Friday, November 30, 2012

Don't You Know A Good Tree From A Poor Tree?

TigerBlog figures he's in triple figures of the number of times he's watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas," most recently Wednesday night, when it was on just before the tree lighting from Rockefeller Center.

TB's favorite part, like everyone else's, is when Linus stands up, gets the right lighting and tells all the over-commercialized, Christmas-play-destroying cast members what the real meaning of Christmas is - and Charlie Brown's subsequent realization that he has in fact gotten the perfect tree.

Honestly, the entire 30-minute cartoon is nearly perfect, even if the animation is hardly cutting edge. It dates to its first showing, back on December 9, 1965, and no Christmas is the same without at least one viewing.

It's such an uplifting half-hour, maybe the only time in Peanuts history that Charlie Brown actually wins, that he doesn't get the football yanked away by Lucy, that he doesn't get hit so hard that all his clothes end up on the mound, that his dog doesn't get the best of him.

It has its funny moments, especially when Schroeder plays "Jingle Bells" for Lucy, who gets it all wrong. Or when Sally asks Charlie Brown to write her letter to Santa, asking for "tens and twenties."

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" is one of TB's favorite parts of this time of year.

So are Christmas carols, of which he has about 50 on his iTunes. He has a rule that he won't play any of those songs until it's the right time of year, though that isn't definitively set by any specific date.

For the record, he's pretty close, but not quite there.

Two Christmases have come and gone since TigerBlog sat at the Rutgers Athletic Center and watched Princeton drop a heartbreaker in women's basketball, falling 54-53 to the Scarlet Knights on a basket with four seconds left in a game that would have been a great win for Princeton, only to have it yanked away at the very end.

One night after watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas," TigerBlog watched the Princeton-Rutgers women's basketball game on his computer. Or at least the second half, because he was tied up from 6-7:30 trying to get middle school girls to learn to run elements of the Princeton offense, as well as defend.

Anyway, TB first checked the score via Twitter and found that Princeton was up big early. Then he watched the second half, during which Rutgers never really challenged the Tigers, who would end up with a 71-55 win.

The victory was Princeton's fourth in 19 tries against the Scarlet Knights, who have long been the dominant women's basketball program in the state of New Jersey.

The win was the first for Princeton over Rutgers since 1977.

Princeton won without having a monster night from Niveen Rasheed, who had a very steady, solid 15 points and seven rebounds.

In fact, Rasheed didn't even lead Princeton in scoring. That was, in fact, freshman Alex Wheatley, who had 17 on 8 for 12 shooting.

And if Lauren Polansky ever had a night typical for her, it was this one. Her line? One point, nine rebounds, seven assists.

It was a huge night for Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart as well, who got her first win over Rutgers' Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer.

As the game ended on his laptop, TB thought back to two years earlier in the RAC and how close to a signature win Banghart had come, only to have it get away in the final four seconds.

As TB remembers it, Banghart wasn't sad or crushed. She was determined. Focused. Zoned in on the next meeting between the schools.

And then the Knights weren't on the schedule last year, when Princeton had the best team it's had in school history. For that matter, the banners on the Ivy League title and NCAA tournament appearance were unveiled the three seniors from last year were honored at halftime.

So that left this year, the final game of November for the Tigers.

And it was no contest. Princeton dominated throughout, leaving nothing to a final four seconds of chance, like two years ago.

It was a great win for the Tigers, who have had plenty of those in the last three-plus seasons. Just not one over Rutgers, at least not since 1977.

When TB saw that was the last time Princeton had beaten the Knights, he started to do a little math. Forget that no current Princeton player was anywhere near born in 1977. TB is pretty sure Banghart wasn't either.

Last night was a great night for Princeton women's basketball.

Three alums honored at the half. Two more banners unveiled.

And one big, big victory.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Nice To See You Again

TigerBlog was in a restaurant yesterday in Madison, about an hour north of Princeton.

As he put the finishing touches on his New York strip steak wrap with caramelized onions and cheddar cheese, TB happened to glance out the window onto Main Street, which, in Madison, is an old-fashioned Main Street with restaurants and old-fashioned shops.

Anyway, as TB glanced outside, he saw a man walk by who at first glance looked familiar and at second glance turned out to be Mark Panus, who was the person that TB replaced when he first started working here at Princeton.

During TB's five years of covering Princeton in his newspaper days, Panus was the sport contact for football, men's basketball and men's lacrosse. TB would take over those sports and be their contact for the next eight years, which featured between them 17 Ivy League championships during that time.

Panus' title was Director of Sports Media Relations, which would also be TigerBlog's first title here. His current title, as an aside, is the ninth different title he's had here.

TigerBlog still has Panus' old Rolodex on his shelf, and though it's been years since he's actually looked at it, he keeps it around for old times sake.

Panus worked with Kurt Kehl, who brought TB to Princeton and for whom TB took over when Kehl left to go to work for the Washington Capitals.

Steve DiGregorio, who was an assistant football coach here at the time, refers to the Kehl/Panus days as "the golden age of Princeton athletic communications." Of course, what was done here then and what is done here now are hardly the same profession, and TB much prefers the current way of doing business.

Still, Panus and Kehl ran a great office, and TB's memories of covering football, basketball and lacrosse in those days are filled with a lot of laughs and good times.

TigerBlog chased Panus up Main Street and learned that Panus was on his way to the vacuum cleaner store, which required TB to go past a Christmas store, a hair-dresser, a Carvel and a few other stores that bring up connotations of Main Streets gone by.

TB and Panus spoke for a few minutes before each had to go their separate ways, and it was great to catch up.

The meeting in the restaurant that brought TB to Madison was of the College Athletic Administrators of New Jersey and its executive board. The board made some positive decisions in the name of growing the organization a bit, and TB is excited to see how it all plays out.

In case you were wondering, there are 43 four-year and two-year colleges in the state of New Jersey, and five league offices - including the Ivy League office - are located here as well.

Speaking of the Garden State, the two best women's basketball teams in the state of New Jersey meet here at Jadwin Gym tonight, as Princeton plays host to Rutgers.

The Scarlet Knights lead the all-time series 15-3, and the last meeting between the two was two years ago in Piscataway, where Princeton fell 54-53 when RU scored the game-winner with four seconds left. TigerBlog was at the game, and Rutgers should have been called for a turnover on an inbounds just before the winning hoop, but hey, that happens.

The teams meet again after their year off last year. It's a shame they didn't play in the 2011-12 season, since Princeton had the best team it's had in program history, not to mention one that would have had a strong senior class looking for payback from the 2010-11 game.

That class - 1,000-point scorers Devona Allgood and Lauren Edwards and Laura Johnson - will be back at Jadwin Gym tonight for the raising of the 2012 Ivy League championship banner.

And to see how the current blend of Tigers, who start four seniors - including Niveen Rasheed, the greatest player in program history- and get great off-the-bench support from the freshman class, can do against their in-state rivals.

Much like seeing Mark Panus yesterday, it'll be nice to see them again. And to see another edition of Princeton-Rutgers.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Football And Basketball

So as the college football season comes down essentially to one semifinal game this Saturday and then one championship game 36 days later and as college basketball season has another endless and indistinguishable schedule of games every single day, TigerBlog was left with two thoughts.

The first one he'll get into now. The second one can wait.

The first point is that college football and college basketball are total opposites.

College football has a horrible postseason and an all-important regular season. College basketball has a horrible regular season and an all-important postseason.

The college football bowl season will be a study in irrelevance, except for the BCS title game, which will match Notre Dame against the winner of the Georgia-Alabama SEC championship game from this coming Saturday.

Of course, they'll wait nearly six weeks to play the game. And if it's Alabama-Notre Dame then other than fans of both teams, everyone else will be rooting for both teams to lose.

Again, TigerBlog isn't sure how Alabama is any more deserving than Oregon or Kansas State. At least Notre Dame is undefeated against a relatively tough schedule - but the Irish don't have to worry about a conference championship game either.

And every other bowl game? Boring. Unless you happen to be one of the schools involved.

How could anyone get excited about these games, knowing that they have no impact on any championship?

TigerBlog has said this before, but if you're going to have this system, at least play the BCS championship game first, not last.

And yes, a four-team playoff is on the way beginning next year, if TB is correct, and that'll be a little better. Still, that still leaves about 30 meaningless bowl games and a even more subjectivity in the selection process.

And six weeks off in between the end of the season and the playoffs. 

Now college basketball? That's a whole other story.

The over-saturation of college basketball on TV beginning in early November is nuts, with so many games on so many channels every night that they all begin to look the same.

In fact, to try to differentiate between these games, promoters and schools began to play in more and more exotic locations, which leads to either makeshift arenas that are either tiny or empty or places like battleships that are unplayable.

And it's not going to stop once league play begins. If anything, it'll get worse.

Every night will be a flood of games. Every game will look the same (unless it's Georgetown or someone like that).

And it'll all lead to conference tournaments, which will determine the NCAA rep for one-bid leagues and then the NCAA tournament, where teams like Georgetown will be more concerned with their draw than their seed and where essentially anything can happen.

Hey, if every conference wants a tournament, so be it. TB's biggest issue with college basketball is more the over-saturation one these days.

