Friday, May 29, 2015

Friends And Friendships

TigerBlog looked around the tent at the Grad College last night and saw friends - but not friendships - about to go their separate ways.

It's the inevitability that comes with a graduation that is looming less than a week away. TigerBlog sees it each year under the same tent. Four years, gone in the blink of an eye.

This time, it's the Class of 2015 that will be heading off Princeton's campus and into whatever their next chapter holds for each of them.

The occasion last night was the 18th senior awards banquet, now officially called the Gary Walters ’67 Princeton Varsity Club Senior Awards Banquet.

As is always the case, the banquet is on this Thursday in May, followed in short order by Reunions, Class Day and then graduation. The banquet is the start of a long weekend sprint in which the members of that particular class go from business-as-usual teammates and undergrads to alums in a matter of hours.

And then, after that weekend sprint, they're off. Friends, with friendships that will endure.

It's the best part of Princeton University, and especially Princeton Athletics.

They come here when they're 18, from all over the country and outside the country, completely unaware of how special their time here will be. They leave four years later, having since figured out how special this place is, and with a rock-solid foundation of friendships that will never end.

TigerBlog saw a reinforcement of that Monday at the NCAA men's lacrosse championship game, where Princeton's 1997 team was honored, 18 years after they graduated.

And he saw another reinforcement of that last night at the banquet, in the form of an incredible speech from Jason Garrett, the 1988 Bushnell Cup winner as the Ivy League football Player of the Year and the current head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

Garrett, who accepted the Citizen Athlete Award for outstanding contribution to sport and society, was so good that it was almost enough to get TigerBlog to root for the Cowboys over the Giants next year. Almost. But not quite.

Like the 1997 men's lacrosse team, Garrett was all about the enduring friendships and teammates that he found while at Princeton, including the one with his center, current Princeton head coach Bob Surace.

Garrett was hilarious at times, and at others he tied that humor into really hard-hitting messages. It was a great combination.

For instance, the former quarterback was talking about all of the great reasons that go into choosing to attend Princeton. In his case, he said, it was because "they threw the ball a lot."

Fairly simple.

Garrett told another story about his last preseason game when he was attempting to make the Cowboy roster as a player. He talked about how Troy Aikman, the starting quarterback, wasn't even dressed for the game and was instead eating a hot dog on the sideline.

He talked about how he went out for the second half, starting on his own 2 yard line. And how the huddle had 11 players - him, nine others trying to make the team and one established starter, Kevin Gogan, who was stuck playing with the group.

How did Garrett describe Gogan? If he walked into this tent, Garrett said, then everyone would immediately think he was the biggest person they ever saw. He was 6-8, 350 pounds. He had a giant head and giants hands.

And as Garrett said, instead of being part of that drive he would much rather "be eating hot dogs too."

Oh, and he called the red-headed Garrett "Red Ball."

And that's where the story took a turn. Garrett talked about how the offense put together three or four first downs and got across midfield. He was feeling pretty good about things during a timeout, and when he came back onto the field, he said he was going to show what a great leader he was. And so he asked the team what snap count they wanted to go on.

That's when Gogan took over.

"Hey Red Ball," he said, "you're the quarterback. You pick the snap count."

The moral? All great teams need leadership. And when you're in a leadership role, Garrett said, you lead. When you're the leader, grasp the mantle of leadership.

It was brilliant.

He also talked about Fred Samara, the men's track and field coach, who worked with Garrett before the NFL combine, when he was trying to improve on his  40 time. What did Samara tell him? You suffer from "finish line anxiety."

Don't worry about the finish line, was the message. Just run.

Garrett was a great part of the banquet, but he wasn't the only part.

This year, unlike years past, there were finalists announced for the Roper Trophy and von Kienbusch Award in advance. The one winner of each award, for the top male and female athletes, were then announced last night.

The finalists were all featured in two videos - produced by John Bullis - that featured comments from each athlete's coach and some highlights of the athlete, with voiceovers that chronicled their accomplishments.

And then, when those were over, the winner was announced. Women's basketball player Blake Dietrick for the women. Men's lacrosse player Mike MacDonald for the men.

Men's tennis player Zack McCourt gave the keynote address, representing the senior athletes. There were other award winners as well, with Tiana Woolridge of the women's volleyball team and Andrew Mills of the men's soccer team honored for service with the Art Lane Award and sprint football player Chris McCord honored for academic achievement. Tara Christie Kinsey, the outgoing Associate Dean of the College, won the Marvin Bressler Award for her work with Princeton's student-athletes.

With that, another banquet had come and gone. It was the first for Mollie Marcoux as Ford Family Director of Athletics, who took over as the host from Gary Walters, who had done so for the first 18.

To TigerBlog, the banquet is always a great measure of time, the sign that another academic year has essentially ended, another trip around the calendar complete.

For TigerBlog, there will be other years at Princeton, other banquets. At least he has no reason to suspect there won't be.

For the senior athletes, they're time as Princeton undergrads are ending for good. They'll all be leaving campus next week.

Friends, heading in all kinds of directions.

Friendships, etched in stone forever.

And that was what the banquet is always about.

Last night was no different. 

No comments: