memorize them.

The phone would ring every now and then here in the OAC, and it'd be Joe Taylor, who would always say the following: "Yes, this is Joe Taylor; is there anything in my box?"

He also loved to talk about whatever the most recent Princeton game he'd be at was, and he would speak in very, very specific terms about the details, referencing names, plays, standings, locations and everything.

About the only thing that's changed with Joe is that his box is long gone, though he still calls and asks about it.

In fact, this morning, Joe walked in the door and had a normal Joe Taylor conversation, which included things like:

* "who's in first place in the Red Rolfe Division?"
* "wasn't it exciting that the baseball team swept Harvard in Cambridge?"
* "the men's lacrosse team needs to beat Cornell Saturday"

and of course ... "is there anything in my box?"

Joe gets emotional when he talks about Princeton's teams, and he often laughs loudly during these exchanges. When he talks about specific people, he always uses their first name and last name.

When he's in the office, he often will continue to stand in the same place long after the conversation has ended and then suddenly turn and bolt.

All of this is fresh in TB's mind because Joe was just in here a few minutes ago, talking baseball and getting excited.

Of course, it's a good time to be excited about Princeton baseball, a team that at one point was 3-13 but has since squared its record at 18-18.

More importantly, the Tigers are 12-4 in the Gehrig Division - "the Lou Gehrig Division," Joe Taylor calls it - and they have a four-game lead on Penn with four to play.

In other words, for Princeton not to win the division title, it would have to be swept by Cornell this weekend and Penn would have to sweep Columbia, forcing a tie and a one-game playoff that Penn would then have to win.

The prize for the division winner is a spot in the Ivy League championship series, which matches the two division winners.

In the Rolfe Division, Dartmouth and Yale are tied for first heading into the final weekend, which will see Dartmouth take on Harvard four times and Yale take on Brown four times.

There could still be a three-way tie at 10-10 in the Rolfe, which would require a Brown (6-10) sweep of Yale (10-6) and a Harvard (5-11) sweep of Dartmouth (10-6). It's more likely that if there is a tie, it's between Yale and Dartmouth.

Assuming Princeton gets the division title, the next step would be hosting the ILCS, an honor that goes to the team with the better league record.

In Princeton's case, the magic number is three, meaning a combination of Princeton wins and Dartmouth and Yale losses totaling three would put the best-of-three playoff on Clarke Field May 7 and 8.

This past weekend wasn't the greatest for Princeton athletics. Both tennis teams needed assistance to earn shares of the Ivy title - and neither got it. The women's lacrosse team lost in an opportunity to get a share of the league title, and the men's lacrosse team no longer is in a win-and-in situation for the Ivy tournament.

The golf teams finished third (women) and fifth (men) at the Ivy tournaments, and the softball team was swept Sunday.

The baseball team, though, went 3-1 for its four games, losing the first and winning the next three for the second straight weekend (okay, Monday isn't really a weekend).

As a result, the Tigers did more than just put themselves in a great position in the division and to host the league series.

They also made Joe Taylor's day.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bye, Guy

TigerBlog always feels somewhat guilty when he orders at a Chinese restaurant. Lo Mein. Fried rice. Beef and broccoli, or maybe with vegetables. Egg roll. Soup.

It's so ordinary.

TB assumes the people who answer the phone and cook the food roll their eyes at such orders, what with menus that they put great thought into.

Still, TB's first choice when he's not in the mood to make dinner would normally be Chinese food.

One day a few summers ago, as he walked into the Chinese restaurant in the Princeton Shopping Center, he saw Guy Gadowsky walking out, carrying three bags. He wore shorts out of the 1980s or earlier, and he couldn't have been happier with his dinner selection. He smiled ear-to-ear, talked about how great the food was in the restaurant and how much he hoped TB enjoyed it as well.

Take Guy Gadowsky away from an athletic competition, and that's what you get. There aren't too many friendlier people out there, too many who laugh as easily, too many who are so genuine when they tell you they hope you enjoy your own Chinese food.

Put him in an athletic competition, and he's a whole different, uh, Guy.

The coaching profession lends itself to the ultra-competitive, and there are few TB has ever met who match Guy Gadowsky in that category.

TB learned this first-hand playing squash against Gadowsky, but that's not really something that was necessary to figure it out.

Gadowsky, who announced Sunday that he was leaving Princeton to become the first men's hockey coach at Penn State, inherited a team at Baker Rink that had won won eight games total the previous two seasons. At Princeton, Gadowsky won eight games in his first season and increased his win total in each of the next five seasons, including a program-record 22 wins in the 2008-09 season.

He won an ECAC title and an Ivy League title, and he took Princeton to two NCAA tournaments in seven years. Princeton went from a team with almost no history of success since the days of Hobey Baker himself to a regular in the national Top 20. Princeton players that he brought in and coached started to consistently reach the NHL.

He did it by imposing his will on the program, and his players responded in a big way. They played hard, aggressively, up-tempo, and the results speak for themselves.

Beyond just the turnaround in record, Gadowsky brought Princeton hockey back to be something that people wanted to watch. Attendance went way up, and Baker Rink became as exciting a venue as Princeton has.

When TB heard Gadowsky was leaving, one of his first thoughts was what Gadowsky's historical place at Princeton would be.

TB thought that Gadowsky was the top Princeton coach of the last decade, but what about beyond that?

Princeton's athletic history is filled with coaches who have won national championships, and it's also filled with coaches who found teams who were near rock bottom and turned them around.

And surely there have been coaches who have stayed longer at Princeton than the seven years that Gadowsky was here.

What Gadowsky did, though, was something special. Hockey is a sport where several Ivy teams have great traditions, and breaking into that hierarchy wasn't easy.

And other than a stretch in the 1990s under Don Cahoon and featuring Jeff Halpern, Princeton had never been part of the elite. Princeton had only one winning season from 1960 through 1995, and that was in 1967-68.

Turning Princeton hockey into what it became during his tenure was one of the most extraordinary coaching performances in the history of the school.

When Gadowsky arrived, Princeton was coming off seasons of 3-26-2 and 5-24-2.

As he arrives in State College, his new program is coming off seasons of 0-0-0 going back to 1946, the last time Penn State had varsity hockey.

Penn State has no team, no players, no schedule, no games until 2012-13. Click on any of those links on Penn State's webpage, and you'll get "information coming soon" as a response.

Well, the first piece of that information has been taken care of. The head coach is in place.

Penn State appears to be making the necessary commitments of revenues to fielding as strong a hockey team as possible. And clearly a school like Penn State can certainly be competitive quickly, with its name recognition and place in the world of intercollegiate athletics.

And now with Gadowsky in charge of the program, that commitment is in good hands.

Penn State has gotten someone dynamic to be the head man for its hockey program. It has someone with the drive and desire and sheer competitive will necessary to follow through on the school's investment.

Good luck, Guy.

Princeton will miss you.

Friday, April 22, 2011

While The Coach Is In Motion

One of the normal Friday afternoon sights around here is a line of Coach USA buses that forms in the circle near DeNunzio Pool.

These buses then are loaded up with coaches, athletes, equipment, athletic trainers, food, drinks and everything else that is standard for a college athletic team as it heads to the road.

The sidewalk in front of Caldwell Field House becomes the staging area, and bag after bag is first placed there and then under the bus. Athletes in their standard travel gear mill around. Cars race by dropping off other supplies or latecomers before heading back to park in Lot 21 someplace.

The team itself doesn't usually make a difference, since it's basically the same for every sport. Well, some sports, like hockey, leave from Baker Rink, so it's not every team that heads out from outside of Jadwin.

Still, it's something that hardly raises an eye anymore. Eventually, with everything on board - including movies to watch on the way - and the head coach seated in the front seat opposite the driver, away the bus goes, brimming with optimism on the way to the competition

It's tough to pick the right departure time, since there are too many competing factors, like classes, practice times, meal times, traffic and any number of others.

There aren't as many people around when the buses return, usually because they're doing so at night, mostly after midnight. Then, the real pain is clearing everything off the bus, getting everything back into Caldwell, getting rid of the garbage off the bus - all after sitting on a bus for hours.

TigerBlog hates buses. They're a guaranteed way to make TB queasy, and let's face it, there's only so much hand sanitizer that a person can use in one day.

Most of TB's bus travel experience has been with men's basketball, ironically enough, when he was still at the newspaper.

In fact, TB once saw Pete Carril violate all of the rules that are posted near the door, as he stood forward of the white line, drinking a beer, smoking a cigar, eating and, worst of all, speaking to the driver while the coach was in motion.