And then there's this: How many college basketball players can you name? How many players on Notre Dame and Alabama football can you name?

Anyway, all of this brings TB to his second thought.

In the Ivy League, life is of course much different.

There are 10 weeks of football, with no weeks off, and the champion does not go to the Division I-AA playoffs.

In basketball, there is no conference tournament.

TigerBlog would love to have seen Penn, as the Ivy champ, advance to the football playoffs. He hates the idea of a tournament in basketball.

So if he had to pick football champ to the playoffs and a basketball tournament or no postseason for football and no basketball tournament, which would he pick?

He'd probably go with the status quo of no playoffs and no tournament.

He also thinks he's probably way in the majority of Ivy League fans.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Feeling Secure

When TigerBlog heard that Rutgers was going to the Big 10, the first person he thought of was Harvey Yavener, his longtime colleague, mentor and friend from his newspaper days.

Way back when, Yav was always saying that the Big 10 was the perfect league for Rutgers, a thought which got him essentially mocked by everyone in the newsroom back then.

And when Yav would elaborate on why Rutgers should be in the Big 10, he always said the same thing: academics. Rutgers, Yav always said, had much more in common academically with the Big 10 schools than it did with the schools in any other league, especially the Big East, given its status as a highly competitive land-grant state research-oriented institution.

This, of course, drew more mocking.

As an aside, TB doesn't like the "B1G" logo.

Meanwhile, the news last week that Rutgers was on its way to the Big 10 was another indication that Yav was simply a few decades ahead of his time.

TigerBlog heard Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti on during the Scarlet Knights' football game Saturday and again thought of Yav when Pernetti spoke about the academic fit for Rutgers in the Big 10. And the student-athlete experience.

These days, it's easy to mock not Yav but those sentiments when they're repeated by ADs and college presidents, because they're never the actual reason for making such a move.

The student-athlete experience? Remember, this goes beyond football (the decision-maker) and basketball (not the decision-maker) and trickles down to all sports, creating the possibility of, say, soccer or field hockey games 2,000 miles away on a weeknight.

No, those reasons are clearly money and fear.

If you're Rutgers, how could you not go from the great uncertainty of the future of the Big East (fear of being stuck without a major conference) to the Big 10 and its network (money, lots and lots and lots of it)?

It couldn't have gone better for the school if it had won the Powerball lottery.

Rutgers, by virtue of its proximity to the New York City market, is as big a winner as any school in the realignment in college athletics in the last few years and one of the only schools that can actually stand there and talk about academics with a straight face.

Of course, the money the biggest factor. According to one story TB read, Rutgers will go from receiving $6 million annually from Big East television money to early $25 million in the Big 10.

Another issue for Rutgers is the absence of a true rival in football. In men's basketball, TB supposes that the Rutgers-Seton Hall game is huge, but it's not one of the great rivalries in its league. In football, RU has no huge game circled every year.

Rutgers' home football schedule this year was this: Howard, UConn, Syracuse, Kent State, Army and Louisville. Which is the game that a Rutgers' alum circles and says "yes, we have them at our place this year?" Or next year, when the home league games are against South Florida, Temple, Cincinnati and Pitt.

Imagine replacing those games with some combination of opponents like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin, Nebraska or others? If you're a Rutgers fan, you can't ask for more.

TB has read about the possibility that all of this realignment results in four 16-team mega-leagues. That's clearly the direction all of this is going.

And everyone else?

Denver, whose men's basketball team is coached by Princeton's own Joe Scott, announced today that it'll be leaving the WAC after one year to join the Summit League. This would make three leagues in three years for the Pioneers.

But what is a school like Denver supposed to do? It can't sit around and hope that its current league hangs on, because what if it doesn't?

These days, athletic directors at schools like Denver need to be proactive and not get caught up in worrying whether or not your school is the domino that destroys an existing league filled with longtime rivals. In other words, there is no room for loyalty - especially when nobody is being loyal to you.

Hey, for that matter, ADs can't please all of their own programs. Look at Maryland, who like RU will be joining the Big 10. The Terps advanced to the last two NCAA championship games in men's lacrosse.

There is no Big 10 men's lacrosse, at least not yet, and the other Big 10 schools that offer the sport are Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Rutgers. It's a far cry from the traditional ACC rivals Maryland has always played.

While all of this chaos goes on, TB always asks the same question: Is there any way the Ivy League would ever lose a member or add members?

The security in the currently insecure world of intercollegiate athletics that Ivy League schools enjoy is unrivaled anywhere. The Ivy League brand also benefits each of the eight schools way beyond athletics.

So for the league to lose a member, it would have to be a school that felt that it didn't need the academic affiliation with the Ivy League and wants to get in on the money, presumably in the name of modeling its athletic program after what Stanford has done (winning big in football, winning the Directors' Cup every year).

Certainly there would be nothing wrong with that. Would Princeton ever make that decision? Another school?

TigerBlog thinks no way. For starters, it would be such a risky endeavor. For another, alums would be probably revolt.

Would the Ivy League ever add schools? TB thought that if the Patriot League fell apart that some of its stronger academic schools could fit in nicely should the Ivy League want to expand, but there is nothing to indicate that it does. Better fits would be Army and Navy, at least in all sports other than football.

Still, TB can't imagine that the Ivy League is going to change. Or, for that matter, would even have serious discussions about changes in membership.

These days, in the current climate, that's about as good as the news can get.

Besides, in the Ivy League, it really is about academics and student-athlete experience.

Monday, November 26, 2012

He Dreamed Of Jeannie

Every story that TigerBlog saw this weekend about the passing of Larry Hagman at the age of 81 referred to him first and foremost as J.R. Ewing from the show "Dallas."

TB never was a big fan of "Dallas," and he probably watched less than an hour of the entire series. He definitely did not watch the famous "Who shot J.R." episode, which drew 83 million viewers, still the second-most ever for a TV show, behind only the final episode of "M*A*S*H."

As an aside, TB did watch the last episode of "M*A*S*H" and thought it was pretty good, way better than the last episode of, say, "Seinfeld," though nowhere near as good as the greatest final episode of them all, "Newhart."

If you never saw it, "Newhart" was a sitcom in which the hilariously dry Bob Newhart played an innkeeper in Vermont who was married to Mary Frann. This was not "The Bob Newhart Show," where he played a psychiatrist in Chicago who was married to Suzanne Pleshette.

TB read on the day of the final episode of "Newhart" a preview that it was the most creative ending to a TV show ever, and, as a fan of the show during its run, he was going to watch anyway. With about five minutes to go, it looked like it was okay but nothing special; it wasn't until the very, very last scene that it caused TB to think then, and now 22 years later, that it was in fact that cleverest moment in TV history.

If you've seen it, you know what he means. If you haven't click on the lick above and watch it.

Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah. Larry Hagman.

When TB thought of Larry Hagman, he thought not of J.R. Ewing but of Major Anthony Nelson and the show "I Dream Of Jeannie," which, along with "Gilligan's Island" was the first sitcom love for TB.

In the realm of classic TV shows that would never remotely fly today, "I Dream Of Jeannie" featured Barbara Eden as the title character and Hagman as her "master," who doubled as an astronaut in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

Jeannie, of course, would constantly get Tony into and then out of all kinds of trouble, all to the befuddlement of Colonel Bellows.

Jeannie and Tony eventually get married, and of course there was some, uh, chemistry that existed on the show that young TB never picked up on. For him, it was a harmless TV show about a guy who could get anything he wanted literally with the blink of an eye - and all he usually got was trouble.

And now that guy is gone, at the age of 81. His mother was Mary Martin, who played Peter Pan on Broadway. And, in a rarity for his profession (or any other for that matter), he was married to the same woman for 58 years.

TB figured he'd go with a little pop culture nostalgia after a Thanksgiving weekend that saw very little Princeton athletic action, especially here on campus.

It doesn't exactly pick up this week either, as only two teams play home games in the next week, though they do have two each.

The women's hockey team is home Friday against Union and Saturday against RPI. The women's basketball team is home against Rutgers Thursday and UMBC Sunday.

There are a handful of away events, including in men's basketball, where the Tigers are at Wagner Wednesday and Kent State Saturday.

The last few weeks featured the fall/winter overlap and are among the busiest of the year at Princeton. The schedule between now and the end of first semester exams is the slowest of the academic year.

After that, the winter teams will sprint through their Ivy schedules while spring teams will begin practice and then shortly after that competition.

One of the best parts of working in college athletics is the way the job is radically different depending on the time of year. Not only Saturdays, after all, are created equal.

Here at Princeton, the calendar is even more uniquely designed.

These days, it's not particularly fast-paced. Not to worry, though. There are some quality events between now and the end of the holidays, and it'll all pick up quickly after that.

In the meantime, there was a time to slow down and remember Larry Hagman - and his role not as an oil baron but as an astronaut who fell in love with the Jeannie in the bottle.

For TB, it brought back memories of days long gone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Have A Great Thanksgiving

In case you think you've read this before, you did, if you read TigerBlog 104 weeks ago and 156 weeks ago today:

 As holidays go, you can't do much better than Thanksgiving. It's got it all, really: a huge meal (with turkey, no less), football, family, history (dates back to 1621), start of a four-day weekend for most people, leftovers. It's even a secular holiday, so every American can dive right in, regardless of religion.

