Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sheman T. Potter

Sherman T. Potter was born and raised in Missouri, and he probably never left the state before he joined the Army.

With his love of horses, he served as a Calvary solder in World War I. The timeline is a little fuzzy from there, though he at some point he went to college and medical school, presumably while still in the military.

The Korean War was his third, and by then he had risen to the rank of Colonel. He was eventually chosen to be the commanding officer for a field hospital, the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, after the former commander had been discharged, only to be killed when his plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan as he was heading home.

During his time with the 4077th, Colonel Potter showed himself to be a strong surgeon, a well-respected leader, a man of great loyalty and compassion and the possessor of a solid sense of humor - all while never losing his old-fashioned country values and loves.

And, of course, he was a fictional character. The actor who played him, Harry Morgan, died yesterday at the age of 96 after a long and successful career as an actor that saw him play, among many other roles, Officer Gannon on the huge hit "Dragnet" and the judge in "Inherit the Wind," a TigerBlog favorite.

Colonel Potter was one of the staples of the television show "M*A*S*H," which is clearly one of the greatest series in the history of the medium.

Like the movie on which it was based, the show began with an equal balance of hilarity and anti-war drama, highlighted most clearly in the earliest days of the show, when the main character (Hawkeye Pierce) has a reunion with one of his best friends, only to have the best friend die in the war later in the episode. For TV in the early 1970s, when the show debuted, this was relatively new ground, broken only by "All In The Family" at relatively the same time.

By the time the show ended, in 1983 (the final episode remains to this day the single most-watched TV show in American history - 77% of all televisions in use at the time were watching it), it wasn't quite the same balance, and the show wasn't quite what it had been back in its first eight or nine years.

Still, "M*A*S*H" gets an A+ as a television series.

And it gets an A++ for its ability to replace hugely important characters with new, completely different characters and not miss a beat. Maybe only "Cheers" can rival "M*A*S*H" in that respect.

The show had some of TV's most classic characters, from Hawkeye and Colonel Potter to Radar, Trapper, Major Winchester, Frank Burns, Hot Lips Houlihan, B.J. Honeycutt, Klinger and others.

The show also had a strong Ivy League connection.

Wayne Rogers, who played Trapper John, is a member of the Princeton Class of 1954, and his senior thesis was entitled: "Oscar W. Underwood: the Dilemma of the Southern Statesman."

Trapper, for that matter, was a Dartmouth grad who was the quarterback on the Big Green football team as an undergrad.

Major Charles Emerson Winchester was a Harvard man, undergrad and medical school. It's likely that his athletic attendance was limited to the Harvard-Yale football game, if that - remember the episode where he'd never heard of Mel Ott?

Still, his alma mater's men's basketball team finds itself in the Top 25 in both the ESPN coaches' poll and Associated Press media poll this week. The undefeated Crimson became the seventh Ivy school to be ranked at least once in its history (all but Brown).

Harvard, of course, is the only Ivy League school never to have played in the NCAA men's basketball tournament since the official formation of the league. The Crimson came agonizingly close (unless you're a Princeton fan) a year ago, when Douglas Davis' buzzer-beating jump shot became an instant part of Princeton athletic lore and vaulted the Tigers into a game against Kentucky.

With its unbeaten record (heading into tonight's game against defending NCAA champion UConn) and national ranking, Harvard is clearly positioned to earn its first NCAA bid this coming March. Of course, nothing is etched in stone, anything could happen once the league games start.

Forgetting the Tigers for a minute, Yale is 7-2 and has maybe the best player in the league. Penn is playing well. So is Columbia. On any given night, home or away, it could be a struggle for the Crimson.

And Princeton? Where are the Tigers now under their can't-be-rooted-for-hard-enough first-year head coach Mitch Henderson?

Well, one place the Tigers are is "away," as in not playing at home for huge stretches now.

The Tigers last played a home game on Nov. 30, eight days ago. The next home game is one month from today, on Jan. 8; the next one after that is more than a month after, on Feb. 10. And since the Jan. 8 game is against the College of New Jersey, both of these statements are true: Princeton plays one home game in 72 days and no home games against a Division I team in 72 days.

Of course, not all of the road trips are extraordinary distances, such as the current streak that saw Princeton play at Rutgers last night before heading to Drexel Saturday and Rider Wednesday.

The game last night was an exciting one, as Princeton led by 17 with eight minutes to go, fell behind, tied it up and eventually won it 59-57 on Ian Hummer's basket with 2.7 seconds left.

Hummer had a great line against the Knights - 21 points, eight rebounds, five assists two blocks with only one turnover in 37 minutes. Denton Koon, an explosive freshman, had 10 points on 5 for 5 shooting and was on the floor for 27 minutes, including every second of the last 11.

Princeton continues to rely heavily on Hummer and Davis (16 points last night) for scoring, and the emergence of Koon is exactly what the Tigers need.

It seems like forever until the Ivy League season starts, and the Tigers aren't helped by having the first five games in the league on the road. Of course, that also means that seven of the last nine are at home, so if the Tigers can get through that stretch, who knows what might happen.

The first home weekend is Dartmouth/Harvard, but hey, that's more than two months away still.

So watch the Crimson on TV tonight, and root for them. Why not? It's good for the league to get the publicity.

The games that matter most, though, are still down the road.

For the Princeton men, that road is a little longer than it is for pretty much any other team.

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