Peter Farrell, the women's track and field coach, says he doesn't really mind traveling, though he does know several coaches who have gotten out of the profession after saying that they "couldn't get on the bus one more time."

One coach who probably can't wait to get on the bus today is Chris Sailer, the women's lacrosse coach, even if her ride is five times longer than the one from Wednesday night.

Sailer, a Hall-of-Fame coach who has won three NCAA titles, has her team tied for first place in the Ivy League, at least by number of losses. In fact, it's a four-way tie right now between Penn, Princeton, Harvard and Dartmouth, and it's guaranteed that those four teams will make up the field for the Ivy League tournament.

There are still two pretty good questions remaining, though. First, which team or teams will win the championship? And second, where will the tournament be?

Well, the answer to the second question is: It can be at any of the four schools.

And to the first? The answer is that there can be an outright championship all the way to a four-way tie.

One thing there cannot be is a four-way tie at 6-1, since there are still head-to-head matchups between the four, beginning tomorrow when Sailer's team gets off the bus in Hanover to take on Dartmouth and continuing next week when Dartmouth takes on Harvard.

Penn has one game remaining, against Brown (1-4 in the league) tomorrow. Both Harvard (tomorrow) and Princeton (Wednesday) also take on Columbia (1-4).

Penn is already 2-1 against the other three, with one-goal wins over Dartmouth and Harvard and an 11-7 loss to Princeton the other night that snapped the Quaker's 34-game Ivy winning streak and threw this race wide open.

Princeton won that game after a one-goal loss to Harvard last weekend, and so the Tigers are 1-1 against the other three. Harvard is also 1-1, and Dartmouth is 0-1.

If you're a Princeton fan, you're rooting for two Princeton wins and then a Dartmouth win over Harvard, and you'll have the Ivy women's tournament in Princeton.

If Princeton, Penn and Harvard all win out, then they'd all be 6-1 with no way to break the tie for home field, which would then be determined by random draw.

Any two-way or three-way tie that includes Penn but not Princeton will favor the Quakers, and Penn has the easiest path to 6-1, since it only has one game and it's the only team not playing one of the other three.

The men still have all seven teams alive for a tournament spot; the women's field at least is set. Both races figure to be up in the air right to the end.

For the team that wins the Ivy tournament, there's an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Last year, in the first year of the tournament, the host teams went 1-1, as the Penn women won in Philadelphia but the Cornell men lost to Princeton in Ithaca, so home field is no guarantee of anything.

Still, it's always better not to have to get on a bus.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mitch Henderson, Nice To Meet You

John Mack, the 10-time Heptagonal track champion from Princeton who is now an associate athletic director at Northwestern, told TigerBlog something yesterday that he didn't previously know about Princeton's new head men's basketball coach.

Mitch Henderson, it turns out, is a squash player. According to Mack, he's a pretty good one at that.

TB doesn't doubt it, not with the athleticism that Henderson was given at birth. And, as Henderson stood in TB's office yesterday, TB couldn't help but notice that Henderson is taller than TB remembers, which probably translates into good court coverage and would make it difficult to lob over him.

As squash is now TB's preferred method of exercise, he assumes he will get to see Henderson's game up close at some point in the not-so-distant future.

Still, TB never really thought about wanting to play squash like Henderson.

He did, in all the years he played lunchtime basketball, want to pass like Henderson.

For all of the great passers Princeton basketball has had since TB has been here, nobody other than Nate Walton compares to Henderson.

Henderson was an amazing passer, back when he the Tiger point guard on the Ivy League championship teams of 1996, 1997 and 1998.

TB wrote in a game program story about Henderson was he was a senior, and the story began with the time that then-head coach Bill Carmody dragged TB up to his office to show him the tape of a pass that Henderson had thrown the weekend before.

"That pass would be even more special if there weren't literally 100 others like it," TB wrote. "Henderson has 101 assists on the season, and a whole bunch of those have brought out the 'wow' in anyone who saw them. They have been lefthanded, righthanded. Bounce passes. Chest passes. One-handed. Two-handed. And they all have common denominators: They have very little margin for error, and they almost always end up where they're supposed to go."

TB would throw one-handed passes off the dribble as soon as he saw someone cut, just like he would see each weekend from Henderson, only they would hardly ever end up going where they were supposed to go. Ultimately, John Thompson III would tell him to knock it off and stop throwing the ball away.

In Henderson's case, that wasn't an issue.

TB's biggest memory of Henderson as a Princeton player is his ability to pass. Well, plus his toughness. And his natural warmth, which was summed up yesterday to TB by someone who called him "Midwestern."

The Mitch Henderson who walked in here yesterday was like a kid who woke up on a white Midwestern Christmas morning and found the present he'd always dreamed of under the tree, and he could hardly contain his excitement.

He shook hands, introducing himself to people who've worked here for years and yet never saw him as a player. He asked each what they did, where they went to school, what their background was. He found something they had in common and suggested that they'd pursue it together.

He could have been running for office, except that it came across as so genuine, so honest, so free of any pretense. As first impressions went for those just meeting him, he couldn't have done any better.

TigerBlog has been around a lot of teams at Princeton in a lot of different sports.

There's nothing that can touch what happened between 1996 and 1998, when the men's basketball team defeated UCLA in Carril's last year and then went 51-6 in Bill Carmody's first two years while rising into the Top 10 nationally and when the men's lacrosse team won three straight NCAA titles.

Both teams had great groups of players, and TB was lucky to be around them, to see some of the greatest athletes and people Princeton University has ever produced as they competed, as they prepared to compete and as they were just being themselves.

If TB is correct, he's spoken to Henderson fewer than five times in the 13 years since he graduated. Still, he'd watch Northwestern basketball games on television to root for Carmody and Henderson, and he couldn't help but smile when he saw Henderson on the Wildcat bench.

Why? Because if you can't root for Mitch Henderson, there's something wrong with you.

Every time TB would see him on TV, he'd remember all the times he'd see him in a hotel or after practice or before a game or walking around campus and how every single time, Henderson would say "hi, how are you" in that rarest way that made you realize he actually cared what the response was.

But that's not his only side.

TB also remembers practice two days before the 1996 Ivy League playoff game between Princeton and Penn, when Pete Carril implored his team to push back if Penn tried to push the Tigers around. To that point, Princeton had lost eight straight to the Quakers.

Early in the game, Henderson literally did push back, shoving Garrett Kreitz of Penn after Kreitz shoved him after a scramble for the ball. TB can't remember if Henderson got a technical foul, and he lent the book that has the box score in it to Sean Gregory for his great story on the Princeton-UCLA game from Time last month.

Still, it was the symbolic play that Princeton needed, the one that said "hey, we're here, and we're not going away easily."

Henderson was that kind of player. He made all the plays that needed to be made. And he was so tough, played so hard, all the time.

Eventually, what most people remember Henderson for is The Picture, the one where he has his arms extended after the UCLA game, with a dejected Toby Bailey and an elated Sydney Johnson in the background.

TB loves to watch the end of the UCLA game and see the exact moment that the picture was taken, and Gregory's story includes an anecdote about how the photographer thought he'd captured it but wasn't completely sure until he saw the negatives.

Henderson said yesterday that he loves the picture and never gets tired of it but that Princeton is hiring the coach, not the player.

After spending time with the new coach yesterday and today, TB realizes that those two people are pretty much the same.

Back then, he made you root for him because of who he was and how he carried himself.

Starting now, he'll do the same as Princeton's head men's basketball coach.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

In Or Out?

TigerBlog had a teacher named Mr. Eovino for a probability and statistics class back in high school.

TB was a junior, and he took the class that was probably two-thirds seniors. Back when TB was in high school, the kids a year older than he was were an academic powerhouse of a group, and taking an upper-level advanced math class with them was as challenging as anything TB ever did in high school.

TB remembers Mr. Iovino as a great teacher, one who managed to combine being funny and approachable with having extraordinarily high standards in his class. When TB thinks back to his days in high school, Mr. Iovino is one of the very few teachers - along with maybe four others - who stand out to him as having all of those qualities and who, as a result, really pushed TB to do his best.

He also had a great sense of humor, something he demonstrated during the school talent show one year, when he put white powder in his black beard, dressed in flowing robes and danced around the stage as a group of kids turned the Kinks' song "Lola" into "Ayatollah."