TigerBlog attended many Manalapan-Marlboro Thanksgiving games a long, long time ago. The Lions and the Cowboys, obviously, always play at home on Thanksgiving, and the NFL has now added a third game (maybe a little too much). Beyond watching football, how many out there have played their own Thanksgiving football games, all of which, by the way, are named "the Turkey Bowl?"

The holiday may lag behind Christmas in terms of great Hollywood movies, and "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" is no match for "A Charlie Brown Christmas" or "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." Still, there are some great moments in movies and TV shows around Thanksgiving.

Rocky and Adrian had their first date on Thanksgiving – "To you it's Thanksgiving; to me it's Thursday," Rocky said romantically – as did Meadow and Jackie Jr. on "The Sopranos" (it didn't quite work out as well as it did for Rocky and Adrian). "Everybody Loves Raymond" had two pretty good Thanksgiving episodes, the one where Marie makes a low-fat dinner and the one where Debra makes fish instead of turkey. As an aside, TigerBlog's Aunt Regina once made Cornish game hens instead of turkey, so he knows how they all felt. And of course, there was the Thanksgiving episode of "Cheers," which has the big food fight at the end.

The Woody Allen movie "Hannah and Her Sisters" starts and ends on two different Thanksgivings. "Miracle on 34th Street" is a Christmas movie, but it does start with the Thanksgiving parade in New York City.

And of course, there is the best of all Thanksgiving movies: "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." It'll make you laugh a lot and cry a little, and it ends on Thanksgiving.

TigerBlog didn't include that last year, so he figured he'd revisit it this time around. He was going to simply reproduce it without saying that he'd used it before, but then that would be a violation of the University's honor code.

If you asked 100 people what their favorite holiday is, TB is pretty sure you'd get 50% Thanksgiving and 50% everything else combined. TB would be in the first 50%.

TB has so many great memories of Thanksgivings, going back as far as he can remember. Happily, TigerBlog Jr. and Miss TigerBlog are also off to great starts with the holiday.

As TB is writing, various members of the women's basketball team have walked by, on their way to the bus and the airport, headed to Los Angeles for games Friday against UC-Riverside and Sunday against UCLA.

There will also be a big team Thanksgiving meal at Nicole Hung's house. It's not uncommon for winter teams to be traveling today and playing over the weekend and having their Thanksgiving together on the road, adding to the overall experience of being a team.

Of course, the women's basketball team travel party won't be the only people who are flying someplace on this day, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Today is the busiest travel day of the year, as everyone scrambles to get where they're going for the big day. 

As TigerBlog thinks back to his Thanksgivings when he was younger, he remembers people like his Uncle Herbie, his cousin Toby, his Aunt Regina and Uncle Larry, his grandparents and of course MotherBlog, all of whom are gone now.

He says this not to be morbid or to be a downer as the holiday approaches.

He says this instead as he smiles, as he thinks back to the great times he had with them all those Thanksgivings, how he cherishes those memories, how they were some of the best days of his life.

And how he wants everyone tomorrow to stop and look around at everyone they are with and to cherish them and that moment as well, knowing that it's a special day, this Thursday in late November.

It's about the food and fun and football, and it's about the traffic and the crowd in the supermarket or liquor store or bakery. It's about all of those things, yes, but it's mostly about the people you're with.

Stop for a second tomorrow. Put your plate down. Look away from the TV.

And take a good look around at the people who are there with you.

And be thankful for them.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Fall To Remember

What? No Twinkies? How will life go on?

No Twinkies? No soft yellow cake with the creamy inside? Possibly vanishing from America?

It seemed like a sure thing when TigerBlog read about it over the weekend. Now it appears that there might be hope for one of the most famous snack foods ever created, a 150-calorie, 4.5-fat-gram piece of heaven.

TigerBlog has probably eaten 100 Yodels for every Twinkie he's eaten in his life and probably 50,000 M&Ms for every Twinkie.

Hey, it's not all bad: He's probably eaten 1,000 apples for every Twinkie.

Twinkies to TigerBlog are sort of like the NHL.

He knows millions of people love the NHL and he respects those who do. And TB likes it when he pays attention to it.

At the same time, he doesn't exactly miss the NHL now that it's on strike, and while he definitely likes them, if he goes the rest of his life without eating another Twinkie, he'll figure out a way to get by.

Besides, he'd take the trade-off between no Twinkies for the rest of his life for the fall that Princeton Athletics recently completed.

Princeton has nine teams that compete in the fall as their primary season. Of those nine, seven play in the Ivy League - sprint football and men's water polo are not official Ivy sports.

Of the seven who compete in the Ivy League, three finished in first place, two finished in second and two finished in third.

Their combined Ivy League record? How about 31-9-2.

For the record, the three Ivy League champions were the field hockey team, the women's soccer team and the men's cross country team. Women's cross country and women's volleyball were second, and men's soccer and football were third (and so, for that matter, was men's water polo, who finished third at Easterns).

Looking beyond those two finishes, the men's soccer team still went 4-1-2 in the league, and it's only because of how strong Ivy men's soccer is that one league loss added up to a third-place finish.

And the football team? It went from 1-9 and 1-9 to 5-5 overall and went from 1-13 in the league the last two years to 4-3. The Tigers also beat Harvard in one of the greatest Ivy football games of all time and earned a bonfire by defeating Yale.

Even the sprint football team, which went winless again, had a very, very competitive fall, with almost no blowout losses and with a legitimate chance to win a few games. In fact, the sprint team was left feeling frustrated that it let a few get away, not to mention the heartbreak of falling in overtime to Post.

Princeton has a 13-point lead in the Ivy League's unofficial all-sports points championship standings. A year ago, Princeton was in fifth place after the fall, 5.5 points out of first.

When the final horn sounded at field hockey Sunday, Princeton had extended its streak of having at least one team or individual national champion to 42 straight years. This was the first time in that streak that Princeton produced a national champion in the fall.

The three highlights of the fall came from the league champions.

The men's cross country team came past the finish line the first time at the Heps championships in a bunched field that looked like it would be tough to sort out at the end. When the runners came back around for the final time, it was all Orange and Black, led by individual champion Chris Bendtsen.

The result was a huge party on Princeton's West Windsor Fields, on a day where the women's second-place finish was a strong accomplishment as well. The men went on to an 11th place finish at the NCAA championships for the program's best finish ever.

Then there were the two teams that had perfect Ivy seasons.

The women's soccer team went 7-0-0 in the league, outscoring its opponents 20-7 in the seven games. Princeton, led by Ivy Player of the Year Jen Hoy, had a 12-game winning streak after a 2-3-1 start, with the 12th win by a 2-1 count at West Virginia in the opening round of the NCAA tournament before the run ended in Utah against Marquette.

For head coach Julie Shackford, it was the second-best team in her 18 seasons here, behind only the 2004 Final Four team - and this one was close. It was a perfect blend of a star, some other frontline players, the great depth that was necessary after six players went out with injuries and overwhelming intangibles like great team chemistry and determination.

As for field hockey, what else can be said?

Princeton entered the year with a chance to win the first NCAA championship in program history and did just that, earning it in dramatic fashion this past weekend with wins over Maryland and North Carolina, from (for now) the ACC, which had produced the previous 11 NCAA champs.

The field hockey championship would fittingly be the final event of the fall of 2012 for Princeton Athletics.

It's really hard to ask for much more than Princeton's teams produced.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The 2012 NCAA Field Hockey Champion Princeton Tigers

Kristen Holmes-Winn walked into the office one day last winter to introduce herself to Diana Chamorro, who had taken over as the field hockey contact for the Office of Athletic Communications.

Diana had never seen a field hockey game before, and she knew nothing at all about the sport.

When she had her first introduction to Kristen, the head coach of Princeton field hockey, it was followed by, essentially, these words from the rest of the office: "you'll love field hockey, because they're going to win the national championship."

It was obvious way back then that 2012 was going to be a special year for Princeton field hockey, which had all of the pieces in place. There was a returning nucleus of last year's team, as well as the addition of a top recruiting class.

And of course, the Fab Four of Julie Reinprecht, Katie Reinprecht, Michelle Cesan and Kathleen Sharkey, four players who missed last year while training with the U.S. National Team, with the two Reinprechts on the U.S. Olympic Team and Cesan an alternate.

And there they all were yesterday, in Norfolk, Va., making it all come true, achieving what was dreamable last winter and is now reality this fall, winning the first NCAA field hockey championship in program history, defeating No. 1 seed North Carolina 3-2 to win it all.

Princeton finished its championship season 21-1, including a 7-0 run through the Ivy League by a combined 45-1 score. The Tigers won the NCAA title by beating two-time defending champion Maryland in the semifinal and then the No. 1 team in the country, North Carolina, in the final. 

As an aside, Princeton's streak of having at least one team or individual national champion win a national championship has now reached 42 consecutive academic years.

It's one of the great achievements in the history of women's athletics at Princeton - and one of the top athletic achievements by any Princeton team, for that matter.

