Friday, December 16, 2016

Let's Fly Away

You know how you know you got up really early one morning?

If, like TigerBlog did once, you got up in the Princeton area, got dressed, went to Philadelphia airport, got on a plane, flew to Kansas City (the one in Missouri), drove an hour to Lawrence (the one in Kansas) - and still got to the hotel in time for the breakfast buffet?

That's getting up early.

That was 17 years ago, when Princeton played men's basketball out at the famous Allen Field House at the University of Kansas. It was a pretty good game, even if KU won 82-67.

Chris Young was the best player on the court, with 20 points (or twice as many as future NBA players Kirk Heinrich and Nick Collison combined to score that night), six rebounds and five assists. C.J. Chapman was 5 for 8 from three-point range for 15 points.

Air travel at this time in those years was standard for TigerBlog. That same year, 1999, he flew to Charlotte and even Nova Scotia for games. A year earlier, the destinations included Ames, Iowa, and Honolulu (something of a contrast). The next year, it was Muncie, Indiana, and New Orleans.

And it was all because of Princeton basketball.

If you work at Princeton, you can certainly see the world. And the country. TigerBlog knows this. So do his co-workers.

As TigerBlog writes this, it's gotten him to wondering when the first time a Princeton team flew to an away game was. The first time Princeton played men's basketball at a location where the current team would go by airplane was Dec. 30, 1920, when the team played at the University of Chicago.

A little less than two years later, the football team would play one of its most famous games ever, also at the University of Chicago. TigerBlog is assuming train for both of those trips.

The 1926-27 Tigers played three straight games around New Year's at Ohio State, Kentucky and Cincinnati. In none of those three games, by the way, did any team score more than 33 points. Again, TB is thinking train.

The 1940-41 Tigers, under Cappy Capon by then, played five games in a 10-day stretch spanning the end of December and the beginning of January - at Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Chicago. Anyone want to try that now?

Were people flying to the Midwest instead of taking the train by then?

Anyway, there's no way to know when Princeton first flew. TB does know that Princeton teams do a lot of flying these days.

Just look at where the Office of Athletic Communications staff has been in the last two months alone.

By TB's estimate, he and his Office of Athletic Communications colleagues have flown more than 60,000 miles total in that time (and that doesn't count the trip to Italy and back that Andrew Borders took with men's basketball in the summer). That, by the way, is equal to 2.5 times around the Earth at the equator.

Each member of the office has been to at least one far-away place (TigerBlog went to Portugal, if you remember) except for Warren Croxton, and he is heading off today with women's basketball for a game at Kansas State (a more-than-2,000-mile round trip).

TigerBlog likes to fly. Well, maybe he doesn't like to fly, but he likes to have flown somewhere. Does anyone really like to actually fly?

What TB really doesn't like is the long, long wait at the airport before he gets on his flight. Sometimes he gets a little antsy. Back when he was doing all that flying with men's basketball, you could get to the airport an hour before the flight and be fine.

Now, obviously, you have to be there hours and hours in advance, especially for international flights. When TB went to Portugal, the team got to Kennedy Airport more than four hours before the plane left, so early that the team couldn't even check its luggage yet.

TB missed a flight once. That was for Bill Carmody's first game as Princeton head coach, at Indiana. TigerBlog, along with Tom McCarthy (radio play-by-play) and Mark Eckel (sportswriter), were to fly on the day of the game to Indianapolis from Newark, except a major truck accident on the New Jersey Turnpike made the three of them late.

As they sprinted  to the gate, they got to see the plane as it backed away. The gate agent didn't agree with TigerBlog that the plane should come back and get them, even though it hadn't gone more than 20 feet or so by that point. TB ran through the airport carrying a box of media guides, by the way. It was quite a workout.

Oh, and as for the game, they got there in plenty of time - after they drove down the Turnpike to Philadelphia Airport to get a flight from there.