One day in class, he interrupted himself and started flailing away futilely, swatting at an unseen annoyance in front of his face. Eventually, the flailing got to be quite energized and somewhat violent - until he stopped abruptly and said to the class: "There's no bug here."

Probability and statistics was a difficult subject, and it was often confusing for TB to remember all the starting points and formulas and such.

Still, he's pretty sure that if there are six events with two possible outcomes for each event, then the total number of outcomes is two to the sixth power, or 64.

That means there are 64 possible outcomes of the remaining six Ivy League men's lacrosse regular-season games, and those 64 outcomes will take the race for the four Ivy League tournament spots in almost as many different directions.

Right now, this is how it looks:

Cornell 4-0 (Brown, Princeton remaining)
Penn 3-2 (Dartmouth remaining)
Yale 3-2 (Harvard remaining)
Princeton 2-2 (Harvard, Cornell remaining)
Harvard 1-3 (Princeton, Yale remaining)
Brown 1-3 (Cornell, Dartmouth remaining)
Dartmouth 1-3 (Penn, Brown remaining)

As of now, Cornell is in the tournament and none of the teams have been mathematically eliminated or have clinched a spot. Also, Princeton could still host the tournament, mathematically at least.

In its most simplistic form, a Cornell win over Brown and a Princeton win over Harvard Saturday gives Cornell the outright title and home field in the tournament and puts Penn, Yale and Princeton in the field, locking Princeton into the fourth seed.

But ...

There could be some wild stuff if the right outcomes happen, including:

* Princeton could NOT be in the tournament at 3-3 but make the field at 2-4
* there could be a five-way tie for second at 3-3 ... should this happen, Princeton would be out
* Harvard could have its fate decided by who wins Dartmouth-Brown, two teams Harvard has already played
* there could be multiple combinations of teams that could finish in a four-way tie at 3-3
* there could be a four-way tie at 2-4 for the last spot between the same four teams, but they could get there in two different ways, and whichever way they got there would determine who got the fourth spot
* there could be a three-way tie for the last spot that would have to be broken by a random draw

Cornell, obviously, is in, and Yale and Penn would be in simply by winning their last remaining game.

Princeton, likewise, is in a win-and-you're-in situation.

Is anyone else?

Brown definitely isn't, since a 3-3 Brown team could still finish behind Cornell, Yale, Penn and Princeton or even with Princeton in a two-way tie for fourth, but the Tigers defeated Brown.

Dartmouth isn't definitely in, since it could win out to 3-3 and find itself tied with Princeton and Penn for the last two spots. Each would be 1-1 against the other, so the next tiebreaker would be how each team did against the teams from the top of the standings down.

In this case, should Princeton get to 3-3 with a loss to Harvard and win over Cornell and, assuming a Yale win over Harvard, then Princeton would be third, leaving Penn and Dartmouth fourth and giving Dartmouth the spot with its head-to-head win over Penn.

But if Princeton lost to Cornell and beat Harvard, then Penn would be third because it would have beaten Yale. That would leave Princeton and Dartmouth, and Princeton's win over Dartmouth would knock out the Green.

As for Harvard, TB may be overlooking something, but he can't see any way that Harvard isn't in with a win over Princeton and Yale. But it's really, really complicated in some of those scenarios, so hey, he may be wrong.

The last Saturday of the 2010 Ivy League lacrosse season was the wildest day in Ivy League men's lacrosse history. There were three games involving six teams, all of whom still had a shot of getting in the tournament.

All three games were one-goal games, and one went into OT. When the dust cleared, there were four teams tied at 4-2, the first four-way title in league history in men's lacrosse.

This year? Hey, it could be just as nuts.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Let My People Go

Back in the days of a youthful TigerBlog, one of the biggest events of any year was the race to find the Afikoman.

For those who will be celebrating Easter this weekend, or of any other religion not currently abstaining from bread, the Afikoman is a broken piece of matzoh that is hidden by the leader of the Passover Seder. Eventually, all the children present will have a mad scramble to find the Afikoman, and the winner would be given a small prize.

TigerBlog's assumption is that the prize money he would get in the years he would outwit BrotherBlog and his cousins Paul and Janet is a fraction of the going rate for a successful Afikoman hunt these days.

Passover, which began at sundown last night and runs for eight days, is basically the telling of the story of the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, led by Moses, who told the Pharaoh to "let my people go."

The story was told nicely in the movie "The Ten Commandments," by the way.

As for the Seder, the leader leads those assembled through the story of how the Jews came to be enslaved in Egypt, what their life there was like, how Moses eventually got the Pharaoh to allow the Jews to leave after the 10 plagues rained down on Egypt and how the Jews made their way through the desert.

Along the way, there are multiple stops to eat, drink win and hear from the youngest present, who asks the four questions to answer the main question: "Why is this night different from all other nights."

TB was always the youngest at the Seder, and the pressure was on him every year.

A proper Seder takes hours, and there are two, one on each of the first two nights of the holiday. A more reform version of the Seder takes a fraction of that time.

The Seder has, in fact, been satirized a million times, including in this way:
It's a long time ago. We're slaves in Egypt. Pharaoh is a nightmare. We cry out for help. God brings plagues upon the Egyptians. We escape, bake some matzoh. God parts the Red Sea. We make it through; the Egyptians aren't so lucky. We wander 40 years in the desert, eat manna, get the Torah, wind up in Israel, get a new temple, enjoy several years without being persecuted again.

TB's memories of Passover as a kid are much more vivid than of any other holiday other than Thanksgiving, and certainly more so than any other Jewish holiday. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur also were big, but when it came to family, food and celebration, for whatever reason, TB remembers Passover and Thanksgiving the most.

TB grew up in a town by the Jersey Shore that had a very high Jewish population, and he attended a college famous for its high number of Jewish students.

In his lifetime, TB has encountered very little in the way of overt anti-semitism, though he has heard his share of comments that have made him roll his eyes. In fact, he's heard people he knows who didn't know he was Jewish make some odd statements.

What really amazes TB is when he reads the comments under newspaper stories about issues related to Israel or Judaism and sees just how hated his religion can be by some. Whenever he sees that, he thinks back to the time he voiced those sentiments to a friend, who replied: "People hate Jews; this is news?"

In general, TB has found Judaism to be more of a cultural phenomenon than a religious one. And, while he has studied many religions and been welcomed into the world of faiths other than his own, he still is glad that this is the hand he was dealt.

Princeton's historical record in dealing with Jewish students is, except for a few well-documented episodes around eating clubs a half-century ago, is pretty strong, and the school has at times been unfairly labeled as being anti-Jewish.

Princeton has produced any number of great Jewish athletes.

The current rosters include among others women's basketball player Lauren Polansky, hockey player Andrew Calof and baseball player Michael Fagan.

In recent times, Princeton has had Jewish athletes like men's lacrosse player Jason Doneger, men's basketball player Howard Levy, men's basketball player Scott Greenman, women's lacrosse/field hockey player Rachael Becker and men's hockey player Jeff Halpern, as well as an army of others.

TigerBlog isn't sure who the first Jewish athlete in school history was, but he knows that going back to the early 1920s, Princeton did have a baseball player named Moe Berg.

For those who don't know his story, Berg is as fascinating as any athlete the school has ever had. He grew up in Newark and played baseball here before graduating in 1923 and embarking on a long career in the Major Leagues, as well as going through Columbia Law School.

Back in the days when Major League players would often go on "barnstorming" tours of other countries in the off-season, Berg became a popular figure in Japan.

Little did anyone realize that he was also a spy for the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, and that he was secretly filming Tokyo Bay and ultimately helping make strategic maps for the U.S. military.

He also did work in Europe, and he attended a conference to hear the top Nazi nuclear scientist speak about where Germany's atomic bomb program was. If Berg determined that the Nazis were close to the bomb, his orders were to kill the scientist - and then himself - then and there. He even had his own cyanide pill hidden on his in case it became necessary.

Passover runs until early next week.

Easter is this Sunday. That's a whole different Charlton Heston movie.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Running On Empty

TigerBlog was driving back from the men's lacrosse game in Massachusetts when he realized that he was lower on gas than he thought.

The little counter that says how many miles he can go before he's empty was below 10, more like seven or so, when he got off the highway to fill up.

When he got to the top of the exit ramp, there was no little sign for gas pointing him in a specific direction, so he wasn't sure what to do. Randomly, he thought "left" and headed into that town.

Only it was a few miles until he got there, and once there, it was obvious there was no gas station in this town. When he saw a police car sitting in a speed trap, TB went over and asked him where the nearest station was. Back on the other side of the highway, TB was told.