It's not just an NCAA championship. It's one in a sport where it seemed like the landscape had shifted away from an Ivy League school and directly to the powers of the Atlantic Coast Conference, perhaps forever.

Princeton had played in the 1996 and 1998 NCAA finals, losing both. Three years later, Michigan would win the 2001 title, but from that point until yesterday, every championship was won by a team from the ACC.

Until yesterday, that is.

Two days after defeating Maryland in overtime, Princeton erased deficits of 1-0 and 2-1, took the lead with 20 minutes to go and then held off the Tar Heels for the victory.

For TigerBlog, the field hockey championship from this weekend reminds him of the 1992 NCAA men's lacrosse championship, when the Tigers went to Philadelphia and crashed the party of the big boys of the sport.

It was a magical weekend for a magical team, and it brought Princeton forever into the hierarchy of the sport.

It's the same for Princeton field hockey now.

Here's the list: North Carolina, Maryland, Wake Forest, Michigan, Old Dominion, James Madison, Iowa and UConn. And now Princeton. Those are the only schools that have ever won the Division I field hockey championship.

And of that group, three of them - James Madison, Iowa and UConn - won their titles in 1994 or earlier.

The 2012 Tigers were highly regarded, yes, but with a Final Four of the two ACC powers and Syracuse, who had defeated both Princeton and UNC during the regular season, Princeton wasn't supposed to walk away with the big trophy, just like the men's lacrosse team in 1992.

And yet come the end of the championship game, it was Princeton who was celebrating.

If you listened to the videostream of the trophy presentation, you heard one Princeton voice ask, through the cheers, this question: "is this real life?"
It is.

For Princeton field hockey, it's very real.

Princeton field hockey, the 2012 NCAA champion.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fired Up

The collarbone is apparently the easiest bone in the body to break and the fastest bone in the body to heal.

TigerBlog learned that the hard way six years ago. Well, actually it was Miss TigerBlog who had to find that out for herself.

It was back at the last bonfire that Princeton football earned for defeating Harvard and Yale in the same season, back in 2006, the last time Princeton won the Ivy League title as well. MTB was there, and in the darkness, she ran into a chain link fence attached to a pole outside Nassau Hall.

At first, TB thought she wasn't hurt too badly. It wasn't until the next day that she had an x-ray, confirming that indeed her collarbone was broken. And then just like that, about three weeks later, it was healed.

Hopefully there will be no repeat of that incident for anyone who attends the bonfire tomorrow night. The event is scheduled for 7-9, on Cannon Green.

By the time the fire starts, it's possible that Princeton would have earned a share of the Ivy League championship, though it won't be easy. Princeton needs a win over Dartmouth tomorrow in the season finale (1 pm, Powers Field at Princeton Stadium) and also needs Jeff Matthews and Cornell to beat Penn.

Should that be the case, then Penn and Princeton would both be 5-2 in the league and tied for first.

Could there be a three-way tie? Yes, there could.

Should Princeton and Penn get to 5-2, they would be joined there by Harvard should the Crimson defeat Yale. In that scenario, the Ivy League would be left with its first three-way tie for the championship since 1982.

That was the year, by the way, when Penn went from 1-6 in the league to a share of the title.

The 2012 Princeton Tigers are attempting to go from worst to first, with the added bonus of trying to become the first team ever picked to finish eighth in the Ivy League's preseason media poll to actually win the league championship.

The bonfire is basically just a big party, and it is traditionally held on a Friday, TB believes. This year, it'll be after the last game is over, which could make it anywhere from a celebration of a championship to a bit of a letdown should Dartmouth defeat Princeton.

Still, it's TB's belief that by the time 7 pm rolls around tomorrow, it'll be impossible for the occasion to be anything but festive. For a young team, one coming off back-to-back 1-9 seasons, to earn a bonfire at all is amazing.

And let's remember how Princeton did it. The Tigers had to score the final 29 points of the wins over Harvard and Yale, erasing deficits both times.

Of course, the deficit a week ago in New Haven was 7-0 in the first quarter, which doesn't exactly count as a major come-from-behind moment.

But Harvard? Yes, that was a comeback. One of historic proportions.

If you somehow forgot, Princeton was behind the heavily favored Crimson 34-10 with 12 minutes to go before rallying to win 39-34. It was a ridiculous 12 minutes, as ridiculous a 12 minutes as any Princeton football fan has ever seen or could have hoped to see.

That's what the celebration will be tomorrow night. The Big Three championship. That's what earns the bonfire.

If it's more than that, then the party will be even more fun for everyone, especially the players.

It it isn't, that's okay too.

No matter what happens on its final Saturday, the 2012 football season will be remembered as a very, very special one for the Princeton Tigers.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Through The Kaleidoscope

Sports, to their great credit, are not about any one thing, and as such, they can be viewed through so many different prisms, often changing from moment to moment.

In so many ways, sports are a kaleidoscope, providing an ever-changing view and an ever-changing landscape, both from the outside looking in and also for those who are inside the lens.

For any game, for any day a team is together for that matter, sports can provide different challenges, different outcomes, different issues, different emotions.

Teams, especially college teams, go through so much together, from Day 1 on, sacrifice so much, are together so much, experience so much together along the way.

The kaleidoscope shows chaos at one moment and then harmony the next, a sense of collective effort that comes from a group that puts aside its individual goals in the name of team at one moment and then the struggle of each individual to buy into that the next.

The do all this for the experience, to be sure, of being college athletes and for their love of playing their particular sport.

And while they go down that path, they hold up in the back of their mind some lofty dreams, to keep it going as long as they can, to be together as long as they can, to put together the kinds of seasons that don't come around all the time and create as a team the kinds of memories that will last forever.

 Most teams don't reach those goals.

Some do. Some teams end up in the places that they've always dreamed of getting to, a sentiment summed up so famously by Bill Parcells when he screamed "this is why you life all them weights."

If they're lucky, their path will take them beyond what they could have hoped for, all the way to places that they've been dreaming of all along.

You know, like Utah. And Norfolk.

The Princeton women's soccer team will take on fourth-seeded Marquette in the second round of the NCAA tournament this afternoon, with the match to be held in Provo, Utah.

The field hockey team will play Maryland in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament Friday in Norfolk.

These might not seem like exotic destinations, but for the two teams they are Shangri-La.

It's easy to look from the outside at these two teams and admire their success, but there is no way to see how much has gone into making that success happen.

Like TB said, building teams is a very complex process, and then they go through so much together all year round, hoping to have much more go right than wrong.

In the case of the women's soccer team, there was the resolve to turn around last year's rare down season, something that started 12 months ago, not when this year began. It's easy to see a team that is 14-3-1, went 7-0-0 in the league, has won 12 straight games and defeated a West Virginia team that went undefeated in the Big 12 regular season in the opening round of the NCAA tournament and not realize that this isn't something that just happened. It's so much more than having good luck this year after having the ball not bounce right last year.

Besides, not everything went right this year. There were injuries - four starters lost during the year - and the need to keep moving forward and keep winning regardless of that. In that case, the 2012 Princeton women's soccer team isn't just about Jen Hoy; it's such a great team story.

The challenge today is daunting, as Marquette has been ranked as high as No. 2 nationally. Still, when the season began not that long ago, Princeton's biggest dream was to get to this very point, to be playing its best come mid-November and see how long the ride can continue.

As for the field hockey team, its challenge has been different. Princeton has played all year as a favorite, with its focus on getting to this weekend in Norfolk. Now that the team is there, anything can happen.

Princeton came into the season as the team with the Olympians, and that's not an easy way to go through a season, with that level of expectation, both internal and external.

None of that is what's important now. For Princeton, it's about the opportunity and a chance to make it all happen.

This moment, for both teams, is a rarity in sports. The kaleidoscope is completely focused now, and both teams can relish the fact that they've reached this point after all of the effort they put in to getting here.

And now they can do what they can to make the most of it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Don't Panic

Had TigerBlog been writing a story about the Princeton-Northeastern men's basketball game last night at Jadwin Gym, it probably would have started something like this:

Princeton scored five seconds into the game to take its first lead. Northeastern scored with 2.5 seconds left to take its first lead. Unfortunately for the Tigers, that would be the only lead change of the night.

Princeton fell to Northeastern 67-66 last night in a game the Tigers led by 18 with 13 minutes to play.

As an aside, TB is back into today's blog mode, not still writing the pretend game story he otherwise would have.

Oh, and it was great to have Tom McCarthy do the play-by-play with color man Noah Savage last night. McCarthy, who used to do football and basketball for Princeton, is now the Philadelphia Phillies' TV man and a Westwood One NFL voice, and he agreed to fill in for a night, as new play-by-player Derek Jones cannot start full-time until December.

As a result, Princeton will have four different voices in the early season, including the outgoing John Sadak Friday night against Rutgers.

TB did more games on the radio with McCarthy than he did with anyone else, and McCarthy is a link to a great era for Princeton basketball, back in the mid-1990s. He's also a special person whose schedule keeps him fairly busy, so it's always nice to get a chance to see him.

On its surface, it seems like a pretty bad loss for Princeton. And yes, no team ever wants to lose its home opener in this fashion after being up by so much and appearing to be in a comfortable place for almost the entire game.