The worst turbulence he's ever experienced was on a flight back from Princeton's game in 1997 at North Carolina. That was about 30 minutes of just awful bouncing all over the place, up and down, even side to side. TB didn't exactly love that.

His old next-door neighbor was a pilot for Pan Am for 40 years. When TigerBlog would tell him where Princeton was flying next, his neighbor - Bill - would tell him the route that they'd be taking, what runway they'd probably land on, what way they'd approach the destination, how deep the ocean was in the area, what they'd see along the way.

Bill also shrugged off ever having to worry about turbulence. The wings of the plane, he explained, are designed to bend to almost 90 degrees, and the pilots just keep chatting with each other no matter how bad the turbulence.

Bill once told TB about a time he was flying to Tokyo and was two hours out over the Pacific from San Francisco when he lost two engines on a 747. Oh no, TB said. What did you do? Bill looked at him with a quizzical look and said "well, I turned around."

TigerBlog was flying back on a snowy night once from a tournament in Iowa. As the plane was reaching Philadelphia, it started to go through turbulence. The pilot came on the intercom and said this: "you think this is bad? I can tell you stories."Then, as the plane was closer, he said that it was snowy in Philadelphia and he hates landing in snow because "then I have to clear it off my car. Landing the plane? That's no problem."

TB liked that.

He can't imagine how many miles he's flown in his time here. He has been with Princeton teams in eight different time zones, he knows that.

TigerBlog is definitely a window-seat guy.
He likes to try to figure out where he is - something made easier these days by in-flight maps on the seat back displays, along with movies and TV shows. He likes the landmarks, especially flying over a big stadium.

He likes to look out and see the world around him. Day or night. Land or ocean. Clear or cloudy. He likes to look out and see what he can see and imagine what's going on down there.

It's a pretty big world out there. Working here has made it a little smaller.

It's been a really, really special part of the job.


Anonymous said...

TB, nice column today about flying. Sometimes, your best pieces simply provide a window into what it's like to work in the OAC. Keep up those very enjoyable essays.

Did you notice that Dartmouth has signed a four-game contract to resume its intra-state football rivalry with the New Hampshire Wildcats? The series will resume in 2021 and includes games in '22, '24 and '25.

This is relevant to Princeton as we consider the merits of our own potential one-game intra-state rivalry with Rutgers to celebrate the sesquicentennial of college football in 2019. The relevance derives from the fact that, in 2016 as well as most other seasons, the New Hampshire Wildcats are more highly regarded by computer algorithms than Rutgers, Lehigh or any Ivy opponent.

Dartmouth is willing to assume the risk, injury and otherwise, of committing to compete against a perennial FCS power through 2025. Surely we can accept the risk of facing a weaker Rutgers program one time only on August 31, 2019 to commemorate the singular role that Princeton and Rutgers played in the history of college football.

We launched this whole thing we all love called football. Let's own it and let's party like we own it.

Anonymous said...

For illustration purposes, here are the 2016 Sagarin computer rankings of selected teams among the 253 Division I programs, through last weekend (December 10):

1. Alabama
2. Ohio State
3. Michigan
4. Washington
5. Clemson
6. Penn State
7. Southern California
8. Wisconsin
37. North Dakota State (highest ranked FCS)
43. Eastern Washington (second highest FCS)
51. James Madison (FCS finalist and Princeton graduate)
56. Notre Dame
66. Youngstown State (FCS finalist)
67. Texas
111. Villanova (regular Penn opponent)
126. New Hampshire (once and future Dartmouth opponent)
135. Princeton
139. Lehigh (ranked higher at end of regular season, before losing in FCS playoffs)
140. Rutgers (played in first college football game circa 1869)
176. Penn (in 1899, changed founding date to 1740 to appear older than Princeton)
199. Harvard (a college in Massachusetts)
210. Dartmouth (finally got that monkey off our backs)
218. Columbia
220. Yale
221. Cornell
224. Lafayette
226. Brown (terrible name for a college)