So now the mileage counter was down to one, and that quickly turned to zero, as TB headed back the five or six miles to the highway.

Having never run out of gas, TB wasn't quite what to expect. Plus, he was on one of those little Massachusetts two-lane roads with no real shoulder, so if he stopped suddenly, he had no place to go anyway.

Eventually, he saw the highway and then, about a half-mile beyond it, a Sunoco station, one he would have found earlier had he simply gone "right" and not "left," as TB usually does.

When TB finally reached the station, he'd gone 5.4 miles since the counter went to zero. Like Kramer in an episode of "Seinfeld" during its not-as-funny period, TB wondered how far he could go before he would actually run out.

It was that kind of weekend for Princeton athletics, where most of the excitement was on the road.

Let's look at three teams, two of whom were on the road this weekend.

The baseball team entered the weekend tied with Penn on top of the Gehrig Division, and TB wrote last week that if those two got to the fourth game with one team having won two of three (as opposed to three of three), then that game would be huge.

Princeton lost Game 1 on Friday and then came back to take Game 2, setting up yesterday's second doubleheader.

With a lineup more suited for Little League, Princeton in Game 3 had Mike Ford pitching and batting fourth - and with good reason. Ford gave up two first inning runs and then blanked the Quakers the rest of the way, and he snapped a tie game with a double in the top of the seventh to give Princeton the 3-2 win. He ended the game with back-to-back strikeouts.

Game 4 was the nine-inning game, and that wasn't enough on this day, as Princeton needed 10 innings to get a 4-2 in. Ryan Alpert, who had homered earlier, doubled in two runs in the top of the 10th.

The result is that Princeton is 9-3 in the division, which leads Penn by two games and Columbia by three. Cornell is in fourth at 3-9.

The Tigers, who in fact have the best record in the league as Yale leads the Rolfe Division at 8-4, host Columbia for four games this weekend, including two on Easter Sunday and then play two at Cornell and two home against Cornell. Penn plays Cornell four times this weekend and then plays two home and two away against Columbia.

A wild part of the weekend? Princeton won three of four games but was outscored by the Quakers. After losing 12-4 in the first game, Princeton won two one-run games and one two-run game.

If you're looking for truly wild in Ivy sports this spring, you have to go to tennis.

On the women's side, there are two league matches to be played, with Dartmouth at Harvard and Yale at Brown. Should the home team win both, then there would be a five-way tie for the championship between those four and Princeton.

The Tigers are already done with the league schedule at 5-2. Yale and Dartmouth are 5-1; Brown and Harvard are 4-2.

In other words, with two matches left, there will either be an outright championship, co-champions or a five-way tie.

Should there be the five-way tie for the title, then all five teams would have to be 2-2 against each other and 3-0 against Penn, Cornell and Columbia, which would mean that none of the tiebreakers apply and, if TB is correct, the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament would have to be determined by a random draw.

Of course, the men's side has been equally as wacky this season.

Of the 21 matches played so far, 16 have been decided by a 4-3 score. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they were on the short end of the one they needed yesterday in Ithaca.

It was an event as excruciating as any played by a Princeton team since, oh, the men's squash team lost to Trinity in the 2009 national final and the men's hockey team lost to Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA tournament that same year.

Princeton and Cornell were both unbeaten heading into the match yesterday. Princeton lost two of the three doubles matches to Cornell in tiebreakers, and the Big Red won three singles matches in straight sets, though two included tiebreakers.

As a result, Cornell will represent the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament and be at least co-champion. Still, the Big Red have to play Columbia this weekend, and a Lions win would give Princeton a share of the title.

Friday, April 15, 2011

You Want Funny?

TigerBlog doesn't understand why people think Will Ferrell is funny.

TB never saw "Anchorman," which seems to be the movie most of his fans like the most. He has seen enough of Ferrell to think that all he does is overact and whine, and where's the humor in that?

You want funny? John Cleese on "Cheers," though you may want to skip ahead to the 4:00 mark.

More funny? John Belushi in "Animal House."

Even more? Rodney in Caddyshack.

And another: Bugs in "Racketeer Rabbit."

Will Ferrell? Nope. TB doesn't get it.

TigerBlog thought "The Office" was hilarious for its first four or five seasons. Since then, it hasn't even been funny.

Still, TB has watched it out of habit, or because of a hope that it would go back to what made it funny in the first place.

And with each passing episode, it became less and less likely that that would be the case. Now, with Will Ferrell on the show, it's probable that TB will finally be giving up on it.

Certainly last night's episode lacked anything in the way of quality humor, so let's just say that the new boss didn't make a good first impression.

You want to know who'd be great on "The Office" as the new boss? Peter Farrell, Princeton's women's track and field coach. Or maybe water polo coach Luis Nicolao.

Those two have great natural comedic ability, and both would dominate that show, or really any other show they'd be on.

Instead, they went into coaching, and both will be competing this weekend, along with a bunch of their contemporaries.

In fact, from today through Sunday, Princeton teams will be competing in 29 separate contests. Almost all of these events are on the road - with some roads much longer than others.

Women's track and field will compete in three different states, with the team split among meets in Florida, California and Pennsylvania. The men's team will be competing in the Florida event.

Nicolao and his water polo team will be at Maryland to take on the Terrapins and Brown in the regular-season finales.

Men's lacrosse is on the road, at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., to take on Dartmouth in the second game of a doubleheader that begins with Syracuse and Providence.

There will be Princeton crews rowing in Ithaca, New Haven and Washington, D.C. There will be baseball and softball in Philadelphia. There will be volleyball in Virginia.

There are some events at home.

The women's lacrosse team, off a loss to No. 1 Maryland, hosts Harvard tomorrow at 1; a win gets Princeton into the Ivy League women's lacrosse tournament.

There is rowing at home, with the men's heavyweights against Harvard and MIT for the Compton Cup.

The men's volleyball team hosts Sacred Heart tomorrow after its match tonight at George Mason.

And of course, there's tennis. The women are home Sunday against Cornell, after playing today at Columbia.

For the men, it's the opposite, a match at home this afternoon (2) against Columbia, followed by the showdown Sunday in Ithaca against Cornell, where the winner is assured of at least a share of the Ivy League championship - and will clinch the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Next weekend is a little tamer, with only 22 events, though 12 of them are at home.

This weekend is big too, and even if the home schedule is a little light, it's still better than watching "The Office" from last night on your DVR.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Boys Of Spring

That was quick.

It's not even late April yet, and already there's trouble for each of Princeton's three Major Leaguers, even though all three entered the season with really high hopes.

Of course, because it's so early, there's also plenty of time to straighten it all out.

Let's start with Will Venable, who is batting leadoff and playing in the outfield for the San Diego Padres. Venable had a strong finish to the 2010 season and then a big spring, so his early .156 average is going to start to come up.

Of course, Venable is still on the cusp of establishing himself as an everyday player in the Major Leagues, so a number like ".156" doesn't help his long-term situation. In fact, it's nearly 100 points below his lifetime average of .248, and he has 27 home runs, 100 RBI and 38 stolen bases in 827 career at-bats.

Venable began to show reliable power last year, which makes his no home runs, one RBI start more disappointing. His defensive ability increases his value considerably, but he's going to need to start putting up better numbers.

During the early portion of his career, he's shown himself to get into sizzling hot grooves, where he hits well above .400 for a week at a time; he can use one of those shortly.

At least Venable is healthy, though.

Ross Ohlendorf finds himself on the Pirates' 15-day disabled list with a shoulder strain, which, according to a quote from Ohlendorf, is in the same spot in his shoulder as last year, when he ended up on the 60-day DL. Ohlendorf did say that he didn't think it would take as long to get over it as it did last year.

Ohlendorf went 1-11 a year ago and then won an arbitration hearing that netted him more than $2 million for this season, so he clearly wants to 1) prove that he's way better than the 1-11 record and 2) earn the money. In truth, his W-L record last year was more a function of the team he plays for and not how he pitched, which for most of the year was pretty well.

His career record is 13-25, but his other numbers are all pretty strong. He has a 4.47 ERA, and he's allowed 373 hits and struck out 252 in 363 innings. Those aren't quite Cy Young numbers, but they're solid for a Major League starter.

Actually, Ohlendorf's numbers aren't quite Chris Young numbers either.

Young has been the best New York Met so far, with a 1-0 record and 1.46 ERA in two starts. He has allowed six hits and struck out 12 in 12 1/3 innings.