To TigerBlog, though, this is the kind of game you get when your season starts earlier and earlier. And, other than the final score, there were so many encouraging signs for Princeton that it's hard not to be excited about this team's potential.

It was right there from the opening tip, when the Tigers controlled the tap and Ian Hummer needed only five seconds to make it 2-0 on a skying dunk. It reminded TB immediately of another Jadwin Gym opening tip, back in the magical 1997-98 season, when James Mastaglio finished the same way five seconds in against Manhattan.

Mitch Henderson, like Tom McCarthy, was one of the stars of Princeton basketball for that era. Now he's the head coach, in Year 2.

His team is ridiculously big, and the big men are athletic. It's a great starting point in basketball, a game that is often unkind to the short.

Princeton lost the game last night for a few reasons.

First, Northeastern made 8 of its 11 three-pointers. If that happens, sometimes you just have tip your hat to the other team and remember that it's very, very rare that a team can make 73% of its three-pointers even in a shooting drill in practice.

Second, Princeton missed a few shots that usually would fall while Northeastern was making its run, and really any of those shots might have been enough to hold off the Wildcats.

Third, there was the whole "this all happened so fast" aspect, in which Northeastern went from down big to back in it without it seeming to be that way. TigerBlog was watching the game and talking to people from the athletic department, and every now and then he'd glance at the scoreboard and think "this game is getting closer than it appears."

Mostly, TB thinks Princeton lost the lead and the game because it was Nov. 13. Had this been a little later in the season, it probably wouldn't have happened the same way.

All teams, no matter how many players are back, have to make adjustments from one year to the next. In Princeton's case, there is no Douglas Davis anymore, and he's only the second-leading scorer in program history.

The options that are available to Henderson are impressive. Clay Wilson, who has made seven three-pointers in two games, is the kind of shooter the team needs with all that size down low. Will Barrett is back from missing last year due to injury. Freshman Hans Brase looked solid off the bench. T.J. Bray is trying to get back into his regular rhythm after being hurt in the summer.

And then there's Hummer, a highlight film at all times, he tied his career high with 25. But even with a player like that, each year is a different kind of challenge, with different dynamics involved.

And it takes time for teams to gel. Especially when the season starts more than a week before Thanksgiving.

As a result, you get outcomes like last night. It's hardly a reason to panic.

If anything, this game was one to leave Princeton fans a little frustrated - but way more excited about what's to come.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Dear Deadbeat

TigerBlog's credit card expired recently, and that always leads to a series of minor annoyances that have to be addressed.

First of all, credit cards are mailed to people in envelopes that don't give away what's inside of it, to prevent, TB assumes, their theft in the mail. After all, the two biggest prizes for identity thieves are credit card numbers and social security numbers, which people guard with their lives except for all those times they read them over the phone while ordering a pizza or something.

Anyway, unless you're looking for your new card to arrive, then you completely miss the envelope it comes in, and it sits there with catalogs and flyers and other mass mailings that numb the senses. It's only after the first time that you go to use the card after it's passed the expiration date that you have to scramble around to find the new one.

Then there are all of things that automatically bill TB's credit card that stop automatically paying the bills once the credit card reaches its expiration date. In TB's case, that meant, among others, TigerBlog Jr.'s cafeteria account at school, which is pretty fascinating in that TB can monitor what is being eaten each day. And of course EZPass, which flashed a "low balance" warning at TB the last time he drove through a toll booth, which was followed by a scolding email that might as well have said "dear deadbeat" on it.

TB finally tracked down his new card, complete with a new three-digit code on the back for security purposes.

He went to update his EZPass account online, only to realize that he did not have his account number or device number and couldn't remember his username. In fact, the only thing he could remember was his password, which wasn't helping him, since he needed one of the other three to log in.

And so he had to go back out to the parking lot to get the EZPass device, to get the number. Only he figured that if he brought the thing back into his office, he'd forget to bring it back to his car, and next time he pulled up to a toll booth, he wouldn't have his EZPass, and therefore would have to use something he hates using - cash.

To solve that problem, he came up with the brilliant idea of taking a picture of his EZPass on his phone, so he could get the number off of that. Then he thought about the bad guy in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" who didn't get the hieroglyphics off the back of that medallion and therefore dug for the Well of Souls in the wrong place, so he looked on the back of the device too.

As he walked back into the building, he met up with ticket manager Stephanie Sutton, and TB and Stephanie had this basic exchange:
Stephanie: "Does it seem early to be playing basketball?"
TB: "Yes."

TB remembers not that long ago when college basketball didn't start until Dec. 1. Now it just gets earlier and earlier.

Today was the 24 hour ESPN marathon, with games all night and such. TB used to be against those sort of gimmicky things, but now he's come around, realizing that Stony Brook and Rider will long remember that they played a 6 am game than they would have ever remembered the game had it been a random November game.

On top of that, the game drew a full house of 1,650 to Rider's Alumni Gym.

How about the two games on Naval ships that couldn't be completed because of wetness on the court? Even though they didn't get played, the two teams did get the great experience of visiting the ship and meeting all of the people involved.

College basketball is running a big risk of over-saturation, especially starting this early and with so many games on television, not to mention a largely meaningless regular season in much of the sport, with make-or-break conference tournaments for one-bid leagues and a get-to-the-tournament-and-see-what-we-can-do mentality for the bigger leagues.

Princeton plays its home opener tonight against Northeastern, with both teams at 1-0 after winning their openers, Princeton against Buffalo and Northeastern against Boston University.

The goal for Princeton - thankfully the Ivy League still does not have a tournament - is to be ready to play when the league season rolls around, which is still two months away.

The Tigers have a veteran team and unbelievable size, and they had a head start on this season with the trip to Spain. Princeton is the preseason favorite in the Ivy League, and it should be a fun winter.

Still, unlike TB's credit card, the fall sports season still hasn't reached its expiration date, and it seems a bit early to be playing basketball already.

On the other hand, if basketball is to be played already, it might have been fun for Princeton-Northeastern to go super early, maybe at 6 am.

Monday, November 12, 2012

How Was Your Weekend?

How was your weekend?

At Princeton Athletics, it couldn't have gone much better. Actually, had TigerBlog been asked last week to script out the best-case scenario weekend, he probably wouldn't have dared to ask for everything that happened.

Princeton had one of those weekends that don't come around too often and therefore demand to be appreciated immediately. TB, who prides himself on having a reasonably good memory, can't remember a weekend that had as many big events go well for the Tigers.

Perhaps there have been others in the quarter-century that TB has been paying close attention and he just doesn't remember off the top of his head.

Yes, there have been times when there have been a huge win by one team and some nice performances by others. This weekend, though, was extraordinary across the board.

Between Friday and Sunday, Princeton teams played 13 games. The record? How about 10-2-1?

It's not just the record, though. It's the significance of the outcomes.

Regardless of any kind of championship implications, a win over Cornell in men's hockey is always a big deal. This past Friday night, Princeton got out to a 2-0 lead over the No. 4 Big Red, fell behind 3-0 as the Big Red scored three goals in a 4:51 stretch of the third and then pulled it out with three goals in a 4:52 stretch of its own. It was a very well-played, well-dramatic game, the kind that sticks out over the course of the long season.

This weekend? That's not even in the top three of wins.

Hockey - the men's and women's on ice variety combined - put together a 3-0-1 weekend after being a combined 2-4-1 for the young season prior to that.

Dartmouth, by the way, is the only remaining undefeated in Division I men's hockey now. Cornell had been the other before its loss to Princeton, and the Tigers now find themselves off to a great 2-0 start in the ECAC.

As far as hockey at Princeton goes, though, this weekend belonged to the one that doesn't play on ice or with a puck. The field hockey team shut out Drexel 5-0 and then came from down 1-0 and 2-1 to knock off Virginia 5-2 and advance to the NCAA Final Four.

Your field in Norfolk next weekend will have Princeton play Maryland in a rematch of a game the Tigers won 3-2 during the regular season while Syracuse will take on North Carolina Friday, with the final Sunday.

Each of the four teams appears to have a reasonable chance in a highly balanced field. Syracuse has given Princeton and Carolina their only losses, but the Orange lost to UMass and Connecticut, whom Princeton defeated during the regular season and Maryland just defeated to reach the Final Four.

Long before the NCAA tournament started, this was already a special year for the Tigers, with three members of the U.S. Olympic Team and a fourth member of the national team back on campus. Princeton destroyed the Ivy League, going 7-0-0 and outscoring its opponents 45-1 in league games, but this was a team that had to be thinking of at least reaching this level and seeing if this could be the first time Princeton wins it all.

Let's see. What else happened this weekend? Oh yes, women's soccer.

Every great Princeton women's soccer team will be measured against the 2004 team that reached the NCAA Final Four, going 19-3 in the process. Clearly, that is the greatest team in program history.

Now, though, there is the 2012 team, which has accomplished something that the 2004 team, or any other women's soccer team in school history, did not do.

