Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Weekend In Denver

TigerBlog's view of Princeton's men's lacrosse game Saturday at Hofstra was different than the 171 before it.

This past Saturday, for the first time in 12 years, Princeton played a men's lacrosse game that TigerBlog did not attend. His streak ran for 171 straight games, which is a pretty good run.

This time, TigerBlog was 2,000 miles away from Hempstead, watching the videostream of Princeton-Hofstra while he also watched defending NCAA champion Denver host Sacred Heart on the field in front of him.

TigerBlog spent his weekend in Colorado. During his time there, he saw four lacrosse games - the four games of the Face-Off Classic, as Denver and Air Force hosted Sacred Heart and Dartmouth - as well as one basketball game, the one between Denver and North Dakota State.

He drove to the University of Colorado, which he didn't realize was about 30 minutes from Denver. He spent the weekend draped in sunshine with temperatures in the 60s and 70s, all while the snow-capped Rocky Mountains framed his every move in spectacular fashion.

He got to spend time with people he'd met decades ago at Princeton, people who have left indelible marks on him.

And he got to see TigerBlog Jr. play against the defending NCAA champion, his Pioneers against their Pioneers.

When TigerBlog first found out that Sacred Heart would be in Denver, he thought about letting his Princeton lacrosse streak end. It wasn't an easy decision though.

The last time Princeton played a lacrosse game that TigerBlog was not at was in 2004, when the Tigers were at Johns Hopkins in lacrosse and Dartmouth in men's basketball, where a win would clinch an Ivy title. TigerBlog went with basketball over lacrosse that day.

Since then, he hadn't missed a game. Not for any reason. The closest he came was a few years ago at Dartmouth, when he was sick, but he toughed that one out. Even beyond just the actual games, TigerBlog was there when Princeton played games on international trips in Spain, Ireland and Costa Rica.

It was not an easy decision to let that streak end. But there did have to come a day when he'd miss a game, and this seemed like a good reason why.

TigerBlog had been to Denver once before last weekend. That was also back in 2004, for the NCAA basketball tournament, against Texas. He remembered that the weather was surprisingly warm for March, but he didn't really get to see much other than the hotel and the Pepsi Center.

This time it was different.

TigerBlog flew out Friday morning from Philadelphia. About 3.5 hours later, his American Airlines flight made a sweeping right turn on its final approach into Denver International, giving TigerBlog his first look at the unreal beauty that is the Rockies.

With some time to kill, TigerBlog drove out to Boulder to check out the University of Colorado. It's a huge campus, obviously, fitting for a giant state school with an enrollment north of 30,000.

The drive from Denver to Boulder isn't a long one. Driving on Interstate 25, you go past the downtown area, with Coors Field on one side and Sports Authority Field at Mile High on the other. As you come into Boulder, you've reached the foothills of the Rockies, and it looks like you're about to drive into the mountains themselves as you reach the college town.

After his return from Boulder, TigerBlog met up with Joe Scott at a pizza place that he'd found, called Pino's. TigerBlog even got to meet Pino, the owner. TigerBlog remembers Joe from his days as a Princeton basketball player, and he's known him since Scott was on Pete Carril's staff at Princeton. Scott, who would be Princeton's head coach for three years, is now Denver's head coach.

Scott couldn't say enough about how good the pizza is at Pino's, which is saying a lot, because Joe Scott is passionate about good pizza.

That, actually, is Joe Scott in a nutshell. He believes what he believes passionately, whether it's pizza or basketball or people. He is fiercely loyal, and he will never, ever forget where he came from or anyone who is one of "his" guys.

And he cares. You know, about you. About your family. About your work. When he says "how are the kids," he's not doing it to be polite. He's doing it because he genuinely wants to know. 

In a world of superficiality, Joe Scott stands out as one of the most genuine people TigerBlog has ever met. It was great to catch up with him.

It was also great to catch up with the Tierneys, Bill, the greatest lacrosse coach of all time, and his wife Helen, without whom Bill would not be Bill.

Bill won six NCAA titles at Princeton and now has won a seventh at Denver. He's built something incredible at DU, with 1,500 season tickets sold, with both days of the Face-Off Classic sold out, with every DU men's lacrosse game day a big-time event.

TigerBlog was in Denver because of the Tierneys. Without them, he would not have gotten into lacrosse the way he did, and certainly TigerBlog Jr. would not have.

TBJ is a freshman at Sacred Heart. He's living out his dream of playing Division I lacrosse, and nobody - other than TigerBlog - is more responsible for TBJ's love of the sport and his development as a player than Bill Tierney.

Once upon a time, TBJ was a little kid tailing his father around to Princeton events. For whatever reason, he and Bill Tierney clicked right away. When TBJ was six or seven, he referred to the hall-of-fame coach as "my friend Bill." When TBJ needed a helmet or a stick or anything, he got it from Bill.

TBJ's goalie stick broke the day before he had his first tournament to play in, a third/fourth grade tournament. What was the solution? Call "his friend Bill," who told him to go into his garage and pick one.

More than anything else, TBJ got encouragement from Tierney, who let TBJ come to his summer camps at Princeton a few years earlier than he was supposed to. Bill once came to see TBJ play in fourth grade, sitting far away from the rest of the crowd. TigerBlog, TBJ's coach, didn't know if TBJ realized that Bill was there - until TBJ went straight from the handshake line to where Bill was sitting to give him a big hug.

And now here he was, playing Division I lacrosse on Bill's field. How could TigerBlog miss that?

It's been an interesting experience, seeing college sports from the perspective of a parent after all of these years of seeing it from his usual perspective. On the night before Sacred Heart's opener, TigerBlog found himself near the field where his son had first played lacrosse, 11 years ago. He couldn't help but get nostalgic.

Last Saturday in Denver, after Bill's Pioneers beat TBJ's Pioneers 18-7, TigerBlog and Tierney stood outside the SHU lockerroom, waiting for TBJ. Eventually he came out, and TigerBlog took a picture of the two of them together.

This is common after lacrosse games. Pictures, and food. In the world of college lacrosse, it seems like every game has people on the opposing teams who know each other, and there's always the kid in the one jersey with his arm around the kid in the other jersey.

This one was a little different. This wasn't two high school teammates.

This was a little kid who grew up with a dream that he is now living out - and a legendary coach who did so much to help him get there.

It was the highlight of TigerBlog's weekend in Denver.

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