His last start saw him go seven innings and allow one run on one hit. He turned a 3-1 lead over to the bullpen - in a game that the Mets lost 7-3.

Unfortunately for the oft-injured Young, his next start has been pushed back two days, to Sunday against the Braves, because of bicep tendinitis that he insists is only a minor annoyance.

For his career, Young is 49-34. He has pitched 764 innings, allowing 620 hits while striking out 665.

Of course, if you're a Princeton baseball fan, there's a great deal to be excited about much closer to home.

The Tigers play four games at Penn this weekend, and the teams enter the weekend tied for first in the Gehrig Division after both went 6-2 against the teams in the Rolfe. The schedule has been changed due to rain in the forecast for Saturday, so the teams will play twice tomorrow and twice Sunday.

The next three weekends see each team play the others in the division four times apiece, so the race can go in a lot of directions between now and the end of the month, when the Ivy League Championship Series matchup is set.

Dartmouth, who swept Princeton last week, is 6-2 in the Rolfe, where Brown and Yale are 4-4 and Harvard is 1-7.

Princeton and Penn are both 4-2, while Columbia is 3-5 and Cornell is 2-6. If Princeton or Penn goes 3-1 in the four games, it'll have taken a huge step towards the division title, which could mean that Sunday's second game will take on extra significance if one team has won two of the first three.

On a weekend without many home events, the drive to Philadelphia will be worth it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Right Stuff

Ed Mikus Jr., back when he lived down the hall from TigerBlog in High Rise South in West Philadelphia, said one night that he was going to the movies and would TB like to go.

When TB asked what the movie was, EMJ said it was "The Right Stuff," a movie that TB knew was three hours long. Hesitatingly, TB agreed to go, even if he felt there was no way he'd be able to sit through the whole thing.

The movie began at 8 on the little theater on Walnut Street, next to Smokey Joe's. As TB watched the movie, he figured it was about an hour into it when he glanced at the watch of the person next to him and saw that it was actually 10:50 and the movie was almost over.

For those who don't know, "The Right Stuff" is a movie about early American space exploration and the seven original Mercury astronauts. TB has seen it about a million times since, and every time it amazes him to think about what these men did.

It starts with Chuck Yeager, who at that time was making spark plug commercials but who on Oct. 14, 1947, became the first person to break the sound barrier. It then goes into the Mercury program, with the search for the right pilots to become the first astronauts and all of the politics behind the program.

One of the great scenes is when the Americans realize that the Soviets had beaten them into space and how panicked all of those responsible for the space program became at that point.

In reality, it was a blow to national pride for sure, in a way that probably was never matched during the Cold War. It also sparked a time where Americans began to fear a Soviet monopoly on space exploration and ultimately the ability to conduct war from that position.

One of TB's favorite parts of the movie is when the old pilots are sitting around talking about how Gus Grissom had lost his composure, resulting in the loss of his Mercury capsule after he became the second American in space, after Alan Shepard. Yeager, rather than piling on, comes back with this: "Well, I'll tell you something, it takes a special kind of man to volunteer for a suicide mission, especially one that's on TV. Ol' Gus, he did all right."

And let's face it, those were suicide missions. In the rush to get there (space, the moon) fastest, there was no guarantee that these guys weren't sitting on top of something that was just going to explode on ignition.

It was 50 years ago yesterday that Yuri Gagarin became the first human being in space - and to orbit the Earth - as the Soviet cosmonaut made the inaugural flight in Vostok 1.

As a weird aside, when TB saw pictures of Gagarin yesterday, he saw the "CCCP" letters on his uniform and capsule and became a bit wistful for the old days of the Cold War.

Anyway, if you wanted to know what the conditions were like outside Gagarin's space capsule on that first journey, all you had to do was go to the turf football practice field at Rutgers last night, where the Princeton-Rutgers men's lacrosse game was moved from Yurcak Field because of the elements.

The game was delayed by lightning for 75 minutes, and it was played in really strong wind, temps that fell as the game went along and periods of heavy rain.

This was the 89th meeting in the series, and - with Rutgers at .500 after a loss to Marist and Princeton at 2-6 and battling injuries that have crippled what was a promising season - this figured to be one of the least memorable of all of them. The fact that almost nobody was there to see it made it even more likely that the game would be an afterthought.

But that's the beauty of sports. You never know when you're going to stumble across a game that starts out with no expectation and then ends up being not only exciting to the very end but also historically unprecedented.

Princeton's 11-10 win over Rutgers last night turned into one of those games. In fact, TB would go as far as to say that the game might have been the best college lacrosse game played so far this year - or at the very least the equal of any game this season.

Consider all that happened:

* Princeton won just 5 of 23 face-offs and almost never had possession
* Princeton won despite being outshot 2-1 for the game (42-21) and being outshot in every quarter
* Princeton scored twice in the first three minutes and then just once more in the next 35 minutes to fall behind by five at 8-3 midway through the third quarter
* Princeton then scored five straight goals to tie it at 8-8, only to fall behind by two again when RU scored twice 58 seconds apart to start the fourth quarter
* Princeton then tied it with two goals eight seconds apart and finally went ahead midway through the fourth
* Rutgers then had seven more shots to try to get the tying goal but couldn't get it past Tyler Fiorito, who made four saves in the final seven minutes, including two in the last 20 seconds, one of which was a miraculous stop of a drive from not-very-far-away by Scott Klimchak

In all, Princeton would score eight goals in less than 16 minutes to go from 8-3 down to 11-10 up, this after the Tigers came into the game averaging a little more than six goals per game.

Oh, and that doesn't even take into account this little fact: Princeton took 21 shots, and all 21 were on goal. Princeton had 11 goals, and Rutgers goalie Rudy Butler made 10 saves. No shot missed the cage.

TB has no way of knowing whether or not that's a first, but it's not possible that that's happened too often, if ever. As a matter of fact, go get a lacrosse stick and 21 balls and try shooting them into an empty goal from at least five yards away. You'll probably miss at least once.

The win keeps Princeton mathematically alive for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Now, with three Ivy League games left, there's the matter of putting together a winning streak, getting into the Ivy tournament and seeing what can happen from there.

But even if it doesn't work out for the Tigers, the game last night was a still great - and fascinating.

It was also really about two players for Princeton.

The first was Fiorito, who made 16 saves, several of which were of the "how does he do that" variety. And the one on Klimchak with 19 seconds left was on a shot that he had no business getting his stick on to just deflect it over the top.

The other was Tom Schreiber, the freshman who had three goals and three assists. More than that, Schreiber was all over the field offensively and defensively, and he was all over his teammates, refusing to let them give up. It was the kind of leadership that is rare in a freshman.

Several times during the game, TB glanced behind him, where through the rain and fog and darkness he could see Rutgers Stadium. Princeton won two of its six NCAA championships in that building, including the most recent in 2001.

TB couldn't help but think back to those games, how Princeton sprinted away from Maryland to win 15-5 in 1998 and how Princeton and Syracuse played an epic game in 2001 before B.J. Prager won it in overtime.

Last night's game will lack the historical context of either of those. Still, not every game is about the historical context.

TB is also pretty sure that any review of the 2011 season won't mention the game last night, which was played without TV, radio or much fanfare of any kind.

And hey, that's a shame, because the game last night was exciting, wild and ultimately dramatic.

It's what makes sports so special. You never know when you're going to find one of those games.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Noah And Dave

Before one of Princeton's ESPNU games, TigerBlog will get an elaborate document from the game's producer outlining all of the responsibilities of each person who works on the broadcast.

For the most part, it takes about 30 people to make one ESPNU telecast work, and there are few places that TB has ever been that are more fascinating than a TV production truck, where many of these different assignments converge.

There are video screens everywhere, with mixers and sound boards and communications equipment and any other high tech device that's out there.

It actually resembles mission control from any astronaut movie you've seen.

The people who are working at these tasks aren't full-time ESPN employees; they're free-lancers who are hired by whatever network is doing a particular event in this area. After awhile, their faces become familiar, even if it's difficult to know their names or what exactly it is they're doing.

Through the years, TB has found himself on a "hi, how are you basis" with most of them.

The word document with all of their assignments lists jobs with funky names, camera locations, where to park, what the crew will eat, all of it.

TB is okay with all of it, except for the part that lists the announcers as "the talent." After all, the announcers probably do the least amount of work on any telecast.

Of course, it is possible that the term "talent" originated as a way of mocking the announcers, in which case TB would be more okay with it. Still, the term itself - talent? Aren't the people in the truck more talented.