When Princeton defeated West Virginia (who went undefeated in the Big 12 during the regular season) 2-1 in Morgantown Saturday, it marked the first time in program history that the Tigers had won an NCAA tournament game away from the Princeton campus. Lynessa McGee and Jen Hoy scored to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead; for Hoy, it was her 18th of the season, two off current assistant coach Esmeralda Negron's single-season school record.

Princeton's reward is a trip to Utah to play Marquette, who has given up 12 goals all year and is ranked as high as second nationally in one poll.

Princeton is now 14-3-1 after having won 12 straight, the second-longest winning streak in school history. The 2012 team, which went 7-0-0 in the league, can make the claim of being the second-best team in program history - and still has a chance to make a run at No. 1.

What else is TB missing?

Oh yeah, football.

Princeton trailed Yale 7-0 after the opening drive of the game, but the Bulldogs would not score again as Princeton won 29-7. With Penn's win over Harvard and Dartmouth's loss to Brown, Princeton finds itself in the shocking position of playing for a share of the Ivy League title in the season finale this weekend at home against Dartmouth.

Penn has already clinched a share, but the Quakers lost their starting quarterback Billy Ragone to a brutal ankle injury in the win over Harvard. Minus Ragone and off the hangover of the huge win over the Crimson, Penn travels to Cornell to take on a Big Red team that. as Princeton knows all too well, is tough at home and can put up a ton of points.

Should Cornell win, then Princeton, Harvard or both would get a share of the league title with a win. Coming off of back-to-back 1-9 seasons, it's a remarkable accomplishment for the program.

There was more. The men's soccer team won to finish third in the league. Women's volleyball lost twice - but the Tigers still finished second in the league.

And the basketball teams both opened with nice road wins. And the men's cross country team qualified for the NCAA championships.

This weekend?

It was spectacular for Princeton Athletics.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Roughing The Kicker?

TigerBlog has often said that he's a huge fan of the Ivy League message board, the one where fans (or are they coaches, administrators, current players?) post their thoughts (or is it sometimes inside information) about all things related to Ivy League sports, especially football.

For TB, the message board has replaced the daily newspaper as a source of information and entertainment, with the glaring difference that what you're reading is being put there somewhat anonymously and therefore should be viewed a tad skeptically.

Then again, that is often the case in a newspaper, though minus the anonymity part.

If the items that are put there as fact can't always be believed, the opinions are what really intrigue TigerBlog. More than anything else, TB thinks that these opinions give a solid insight into the minds of Ivy League sports fans, with a line to what they think and maybe more importantly how their perceive Ivy League athletics - and by extension the administration within the league and its schools.

Sometimes TB shakes his head at how far from reality some of those opinions get, and he is often left with a sense that the fanbase doesn't quite grasp some of the hurdles that are in place in the league, especially in terms of resources and staffing.

Then there are other times when he shakes his head for the opposite reason, the bewilderment of just how much some of these people actually do know about the inner workings of the league. The extent to which information is correct is just as astonishing as when it's incorrect.

He gets a lot out of reading the board, not the least of which is entertainment.

And he can't help wonder who some of these people are, if he knows them, if he sees their faces regularly at games. 

One of the regulars, someone known somewhat exotically as "Asia Sunset," posted a video this week of the 1982 Penn-Harvard football game at Franklin Field.

After Princeton's epic win over Harvard last month, TB wrote that that game was the best Ivy football game he'd ever seen. He also put a list of the five best Ivy games he's seen in person, and the 1982 Penn-Harvard game was one of them.

At the time, TB was a Penn undergraduate. A year earlier, Penn had won only one game, that a thriller on opening day against Cornell. In 1982, the Quakers were attempting to go worst-to-first, and the win over Harvard was the biggest step on that road.

Penn led 20-0 in the fourth quarter before Harvard went ahead 21-20, setting up the frantic final sequence captured in the video. As an aside, since seeing the game live, TB had never until yesterday seen any of it on replay.

As a further aside, he had no idea that Merrill Reese, the voice of the Eagles, did the play-by-play for that game.

Anyway, watch the video for yourself and see if it was a good call (it certainly was a late one) on the roughing the kicker.

And one of TB's big memories of the aftermath was that Harvard coach Joe Restic suggested that Penn should, in the interest of proper sportsmanship, say that the call was a bad one and give the win to the Crimson.

The game was a wild one, and TB remembers the day very vividly. And the lasting memory of the 1982 season? The last three-way tie for the Ivy League championship in football.

Will the 2012 season provide the next three-way tie? Princeton certainly hopes so.

Well, another Penn-Harvard game at Franklin Field will have a big impact on what happens the rest of the way.
 The best record Princeton could have is 5-2 in the league.

Princeton is at Yale tomorrow and home with Dartmouth next Saturday in the season finale. Of course, Dartmouth is thinking about the same scenario, getting to 5-2 with a win tomorrow (over Brown) and then next weekend against Princeton and hoping it's good enough.

To get to three 5-2 teams, the winner of the Penn-Harvard game needs to lose next weekend, and then nobody would have fewer than two losses. Harvard hosts Yale, while Penn is at Cornell.

Again, as TB has said before, the real win for Princeton football this year isn't whether or not it gets a piece of the championship. It's the fact that with two weeks to go, the Tigers are still very much involved in the conversation.

For TB's money, a .500 season for the Tigers (meaning a split the next two weeks) would represent a remarkable vault back from the last few years and position the Tigers well for the next few seasons, especially with how young the team is and how well recruiting has gone under Bob Surace and his staff.

Still, why not dream big, at least until the math says it's no longer possible.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Snow? Are you serious?

A week ago, this area was bashed by something that is known as "Superstorm Sandy," since "Hurricane Sandy" wasn't good enough to sum it up. There are still nearly a million people without power in the region, and that was before the Nor'easter came by and dropped snow on the Jersey Shore, New York City and of course Princeton.

TigerBlog hates snow. He prefers sun, warmth, lacrosse - all the things that make spring and summer great.

Snow is not his favorite by any stretch. Nor is winter in general, though he can deal with cold temperatures way better than he can with snow.

The stuff that came down yesterday was the heavy, wet variety. It wasn't supposed to stick, though in the end it added up to two inches for the general area.

It's not a huge total. Still, it's not even Thanksgiving yet.

TB read someplace that this is the first time in the history of this area that there was measurable snowfall this early in two consecutive years, after last year's late October blizzard.

On the other hand, last year's storm represented basically all of the snow that this area would get for 2011-12. Should the two inches that fell yesterday be the end of snow for this season, TB would be fine with that, though his sense is that that won't be the case.

So what's next around here? Well, how about perfect weather?

A look at the 10-day forecast indicates sunny skies, no precipitation and temps back in the 60s. Happily, that means, among other things, that the snow won't be around here very long.

Of course, how is the weather supposed to know what season is it at this time of the year? Is it fall? Is it winter? Is it both?

You certainly can't tell by looking at the athletic calendar, that's for sure.

Between tomorrow and Sunday, Princeton will have 16 teams who will be competing as the overlap season is at its peak. It's like fall foliage, only a few weeks later.

Some sports, like swimming and diving, basketball and wrestling, will be starting.

Others, like women's soccer and field hockey, will begin NCAA competition.

The overlap time brings with it all kinds of challenges for athletic administration, athletic trainers, everyone. With so many teams in so many places, it's not easy.

Even simple things like radio become issues.

Princeton is at Yale in football and Buffalo in men's basketball Saturday at noon. Obviously, both games cannot be on the same radio station at the same time, so it'll be football with a lot of basketball updates.

College basketball didn't used to play games until Dec. 1. Now, Princeton's men and women will play six games each in November.

Almost all of this weekend's events are on the road, but there is a home hockey ECAC weekend, the first of the season, as Cornell is here tomorrow night and then Colgate Saturday at 4.

As far as the biggest events this weekend, there is the football game, as Princeton tries to clinch at least a .500 season and stay mathematically alive in the Ivy League race while playing in a series that dates to 1873.

And there are the two NCAA events.

The women's soccer team is at West Virginia Saturday night in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Princeton played WVU, in its first season in the Big 12, in the 2008 NCAA tournament, falling 2-1 in a game played at Virginia.

The Tigers come into the tournament at 13-3-1 and with 11 straight wins.

The field hockey team plays at Virginia against Drexel and then, should the Tigers win, against the winner of Virginia and Iowa. Second-seeded Princeton has as good a chance as any team to win the whole thing, but then again, all it takes is one bad bounce here or there to change things completely.

Seasons that are winding down. High pressure games. Opening days. Home openers.

It's what this time of year is all about here at Princeton.

It's not supposed to be about snow.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hit The Road

There were several occasions last night when TigerBlog saw one candidate with less than 45% of the vote, the other with more than 55% and fewer than 10% of precincts having reported.

And the candidate with 45% or less was projected as the winner.

Then there were the countdowns to the top of the hour, when the polls would close in any number of states. And then, in the next second, most of those states were called for one candidate or the other. 

The whole concept of polling is fascinating. Ask a few people what they think and extrapolate it out for the entire population. Fascinating.

TigerBlog was hoping to be part of an exit poll, the ones that are used to project out states one way or the other in rapid succession. Alas, once again, it was not to be.

Election Night coverage is rather formulaic, with something like 5% results and 95% over-analysis of results to come.

