Tuesday, May 24, 2011


TigerBlog didn't know the results of any of the English Premier League games from this past weekend when he sat down to watch the EPL review show.

And that turned out to be a good thing, since the show's producers did something extraordinarily clever to show how the final weekend played out, something that TB had never seen before.

There were three games that would have huge impacts on the final standings - and the futures of five league franchises.

And the EPL review show chronicled those games at the same time, going from highlights of one to another to the third. And each time any of the three games changed score, a graphic flashed up showing what the final league standings would be if the score of all three stayed as it was.

It was fascinating, because the teams on the outside looking in changed with every goal. And the drama continued to build, all the way until the end, when it came crashing down for Blackpool (TigerBlog was rooting for the Tangerines) and Birmingham City and when there was elation for Wigan, Wolves and Blackburn.

Ian Darke, TigerBlog's favorite broadcaster, wrote a column for ESPN.com on the recently completed season, and it included this:

I don't know about you, but I'm still breathless from a frantic final day in the English Premier League that might have been scripted in Hollywood. As I passed relegated Blackpool manager Ian Holloway on the stairs out of Old Trafford after Sunday's game, it was hard to find the right words of consolation. For once, the effervescent "Ollie" seemed stunned into silence as I offered sincere but worthless sympathies.

I was reminded of the old gag from legendary manager Tommy Docherty: "When one door closes, another slams you in the face."
But the Premier League will be a poorer place without Blackpool's devil-may-care brand of attacking football. The Seasiders scored more goals (55) than any other relegated team in the history of the Premier League and seemed to produce more thrillers than Alfred Hitchcock and John le Carré combined.
We will miss them.

What made the last weekend of the EPL so unique was that all of the drama was on the bottom of the table, not near the top, where Manchester United had already clinched the title.

No, the scramble to avoid relegation was unreal to watch as it unfolded on the review show.

The bottom three EPL teams move down a division, while the top three in the Championship League move up. The difference between the top and second levels is probably like the difference between the Major Leagues and Triple-A, and there are all kinds of pounds at stake for these teams.

To see the reactions of the fans - and managers, especially Wigan's Roberto Martinez, who like Darke was great on TV during the last World Cup - as their teams either lost or survived was amazing. Honestly, TB isn't sure there are American fans who are as passionate about any professional sport the way EPL fans are.

Maybe college sports, but not pro sports.

Why would that be, TB wonders (assuming TB is correct)? Is it a cultural thing? Is it that because the country is so much smaller, everyone must have some connection to someone on the team? Is it a feeling that the players are actually representing the local area and not just mercenaries in it for the money?

If Jim Barlow, Princeton's soccer coach, had his way, the NCAA championship game would be held this weekend, along with the Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona.

Barlow long ago told TB that he thinks soccer in college should follow a European-type schedule, with one game a week in the fall and spring with a break in the winter and the NCAA championships around this time.

Of course, that isn't how it's done, and it's unlikely to change anytime soon, despite the brilliance of Barlow's idea.

Nope, this is the spring, and as Memorial Day weekend approaches, there are still seven Princeton teams left competing - all four crews, both track and field teams and baseball.

The national rowing championships are this weekend, with the women's open team in Sacramento, while the women's lightweights, men's lightweights and men's heavyweights are on the Cooper River in either Pennsauken, Cherry Hill or Camden, depending on where you see it listed.

The track and field regionals are in Indianapolis, and Princeton's athletes there will be looking to qualify for the NCAA championships in Des Moines in early June.

As an aside, the baseball team will some day play in the NCAA tournament as well.

Todd Harrity already continued Princeton's streak of having at least one team or individual national champion when he won the national men's squash title last winter. That streak, by the way, is now at 40 years.

Is there another national champion on the horizon for Princeton?

With the way that the boats have been going and with how close two runners - Donn Cabral and Ashley Higginson, both the steeplechase - came a year ago, it's certainly possible.

As the end of the 2010-11 year winds down, it would certainly be a perfect finish to what has already been a record-setting year for Princeton.

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