Some announcers are way better than others, obviously, and there are many announcers out there who destroy the broadcasts they're working.

TB has never really understood the announcer-as-superstar attitude that permeates national broadcasting these days. He's not talking about the local voices, many of whom are a big part of the draw of a local broadcast.

Many of the years that Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn, for instance, were the voices of the Phils, the team was awful. In a case like that, announcers like Kalas and Ashburn become as big as anything else involved in the broadcast, not because of their egos but because they've become so familiar, so friendly to the listener and viewer.

No, it's the national broadcasters who paint themselves as bigger than the games that TB can't handle.

TB doesn't understand why networks pay such big money to some of these people. Does anyone watch a game specifically to see a particular announcer? It makes no economic sense to pay 10 or 100 times as much for a broadcaster than is necessary and not get any additional value from that investment.

For every broadcaster that TB likes, there are 10 he can't stand. Whatever happened to having the play-by-play man simply describe the action and then letting the color commentator make a point or two and them move on? Why must everything be so over-analyzed? Why must schtick take the place of substance?

Verizon Fios 1 does about 30 Princeton events a year, including several men's lacrosse games. Rich Donovan, who is the usual color commentator, can be counted on to 1) never feel the need to yell into a microphone, 2) make salient points without over-analyzing and 3) make you want to hear what he's going to say about a particular play or situation because there's the thought that he's going to give you an honest, impartial, intelligent account.

Why can't everyone be like that? Is that really asking too much?

It's because the announcers are so overpaid and overhyped that they feel that they're the show. Gus Johnson? Kevin Harlan? Do they offer anything other than shrieking, often from when the game starts?

Three people in a booth? It worked once, on Monday Nigh Football with Frank Gifford, Don Meredith and Howard Cosell, and that's it. Now when you have that situation, it becomes a contest to see who can talk the most and who can sound the most insightful.

TigerBlog often likes to contrast the announcers at Princeton with the ones he hears on TV, and he's pretty sure that in a really weird way, Princeton's stack up nicely for a fraction of the cost.

And TB isn't even talking about himself here, even though he's done football, basketball, lacrosse and soccer here and has been doing so for nearly 25 years.

During that time, he's had the opportunity to work with some pretty good voices, including Tom McCarthy, now Kalas' replacement in Philadelphia.

Ed Benkin has been doing Princeton football and other sports for 15 years or so, and he makes a broadcast very comfortable to listen to, which is a huge compliment.

John Sadak does Princeton men's basketball now, and he's as good as anyone out there. Derek Jones, who does women's basketball, is also very solid.

All three of them are veterans.

TigerBlog wants to specifically talk about two relative newcomers.

The first is Noah Savage, to whom TB bequeathed his spot as the Princeton men's basketball color commentator.

Savage just completed his second season - well, really a season and a half - but even with his limited experience, he has shown the ability to make really good points and make them quickly.

He's also navigated through what could have been a difficult path of commenting on coaches and players whom he played for and with and done so to the point where he could make critiques without sounding like he had a grudge against anyone or pay compliments without sounding like a cheerleader.

His voice is authoritative, and he speaks confidently. He can make funny statements without sounding like a clown.

Also, he's formed a strong partnership with Sadak, and the two play off each other really well, considering how new they are to each other and how new Savage is to radio. His future is very bright; he just needs the chance.

Savage is an old-timer compared to Dave Giancola, who is in his first year of doing color for Princeton lacrosse.

Giancola, who played at Roanoke and then Rutgers before graduating last year, was an intern in the marketing department here at Princeton last fall, and he approached TB about doing some lacrosse on the radio, despite the fact that he had zero experience.

TB, who knows how hard it is to do lacrosse games by himself, figured he'd let Giancola do the first game of the year with him and see how he did. His performance far exceeded any expectation that TB might have had.

TigerBlog expected to have to carry Giancola. He expected someone who would be hesitate to speak, someone who was going to struggle turning his knowledge into solid comments on the radio.

Instead, from the very first time he spoke, TB could tell he was was going to be good. Now, just a half-season into it, Giancola is a someone whose value to the broadcast is high, an announcer who really enhances the coverage.

TigerBlog has been impressed with him, just as he is with Savage.

They're both worth the listen.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Four To Three

TigerBlog's preferred mode of exercise these days is squash.

If you're looking for a great workout in a relatively short period of time, then squash is your game. As long as there are 11 courts in the building in which you work, that is.

For years, TB was part of the big lunchtime basketball game in Jadwin, in which he scored several thousand points without ever 1) making any shot other than a layup or offensive rebound put-back and 2) dribbling. Of course, that's all for another day.

As for squash, TB the ball hardly bounces, so unlike racquetball, the player has to chase the ball down.

The scouting report on TB is to keep the ball in play, because eventually, he'll do something dumb. He's also not a great fundamental player, since he has absolutely no idea what the correct way to play is.

And so tomorrow, TB will have his first-ever squash lesson, with men's coach Bob Callahan. Of course, this comes after five years or so of playing, so it's probably fairly timely.

TB's assumption is that Callahan won't say "keep doing exactly what you're doing, especially the part with the big backswing. Oh, and the way you whack the ball off the front wall and side wall so it comes right back to the T is perfect too."

Actually, most of TB's approach to squash comes - incorrectly, he assumes - from tennis, a sport that TB played in high school.

Not that TB was really good at tennis either, but he wasn't horrible. He played doubles, and his partner his senior year was a kid (or at least he was then, now he'd be closing in on 50) named Mark Primack. As doubles partner's go, Primack was a good one, and he was also a funny one.

Primack and TB would signal each other from behind their back, basically to say whether or not the one at the net would cut across the court, leaving the other to back him up. Often, Primack would simply extend his middle finger to TB as his way of saying that he was going.

Looking back, TB assumes he was doing it to be funny. Whatever his motivation, it worked, as Primack and TB rarely lost, and the team won the league title.

When TB got to college, he thought about trying out for the tennis team, but he never did. A guy named Ray Peterson, who lived down the hall from TB, did try out and was the last guy on the team when he and TB were freshmen; TB and Ray played a few times, and Ray was definitely better, though not by an extraordinary amount.

Perhaps the highlight of TB's tennis-playing career came when he worked at the newspaper and played the boyfriend of a woman who worked on the news side, a woman about five years older than TB whom TB had a big crush on.

With that extra motivation, TB beat her boyfriend - a much better player than TB - in a marathon match on a 90-degree summer day.

TB hasn't played tennis in years, and just holding a tennis racket now makes it seem like it might as well be a 25-pound dumbbell compared to a squash racket.

Still, TB's conversion to squash doesn't mean he's completely forsaken tennis. This weekend, for instance, he was immensely interested in the Princeton men's tennis scores.

In case you haven't been paying attention, something wild is going on this year in Ivy League men's tennis.

Princeton and Cornell are both undefeated, though Cornell has played one fewer match. The teams meet Sunday in Ithaca, after the Tigers play home against Columbia (1-3) Friday at 2, at the same time Cornell is at Penn (1-4).

Cornell also plays at Columbia on April 23.

Besides Princeton and Cornell, every other league school has at least two losses. Since someone has to win Princeton-Cornell, it's almost - but not quite - mathematically impossible for any of the other schools to get even a share of the title.

That's not the wild part.

This is: There have been 17 league matches contested to date, and of those 17, an amazing 13 of them have been decided by a 4-3 score. The remaining four were all 5-2, meaning there hasn't been a 7-0 or 6-1 match yet in Ivy tennis.

Obviously, this means that there is great parity among the Ivy schools, and a bounce or two here or there could radically change things.

As a point of comparison, on the women's side, there have been 18 league matches, of which five have been decided by a 4-3 score, while eight have been decided 7-0 or 6-1.

Princeton is 5-0 in the league - all by 4-3 scores.

Cornell is 4-0 in the league - all by 4-3 scores.

It would normally stand to reason that the Princeton-Cornell winner is going to win outright.

With the way this season is going, it's a better bet that the the Princeton and Cornell matches against Penn and Columbia will be as close as the one between Princeton and Cornell.

Figure somewhere in the 4-3 range.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Tough Day For A Cynic

The great thing about being a cynic is that it's really hard to be disappointed, because, hey, isn't that what cynicism is all about?

TigerBlog has been called cynical on occasion, and he's not offended by it.

Allison Binns, on the other hand, was filled with youthful optimism, which appeared to be on the verge of crashing around her and leaving her bitterly disappointed.