Last night, for instance, it was too close to call Florida, Ohio and Virginia. So what did the people on TV talk about? The fact that those states were important. No kidding.

The most astute comment TigerBlog heard all night was how the election occupied almost all discussion in America for 18 months at a cost of billions of dollars, and in the end there's the same President and roughly the same makeup of the Senate and House of Representatives.

And now it's over.

Of course, it won't seem to be too long before the mid-term elections are here, and then it'll be the 2016 Iowa Caucuses, which will be preceded by about a year with the announcement of who is running. And it'll all start over again.

With all of the attention focused on the Presidential race, one trickle down from the political process has been the New Jersey law legalizing sports wagering, including single-game betting, and the resulting ban on any NCAA championship events in the state of New Jersey.

As a result of that law, Princeton's field hockey team found itself on the road, sort of, yesterday afternoon, when Columbia hosted the NCAA play-in game between the second-ranked Tigers and Patriot League champ Lafayette, a game Princeton won 6-0.

It's impossible to take an objective look at the sports gambling law and the NCAA's position and not reach the obvious conclusion that it's a bit nuts to move a field hockey game that nobody in a million years would bet on across the river into New York state.

The play-in game is a bit odd in field hockey, at least to those used to the way basketball does it. In the case of field hockey, it was predetermined that the Ivy League champ would play the Patriot League champ, based on overall conference RPI.

As a result, Lafayette found itself matched not against a similarly ranked opponent for a spot in the main draw but instead against the No. 2 team in the country. Princeton, for its part, knew that 1) it would be in the main tournament even if it lost and 2) that it would have to go on the road no matter what.

That destination turned out to be Virginia, where Princeton will play Drexel Saturday and then the winner of that game will take on the winner of Virginia-Iowa Sunday for a spot in the Final Four.

Princeton is the second-seed in the tournament, behind No. 1 North Carolina. UConn is the third seed, followed by No. 4 Penn State; Princeton defeated both UConn and PSU during the regular season.

Princeton tore through the Ivy League, going 7-0 and outscoring its league opponents by a ridiculous 45-1. That's one goal allowed in seven league games, or an average score in the league of 6.4-0.14.

Still, for these Tigers, this year has always been about the NCAA tournament and seeing if the Tigers can get back to the Final Four - and maybe even go all the way.

That path started yesterday, when the Tigers thumped Lafayette. And now the draw has been announced, and it's time for Princeton to go to work.

On the road. Because of the new law.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Great Day For Democracy

Today is Election Day.

It's an amazing opportunity here in the United States to participate every year in the marvel that is democracy, regardless of your political leanings.

Stunningly, a bunch of men a long, long time ago came up with a system of government that endures to this day, a system that has been a beacon of freedom that has made people from all over the world want to be a part of it.

The early history of this country is one of fine-tuning that system, including the emergence of two dominant political parties - which at first meant the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans - to make forming governable coalitions possible.

These days, the American political system is a bit disjointed, especially as it relates to the importance that money and influence play in the process. And of course there is the whole problem of politicians who are more interested in maintaining the power that they have, as opposed to actually doing something constructive with it.

Still, what can you say about what's happening in the United States of America today.

All over the country, tens of millions of people are going to the polls and casting their vote for Senators and Representatives and of course the President.

The most amazing part is that the winners will take office and the losers will not, and the if the losers are currently in power, they will leave peacefully - though in some cases grudgingly and after as many legal challenges as possible. But peacefully. Definitely peacefully.

Think about it. This is how this country works.

So go be part of it. Go vote.

Today's Presidential election is the culmination of a long, arduous, sometimes ridiculous and of course absurdly expensive process. It started with a field of Republicans all of whom wanted to challenge President Obama, and at various times it appeared that Michele Bachmann or Hermain Cain or Rick Perry would be the one who did so.

Ultimately, it would be Mitt Romney, and for the last maybe six months or so, it's been Romney vs. Obama, with each side painting its guy as the only one capable of solving a nation's problems and the other as the worst possible choice to ever lead the country - and spending millions of dollars to do so.

All of it leads to today, and to tonight.

If nothing else, it's great, great theater. And if you haven't taken the time to participate, that's your fault.

One thing TB can't understand after all this time is how anyone can still be undecided. Seriously, what more do you need to know? Make up your mind already.

And how'd you like to be Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney today? Can you imagine what it's like to live with something like that hanging over your head?   

Back when the current football season began, TB thought ahead to the week between Penn and Yale as the week of the Presidential election and thought how amazing it was that such a huge piece of history would occur as a natural matter of course in that time. Maybe he's overthinking it all - he was an American history major - but it's so fascinating to him.

The other thought he had back when the football season began was that he hoped that Princeton would have tangible improvement after the back-to-back 1-9 years, and by tangible improvement, he meant wins.

Well, here is Princeton with two weeks left in the season, still with a shot at the Ivy championship. For Princeton to get there, it'd need to win out and then have the winner of Penn-Harvard lose its other game.

Is that likely? Not really. But it's a chance.

Still, this has been a great football season for the Tigers. In the last three weeks, Princeton has played three games that were riveting to watch. In the three weeks before that, Princeton played three games in which it was completely dominant.

Okay, two of the last three haven't gone the way Princeton might have hoped. But hey, what Princeton fan can complain about any of that now?

Besides, no matter what happens the next two weeks, Princeton has already played one of the greatest games in program history - the 39-34 win over Harvard.

And what of those next two weeks?

TB thought before the season that 4-6 would be a great jump for the team. To get to at least .500 would be even better; to finish 6-4 would be an astonishing job from the entire team and its coaching staff.

No matter what, though, Princeton clearly is no longer the weak link of Ivy League football. Better than that, Princeton is positioned very well for the immediate future, with an army of young players who contribute - and excel.

It's been a great first eight weeks of Princeton football. There are still huge accomplishments out there to play for in the final two weeks.

TB's fear was that Princeton fans would have gotten greedy when the team was 3-0 in the league and then view anything less than a championship would be viewed as falling short. This year, that cannot possibly the case.

Princeton has been a fun team to watch. And a successful one.

Who could argue with that?

Monday, November 5, 2012


By the time TigerBlog left the football stadium and made it over to soccer Saturday afternoon, it was already halftime of the Penn-Princeton women's game.

As he walked from the parking lot to the field, TB was approached by a man who asked if he was correct in saying that the game was essentially the Ivy League championship game.

The man was sort of correct.

Princeton had already clinched at least a share of the championship prior to the game, and the Tigers entered Saturday needing a win or a tie to get an outright championship. Penn would have earned a share with a win, and had Penn won, then Dartmouth would have been in the mix with a win over Cornell (which the Big Green would get, 3-0).

Had Princeton lost Saturday, it still would have been a championship season. And it would have felt empty had the Tigers come so close to winning outright only to let it get away.

From Twitter (which, by the way, is the best way to get quick updates on Princeton events), TB knew that Princeton had scored twice in the first half.

The 45 minutes of the second half were fascinating theater.

On the one hand, you had Princeton, trying not to celebrate too early, trying not to look up at the clock that never seemed to move.

On the other, you had Penn, desperately trying to get back into it.

And in Ithaca, you had Dartmouth, also checking Twitter for updates of the game, hoping somehow Penn would win.

It seemed like the party would start when Lauren Lazo scored her third goal of the day, making it 3-0 Tigers with 35 minutes to go.

Then, just like that, everything became lump-in-throat dramatic.

First Penn made it 3-1 with 25 minutes left, and then it became 3-2 with 16 minutes to play. Actually, with 16:43 to play.

Sixteen-forty-three. That's a long, long, long time.

College athletics has an amazing dynamic to it of having coaches spent years and years building teams and then spend hours and hours preparing in a given season, all to hope to be in a situation like Princeton was in Saturday, sixteen-forty-three from a championship.

Had that time gone well, then everyone associated with Princeton women's soccer would have a lifetime of memories to cherish. Had it gone poorly, none of them would have forgotten it anytime soon.

Adding to that was the memory of the second game of this season, when Princeton allowed three late goals - including two that came 1:34 apart with fewer than five minutes left - to turn a comfortable 4-1 lead into a 4-4 tie with Colgate.

This time, though, Princeton did what championship teams do, which was ice the game.

It started, as it usually does, with Jen Hoy, whose 38 points this year are the second-highest single-season total in program history, behind only current assistant coach Esmeralda Negron's 52 in 2004. This time, Hoy outran the defense and forced the goalkeeper to come play her, which led to a loose ball that found its way to Caitlin Blosser, who pounded it into the net for the championship's exclamation point.

It's been a great turnaround season for Princeton and a great year for Hoy, Blosser and the rest of the Tiger seniors, who fulfilled the promise that they came in with as a highly regarded freshman class.

It was also a big year for head coach Julie Shackford, who with this season may have stamped herself as the greatest coach in Ivy women's soccer history.

Only one Ivy League coach, Brown's Phil Pincince with 301, has won more Ivy women's soccer games than Shackford, who has 188 at Princeton (230 overall). The 2012 championship is her sixth, more than four of the other league schools have won in their entire histories and tied with a fifth school.

