Monday, August 1, 2011

Happy Valley

When TigerBlog watches the Olympics, he can never get past how awful it must be for the people who finish fourth.

To come that close to a medal and come away empty? After the years of dedication and sacrifice, to reach that level, to come that close. And nothing?

In some cases, TB has wondered how those athletes handle it, realizing that their life's dream was within reach and got away by the slimmest margin. Yes, just reaching the Olympics is a huge accomplishment, and the competition itself is obviously a great experience.

Still, finishing fourth can't be fun.

TigerBlog had the same feeling - granted on a much smaller scale - yesterday afternoon as he watched the third-place game in the boys' lacrosse tournament at the Keystone State Games.

TigerBlog Jr.'s Bucks County team had won its group before losing its semifinal game, putting it in the bronze medal game against Lehigh County. The Bucks team fell behind 6-4 late in the game, before rallying to tie it with two late goals, including one in the final 30 seconds to force overtime.

Then, after winning the face-off to start the OT, the Bucks team won the game 7-6 on a goal after a perfect fastbreak.

The celebration afterwards was understandably festive, though at the same time, it also included a sense of relief that the players would take home a medal. And, while the Bucks kids celebrated, TigerBlog couldn't help but feel badly for the Lehigh kids, the ones who had finished fourth after playing so well for two days.

The gold medal game was on the next field, between Montgomery County and Delaware County, and it was starting its own overtime as the bronze medals were being given out. It actually went to a second overtime before Montgomery won the championship, this after tying the game with eight seconds to play.

Still, that loss had to be easier to take than the one for the Lehigh kids, TB supposes. At least the Delaware team, as close as it came to winning gold, still came away with a silver medal.

The games themselves were played on the campus of Penn State, on a field literally in the shadow of mammoth Beaver Stadium.

Prior to this weekend, TigerBlog had been to Penn State three times, twice for Princeton-Penn State men's basketball and once for Princeton-Penn State men's lacrosse.

The lacrosse game was in the 1997 season, the year Princeton went 15-0 and won the second of three straight NCAA titles. The day was cold, snowy, windy and raw, and the game was moved inside a football practice facility called Holuba Hall.

The two basketball games were the 2000 NIT game in the final game Chris Young would play for the Tigers and a December 2007 regular-season game. Princeton shot a combined 5 for 52 from three-point range in the two games, played in the beautiful Bryce Jodan Center.

Other than that, TigerBlog had never been to the Penn State.

It's about four hours from Princeton to Penn State, yet the schools are in somewhat different universes.

Princeton is an Ivy League school with 5,000 undergrads; Penn State is a giant land-grant Big 10 school with 44,000 students. Princeton athletically is committed to broadbased athletic participation with 38 varsity teams; football drives everything at Penn State.

Princeton and Penn State regularly play in field hockey and women's lacrosse and rarely in anything else, at least as far as TB can figure without putting too much research into it.

Perhaps, now that Penn State hired former Princeton hockey coach Guy Gadowsky, the schools can play in that sport.

Having spent so much time this weekend next to the Beaver Stadium, which has 106,572 seats, every one of which is filled for every game, TB couldn't help but think about what a football Saturday must be like there.

For starters, route 322, the only road in and out of State College, must be swamped for miles in every direction. The fields that the lacrosse tournament were on are used for parking and tailgating on football Saturdays, and they must be a disaster when the games are over.

TB saw one sign on a lawn of a house that read "for rent on football Saturdays." A house. Where do the people who own it go?

TigerBlog thought about the difference between Princeton football and Penn State football, what goes into each operationally, in communications, marketing, ticketing, all of it.

Mostly, TB thought about the philosophical difference.

Princeton never uses its status as one of the world's elite academic institutions as an excuse for selling itself short athletically, and in fact that is probably TB's second-favorite thing about working here, behind the athletes and coaches.

Still, the fact is that Princeton is known for academics first and foremost.

At Penn State, the single most famous person in the history of the school is football coach Joe Paterno. In fact, there is a statue of JoPa outside the stadium, one that stands about seven feet tall, with a little side drive in which people can pull in and get their picture taken. It appeared that there was a steady stream of people doing just that all weekend.

Penn State's campus is a monument to big-time college athletics, with an athletic presence everywhere. There is nobody on the campus who doesn't have a firm appreciation for what it means that 107,000 people will flock there for football games.

TB loves the Ivy League model, especially the way Princeton does it. On the other hand, he couldn't help but wonder this weekend what it would be like to be part of something like what goes on on a football Saturday at Penn State.

When TB looks out his office window, he sees Princeton Stadium.

When he looked up from practically any point this weekend, he saw Beaver Stadium.

They're both football stadiums, the same - but not quite.

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