Binns was the manager of the men's lacrosse team 10 years ago, back when the end of the 2001 NCAA championship game got to be too much for an optimist like her.

And so it was that, while the Princeton team was in its huddle prior to the start of overtime, Binns walked away, past TB and into the tunnel at Rutgers Stadium, unable to watch anymore.

As she walked past TB, he asked her where she was going, and she explained that she couldn't take it. Relax, TB told her. Princeton was going to win.

TB isn't sure exactly how he knew that. Maybe he's more of an optimist and less of a cynic than he likes to let on. Or maybe he'd seen it happen before.

Regardless, when the 2001 championship game got to overtime, TB was sure Princeton was going to win. In fact, there wasn't one second when he thought otherwise.

It's not like he didn't have reasons to suspect that there might be a problem.

For starters, Princeton had an 8-4 lead 15 minutes earlier, at the end of the third quarter. And, less than a minute earlier (in game time, at least), Princeton had a one-goal lead and possession of the ball in the Syracuse end.

Even after a famous turnover (more on that in a minute), Princeton still had the lead and the nation's best defense - in fact, one of the great defenses in college lacrosse history - as Syracuse called timeout.

And yet, then-freshman Mikey Powell managed to run through that defense and tie the game at 9-9 with just 16 seconds left, and so it was the Orange who had all the momentum heading into overtime.

TB remembers seeing Bill Tierney, the Princeton head coach, as the players came to the sideline. He held up both hands, palms out, as if to say "relax, it's fine, this is exactly how we planned it."

In reality, Princeton was luckier that it was in the game early rather than late.

Syracuse had hammered Princeton three straight times, by scores of 16-4, 13-7 (in the 2000 NCAA final) and 14-8 earlier that season, and the Orange figured to have a big psychological edge at the beginning of the game, not the end.

But Princeton came out firing, building a 4-0 lead that was 5-3 at the half and 8-4 at intermission. At no point of the game would Princeton trail, and that was imperative.

Given how the previous meetings had gone, if Syracuse had gotten the lead early, it would have been a "here we go again" feeling for the Tigers.

But now, heading into the overtime, Princeton's attitude seemed to be "hey, we would have signed up for this before the game; now let's go make it happen" rather than "how did we give the lead away?"

Oh, and the turnover?

Winship Ross was a shortstick defensive midfielder, which is one of TB's favorite positions in sports. When you have great ones, it makes your defense twice as good, because the natural advantage that opponents have of being able to match up their best offensive players against shortsticks is neutralized. At the same time, there's no glory to the position, which doesn't lend itself to big stats or individual honors.

Princeton hasn't had many shortsticks better than Winship Ross. He was like having another longpole on the field, and he was a huge reason for the Tigers' success. TigerBlog named him to the Princeton men's lacrosse all-decade team.

And yet, his legacy almost became the one moment when he took the ball into the SU box and then back out, with 34 seconds left and the Tigers up by one. Because Princeton had the lead in the final two minutes, it had to keep it in the box, and Ross' mistake turned the ball back over to the Orange, leading to Powell's tying goal.

Both teams had chances in the overtime to win, but SU never got off a shot. A turnover gave Princeton possession with a little more than a minute left in the OT, and the Tigers cleared, got the ball behind the goal to Ryan Boyle and celebrated after an easy pass-and-catch from Boyle to B.J. Prager led to the game-winner.

TigerBlog remembers the celebration mostly for how Tierney collapsed in tears on the grass, overcome by the emotion of having won a championship with his two sons - Trevor and Brendan - on the team. TB stood about five feet away from Tierney at the time but never came any closer, figuring that this was a moment of solitude if ever there was one.

And Allison?

TB isn't sure if she made it out of the tunnel to watch or if she just stood in the tunnel and waited to see the reaction.

That game was nearly 10 years ago, and the members of that team will be recognized at halftime of the game tomorrow between the Tigers and the Orange on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.

Syracuse comes into the game undefeated and ranked No. 1, and Princeton comes into the game trying to figure out who's healthy enough to play.

TB though Princeton was a legitimate NCAA championship contender this year, and he still maintains that that would have been the case had the team that started fall practice managed to stay healthy through this season.

Instead, it's been one injury after another, and that - and the nation's second-toughest schedule, behind Syracuse's (and that should flip-flop after this game) - hasn't helped. Princeton is 2-5, though it did win in four overtimes last week against Brown.

But the season isn't lost yet. Princeton can still make a run at the Ivy League's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament or an at-large bid should that not work out, though there is little margin for error remaining.

Still, TB isn't going to give up hope.

He's too optimistic of a person for that.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dream On

Photo of Jordan Culbreath and Derek DiGregorio by Stephen Goldsmith.

As professional athletes go, Phil Simms might very well be TigerBlog's all-time favorite. At the very least, he shares top honors with Julius Erving and David Justice.

Until last night, TB had never met Phil Simms. So, when TB and Simms stood making small talk at Nanina's On the Park in Belleville last night, the natural inclination might have been to say something about the Super Bowl win over the Broncos or about how great an announcer TB thinks Simms is.

Instead, TB figures that Simms has heard about the Broncos game a million times, so he simply shook his hand and said it was a pleasure to meet him. As TB's place of employment was mentioned to Simms by the person who introduced him, TB also said that if Simms ever needed anything from Princeton, he should feel free to ask.

In the three minutes or so that TB stood with Simms, several others came up to him to say hello and shake his hand. Simms, who probably goes through this a few times a week, couldn't have been nicer about the whole thing, and his TV persona of being a down-to-Earth good guy seems to be an extension of who he really is.

TB did get his picture taken with Simms, as well as the person who was the evening's host, Steve DiGregorio.

A few minutes earlier, DiGregorio - the former Princeton assistant football coach and now head coach at Nutley High known Digger to all who know him, a number that is apparently quite high, given last night's turnout - had been at the podium, speaking to the large crowd, speaking directly from his big heart.

It was typical Digger, a mix of understated humor and familial warmth, and the result was that it became impossible to sit there during his 3 minute talk and not be moved to the point that TigerBlog reached, where he simply shook his head and wondered where people like Digger and the others who were featured come from.

The occasion was the second "Derek's Dreams" event, and really, the adjectives don't exist to properly describe it.

The title character in this drama is 13-year-old Derek DiGregorio, the middle son of Digger and his wife Nadia, the one who was thought to have cerebral palsey when he was younger but ultimately was diagnosed with a much worse disease, ataxia telangiectasia, one that attacks the entire body and ultimately causes the immune system to fail. The mortality rate is 100%, and life expectancy past 20 is rare; there are approximately 600 cases total in the United States.

When the A-T diagnosis was made, the DiGregorios, along with former Princeton basketball player Howard Levy, Princeton associate head football coach Steve Verbit, Academic-Athletic Fellow Jess Deutsch and several others, decided to fight back against the disease with everything they had.

This meant raising money, and it led last year to the first event at Nanina's, which included a silent auction of some great sports memorabilia, a $100/plate dinner and then ultimately another auction for the really big sports packages.

That event was so successful that it has now become an annual thing.

Last night was sort of like a wedding, only better than any wedding TB has ever attended. It had a touch of Reunions to it, with Princeton alums all over the room. It was funny. It was serious. It was spiritual. It was heart-warming and heart-breaking, all at the same time.

Mostly it was just a celebration, of ordinary people who, by circumstance, are doing extraordinary, almost super-human things. And, maybe if forced into the same circumstances, everyone would react the same way, though TB's hunch is, no, they wouldn't.

TB spent most of the night mesmerized by what was unfolding before him. And by these people:

* Chris Thomforde, the former Princeton basketball great and now the president of Moravian College. Thomforde, who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with current Director of Athletics Gary Walters when they were teammates here in the 1960s, who gave a five-minute invocation that was the single best commentary on faith and spirituality that TB has ever heard. "We pray," Thomforde said,"not because we want to or need to or because we believe. We pray because we have to." He was funny - saying after he hugged Levy in an embrace of two near-seven-footers that "Howard is the only person I can hug face-to-face" - and he was spot on when he reminded the audience that it was gathered there because of "life, and because of death." When Digger got the mic back, he said "In all the time I've known you, that's the first time I've heard you pray. All I've ever heard is 'Reverend Thomforde, Reverend Thomforde.'I never heard you pray."

* The two kids from Nutley High who went for a walk to raise money for Derek's Dreams and another Nutley-based charity, Gail's Angels. Their walk? It began in San Diego and ended back in Nutley, a scene that was captured on video and shown last night.