The venerable Pincince (who has coached 35 seasons, or one fewer than twice the 18 that Shackford has) has won 12, but nine of those came in the earliest days of the sport in the league.

There have been only five 7-0-0 seasons in league history, and two of those are Shackford's. And, on top of that, she also has the crowning achievement of Ivy women's soccer, the 2004 NCAA Final Four appearance that has never been matched before or since by a league school, on her resume.

In fact, in addition to her place in Ivy women's soccer history, Shackford also has to be considered among the greatest women ever to coach at Princeton in any sport.

Last year was a rare down year for Princeton women's soccer, and to come all the way back with a perfect 7-0-0 season is a great accomplishment. Hey, going 7-0-0 anytime is remarkable.

After Blosser's goal, the outcome was really no longer in doubt. When the last minute began to be counted down, the celebration began on the Princeton bench, where the culmination of 12 months of working to get back to the top played out in hugs, shrieks, jumping up and down and eventually with an icy Gatorade cooler poured over the coach's head.

Now it's on to the NCAA tournament, and Princeton will find out its opponent this afternoon at four.

As TB walked out of the stadium, he saw several members of that 2004 team, including Maura Gallagher, Elizabeth Pillion, Emily Behncke, Beth Hendricks and Madeleine Jackson. Princeton women's soccer has a strong and loyal alumnae following, one that was going to be there in force to support a coach and program that means so much to them.

It was that kind of evening for Princeton women's soccer, a night that was so promising, then required everyone to hold their collective breath when Penn made it a one-goal game and ultimately turned into a celebration after Blosser's rocket.

It was a night about the past and the present, and a reaffirmation of what can come of intercollegiate competition, with its lifelong sense of belonging to each other and being there to celebrate the current generation.

Especially on nights like Saturday.

Championship nights.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Storm To Remember

The No. 1 question being asked in these parts these days is this: Has the power come back on?

When TigerBlog is asked that question, he comes up with his stock answer, that he has no power and no electricity. Or that he is powerless.

In reality, it's hard to make jokes - lame of otherwise - about Hurricane Sandy, not these days, not in this part of the country.

After all, what happened here is unbelievable.

The lines that form and seem to stretch forever as cars line up to get gas, often waiting literally for hours. Entire towns are still without power. Traffic lights are out. Trees are down everywhere.

People have lost their homes and, sadly, their lives.

The Jersey Shore, which to so many conjures up so many great memories through the years, is nearly gone.

TigerBlog grew up not far from the Seaside boardwalk, the one that was essentially washed away with the wind and rain from Sandy. He rode on the rides that now are in the Atlantic Ocean.

If one person symbolizes the hurt of people from this area who spent so much of their lives in towns like Seaside and Lavallette and Mantoloking, it's New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, whose performance during this crisis time has been extraordinary.

It's not the level of preparation or the hard work in the aftermath of the storm or even his non-partisan embrace of President Obama's assistance that is remarkable about Governor Christie.

It's the hurt he clearly is feeling as he watches a beloved piece of land in ruins, flooded and in some cases burned and in others completely destroyed. And it's the resolve he shows in saying that it will be reborn.

Frankly, it's inspiring, in a time when so few public officials on either side of the aisle seem to understand what that concept is all about.

Yes, there are tempers flaring as hundreds of thousands are asked to wait patiently for the power to come back on, as their houses become colder and colder at night.

TigerBlog has seen a few people reach their boiling point, including one episode of a shouting match over a parking space in a jammed lot.

For the most part, though, people have faced this challenge with resolve, or maybe just a sense that nature is too strong to battle sometimes, and as a result, there is nothing that can be done other than to ride it out, assess the damage and move on.

It has been a trying week in Princeton, and the impact that the storm had here pales in comparison to what happened 30 miles to the east.

TigerBlog isn't sure how many times the University has been closed in all the years he's worked here, He remembers a huge blizzard (1996?) when it was closed maybe two or three days in a row, and that's the only time he can remember having to close for multiple days.

Today marks the fifth straight day that Princeton University is essentially closed.

With the lack of power and the uncertainty of the weather and everything else, it was left to a few people working behind the scenes to do everything they could to ensure that Princeton's athletic teams had as stable a week as possible to prepare for some huge events this weekend.

And, for that matter, to see that the facilities themselves would be playable come the weekend and that the games could go on as scheduled.

That, as it turns out, is the case.

No Princeton event will need to be postponed or moved to a different time or site.

And that's a good thing, as the fall winds down and Ivy League championships are on the line. The games themselves are also a sign that normalcy is returning - just as the return of more and more traffic lights are as well.

Still, it'll be a long time before every sign of what happened here this week is eliminated, that everyone has power back, that every damaged or destroyed house is rebuilt.

Because of what happened so close to here, the events this weekend will probably not draw the crowds or have the festive feel they otherwise might have, and that's fine.

This is a time for reflecting on an epic event of nature - and to move ahead with the spirit that the Governor embodies.

It'll be good to see Princeton teams playing again and the University attempt to get back to normal.

Succeeding at the first won't be easy, not with the challenges that Princeton's team face this weekend.

At the same time, it certainly won't be as big a task as the second.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Goodbye Sandy

At the height of her trip through Central Jersey, Hurricane Sandy (or Tropical Storm Sandy or Frankenstorm Sandy) was one nasty lady.

It seemed like New York City and the Jersey Shore took the worst of it, with surges of water in tunnels and subways and whole beaches seemingly gone, along with any number of homes near them.

TigerBlog can't imagine what the people who had everything destroyed are going through, and he wishes them all the best as the cleanup begins.

Because he lost power, TigerBlog couldn't see the devastation on television. No TV. No internet. No power. Nothing.

The Princeton area wasn't hit particularly hard in terms of rain, which is good, but the wind was brutal Monday. By the time Tuesday rolled around, it was a bit surreal, with almost no outside activity, few cars on the road, whole towns shut down, almost no businesses operating.

In all the time that TB has worked at Princeton, he cannot remember a time when the University closed due to weather issues for more than two days. This time, the University was shut down Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

It was a lucky break that the storm - the latest hurricane ever to hit this area - occurred during fall break, which meant that most of the students weren't on campus. Had this been during a regular week of school, it would have been a nightmare for University officials.

As for TB, he kept his phone and laptop charged until the power went out, right after "Octopussy" had started as part of a James Bond marathon Monday, after TB had watched "Goldfinger" and "You Only Live Twice."

As an aside, almost a year ago, TB ranked his favorite James Bond movies this way:
1. Live and Let Die
2. The Spy Who Loved Me
3. Diamonds Are Forever
4. Goldfinger
5. Octopussy

As he watched "Goldfinger" again, he thinks he might have been selling that one a little short. He never came close to seeing the scene where 007 stops the nuclear bomb in "Octopussy," since the power went out right when James arrived in New Dehli.

Once the power went out, TB used the flashlight app to see where he was going and all. Eventually, his phone would die, so he recharged it on his laptop, causing that to die.

After that, he had to charge his phone in his car.

As Tuesday progressed, he had absolutely nothing to do and nowhere he could go. His only source of entertainment and information came from his phone, which made keeping it charged imperative.

It was amazing, TB thought, how life can grind to a halt the way it did earlier this week.

Had the storm never materialized, then it would have been business as usual here, with busy days filled with work, kids, life, etc. And then something nobody had any control of emerged, and just like that everything shut down, leaving no choice but to go along with it.

Now that Sandy is gone and things are starting to get back to normal, attention can turn to this coming Saturday, when Princeton and Penn get together four times here at Princeton.

The field hockey team would wrap up an outright Ivy League title with a win, but regardless, the Tigers have already clinched the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

The men's soccer team is playing to keep its shot at an at-large NCAA tournament bid alive, which would require wins over Penn (currently 0-5 in the league) and Yale next weekend at the very least.

As for the women, the game against the Quakers has a ton riding on it.

Princeton is 6-0-0 in the league and 12-3-1 overall, with an RPI of 43 and at least a share of the Ivy League championship regardless of what happens Saturday. A win or tie against Penn and Princeton has the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament as well, which would be a fitting end to a great season.

Should Penn beat Princeton and Dartmouth lose or tie Brown, then Penn would tie Princeton and earn the automatic bid. Should Penn beat Princeton and Dartmouth beat Brown, then there'd be a three-way tie for the title - and the automatic bid would be decided in a random draw.

As for the football game, this one is a big one too, the biggest November game for Princeton since the 2006 championship season.

Princeton and Penn are tied for first at 3-1, along with Harvard, whom Princeton has already beaten and whom Harvard plays next. Princeton finishes its season at Yale and home with Dartmouth.

Should Princeton earn a football championship this year, it would be up there with anything the program has done in the last 50 years or so and would be one of the great achievements in the entire history of the sport here.

Remembering where Princeton was the last few years, just having meaningful November games to play in the first place is a remarkable achievement.

The weather Saturday is supposed to be perfect for the fall - sunny, 50, no chance of rain.

As TB watches the games here, he'll be struck by another surreal feeling, that in a seven-day span he went from watching cross country in perfect conditions to watching football in perfect conditions, with a storm in between that nobody is going to forget for awhile.