* Nutley High Athletic Director Joe Piro, who served as the auctioneer for the four big packages at the end - luxury box for a Giants-Dolphins game next year, a trip to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game (arranged by former Princeton wide receiver and current Bucs coach Joe Baker), a trip to a PGA tour event and dinner and tickets to Saturday Night Live. Perhaps a fifth package, simply to see Piro talk to an audience again, should have been added. Piro managed to raise nearly $10,000 - or about one dollar for every mile per hour he was talking - for those four by themselves, all while making the entire laugh with every word that came out of his mouth.

* Jordan Culbreath. The Princeton running back's own life-threatening illness, his called aplastic anemia, and his return from the illness to play college football again, was featured on a video that TB hadn't seen before. When it was over, Culbreath received a long, sustained standing ovation from the crowd.

And what a crowd it was, with a dynamic that Piro called "Nutley against Princeton."

Among those in attendance were head football coach Bob Surace, former equipment manager Hank Towns, former Princeton quarterback Brock Harvey (who led the Tigers to the 1995 Ivy title and who flew up from Atlanta just for the event), former basketball player Jimmy Lane, former basketball manager Mike McDonnell, an army of kids from Nutley football and Princeton High, much of the staff from Nutley High School.

Had TB gone after one of the items from the silent auction, it would have been the Giants helmet autographed by Tom Coughlin, but he couldn't go beyond the $200 already bid. There were helmets from around the Ivy League, the NFL, the BCS.

It was a night of great fun and great food and great laughs, of people who were truly inspirational, of old friends, of in many ways all that is great about sports and society.

And, as Thomforde pointed out, it was all tempered by the reason it was happening in the first place.

At one point, TB was looking through the program, which included several pictures of people wearing "Derek's Dreams" wristbands. Then he looked up and realized that there were only two people sitting at the table at that moment, TigerBlog and Derek.

Both were eating dinner, not saying anything. Derek sat there with his "Derek's Dreams" hat, with an open-collar buttoned down shirt. Sitting there, he looked like his two brothers, the older one, Zach, and the younger one, Aaron.

Ultimately, Derek went for another forkful of his pasta, and only then did it become apparent that this seemingly mundane, completely-taken-for-granted task was a struggle for him. In that instant, it all came rushing back to TB.

This wasn't a night about having fun. It was a night about this 13-year-old, his family, and what they go through every day, all with a horrific reality that hovers over them non-stop.

At the same time, TB couldn't help but think that, in many ways, Derek DiGregorio is also a lucky kid. Everywhere he looked, he was surrounded by what the night was really, ultimately about.

He was surrounded by love, love that poured across everything that was going on, love for him and his family and what they are doing to fight that horrific reality.

"Having fun?" TB asked Derek.

Derek didn't speak. He just smiled.

Then he struggled again to put food on fork, fork to mouth.

Dream on, Derek - and those who are fighting so hard to help him.

Dream until your dream comes true.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Standing Up

As TigerBlog pulled into Lot 21 today, he saw it was blocked off near the fence by Finney Field, just short of the circle around Caldwell Field House and DeNunzio Pool.

Pothole repair. In case you haven't been in that part of Lot 21 lately, you missed out on one of the great potholes of all time.

Anyway, the tarry smell of the repair took TB back, as that smell always does, to his first day of classes in college. As he walked down Spruce Street to the University Museum opposite Franklin Field, TB smelled the same kind of street repair going on, and all these decades later, he can still close his eyes and remember the moment.

Back then, there was no internet or anything, which meant that the majority of information that TB got came out of a newspaper, specifically a sports section.

For as far back as TB can remember, FatherBlog would bring home the New York Post every day, and TB would read through it, amazed that going to games was actually some lucky person's job.

One of the main attractions of reading the paper every day was the opportunity to check the standings, regardless of what sport.

TB was originally fascinated by the concept of "games behind," especially for those rarest of moments when the team in first place was actually a half-game behind the team in second. TB learned some basic mathematics from reading the standings, such as calculating percentages and figuring out magic numbers.

There were many years were TB could tell you with pretty good accuracy who was were in any sport.

Today? Forget it.

TigerBlog hardly ever looks at the standings in any professional sport other than the NFL anymore. And, actually, the English Premier League, where he hopes Blackpool can avoid relegation and either Tottenham or Liverpoool or even Everton can catch Chelsea and knock the Blues out of the Champions League.

Oh, every now and then, he'll check to see who's where, but for the most part, he has no idea.

He knows the Knicks and Sixers are tied for sixth in the Eastern Conference, but he has no idea where anyone is in the NHL. By two weeks from now or so, he'll completely lose track of the Major League Baseball standings.

Why is this? TB would chalk it up to the innocence of youth if he thought it was true, but that's not the case. It's probably more about how much money professional athletes make and how much that turns TB off.

And, it's also about the fact that college sports have become more important to TB, both because he works in college athletics and because they're more interesting.

Except the NFL, which TB presumes will be up and running again in time for kickoff in September.

Anyway, speaking of checking out the standings, let's look at a few around the Ivy League:

Princeton has won seven straight games, including a 4-0 start in the league with a sweep of Yale and Brown last weekend. Earlier this year Princeton knocked off then-unbeaten LSU on the road.

In many years, the Rolfe Division (Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale, Brown) was much stronger than the Gehrig Division (Princeton, Penn, Cornell, Columbia), to the point where the winner of the Gehrig would have essentially the same record as the third or even fourth place team in the Rolfe.

This year, Princeton is 4-0 - and only tied for first in the division with Penn, who is also 4-0. Columbia is 2-2, and Cornell is 1-3. On the other side, Dartmouth and Yale are tied for first at 2-2.

Coming up this weekend, Princeton is at Harvard (0-4 in the league, 3-20 overall) and Dartmouth, where, amazingly, the weather is going to be sunny and 60 both days.

Men's Tennis
The highly competitive Ivy League, with four teams ranked in the top 75 nationally, has two teams without a league loss and three others with one.

Princeton is on top of the standings now at 3-0, while Cornell is unbeaten at 2-0. This week's opponents are Dartmouth and Harvard at home; both of those teams are 1-1. The season winds up next weekend with a home match against Columbia and then, on Sunday the 17th, with a trip to Cornell.

Women's Tennis
Princeton is the two-time defending champion, but getting a third won't be easy. Still, Princeton may have saved its season with a win over Yale last weekend.

Brown - who defeated Princeton 6-1 - is 2-0 in the league, along with Dartmouth and Harvard. Princeton, at 2-1, is at Harvard and Dartmouth this weekend. The math here is fairly easy.

Women's Lacrosse
The Big Three of Ivy women's lacrosse is Princeton, Penn and Dartmouth, and you have to go back to 1992 to find a year when at least one of those three didn't either win the title outright or earn at least a share.

This year will be no different. The question is who or how many of three it will be.

Princeton, Penn and Dartmouth are a combined 9-0 against the rest of the league.

The three games between the teams will take place in eight-day stretch, beginning when Penn hosts Dartmouth April 16 and continuing two weeks from today with Princeton at Penn and then the concluding Saturday, April 23, with Princeton at Dartmouth.

The Ivy League women's lacrosse tournament will feature the top four teams in the league, and Princeton appears to be a lock to get there. The tournament winner gets the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Men's Lacrosse
As much as Princeton's season has been a struggle, the Tigers still could get to the NCAA tournament in one of two ways. Both would require some big performances during the second half of the season, but it's certainly possible.

First, Princeton could win any four of its remaining five regular-season games and then win its first-round Ivy tournament game. Doing so would leave Princeton at 7-6 and essentially lock up an at-large bid, because 1) there would be at least two Top 5 wins (Johns Hopkins and either Syracuse or Cornell) on the Tigers' resume should this happen and 2) the Tigers would be at least .500 prior to the tournament.

Should that not happen, then Princeton would need to win the Ivy League tournament to get the league's automatic bid.

Of course, Princeton has to get into the Ivy tournament, which means finishing in the top four in the regular season.

Right now, Cornell is the lone Ivy unbeaten at 3-0, followed by three teams with one loss each (Penn, Harvard and Dartmouth). Princeton, at 1-2, is tied for fifth with Yale, ahead of 0-2 Brown.

Princeton still has league games against Dartmouth, Harvard and Cornell, and wins in two of those three will almost surely mean a spot in the Ivy tournament, as only three times in the last 25 years has a 3-3 team not finished in the top four (though last year was one of those three, as four teams were 4-2).