Thursday, October 26, 2017

Heps Time

TigerBlog was on the phone yesterday afternoon when he saw a familiar face outside his office door.

It was John Mack.

It's always good to see John. If you don't remember John Mack, he was a 10-time Heptagonal track and field champion and Roper Trophy winner before he graduated about 50 years ago. Okay, it was only 17 years ago, though TigerBlog likes to refer to him as a curmudgeonly old alum.

In reality, John Mack looks about the same as he did the day he graduated from here, by which time he'd already been a student-worker in the Office of Athletic Communications. He then worked in the athletic department for a few years before returning to the Midwest to work at Northwestern.

After that it was law school at Northwestern. And then marriage. And now three little kids - "my wife has been pregnant each of the last three Christmases," he said.

And there he was in the doorway.

It's always good to see him. He actually babysat for TigerBlog Jr. and Miss TigerBlog a few times when they were really little, including the night when MTB would not get off Cinnamon, a rocking horse.

As he usually does, John brought up former Princeton men's basketball player Ahmed El-Nokali, who also has three kids. As John talked about Ahmed, it dawned on TB that he was a similar type of player to Amir Bell, the subject of this week's episode of "Hard Cuts."

Ahmed, like John Mack, is an all-time TB favorite. TB thought Ahmed was living in England, but it turns out that he's actually back in Pittsburgh, near where he grew up.

TB is pretty sure Ahmed is still doing some financial thing, as opposed to basketball broadcasting, which is something that Ahmed did a little of and was really good at.

As for John Mack, one of TigerBlog's favorite stories in all the time he's worked here is when he and Mack were passengers in a car driven to Heps cross country in New York City. The rest of the story involves a former Ford Family Director of Athletics, the elevated subway line, a Do Not Enter sign and a McDonalds' drive thru.

The Heps cross country meet is one of TigerBlog's favorite events of the Ivy League calendar. The 2017 version takes place tomorrow at Van Cortlandt Park, with the women's race at 11 and the men's race at noon.

Heps cross country is a combination of party and athletic event. Each of the eight Ivy League schools will have a tent set up along the sidewalk near the finish line, and there will be food, food and more food at each. There will be old friends and alums and familiar faces, with lots of laughs and hugs.

At the same time, it's also the Ivy League championship meet, and the first two Ivy champs of the 2017-18 academic year will be crowned there tomorrow.

Where is Princeton in all of this? Both teams have interesting storylines.

The men's team ran a very close second to Penn a year ago at Heps cross country and then won the indoor and outdoor track and field titles. The Tigers this fall have been a mystery, since the A team has only run together once, last weekend at the Princeton Invitational.

On the other hand, the Tigers looked really good in that race. It certainly has helped build the excitement for tomorrow.

As for the women, they also figure to be in the hunt for the championship. The Tigers have the added boost of the return of the 2014 Heps champ, Megan Curham, who has battled injuries since.

TigerBlog has seen some great moments at the Heps championships at Van Cortlandt. It was there in 2009 that Princeton's women went 1-2-3-4-5, the only time that's ever happened at Heps for men or women.

He was there in 2010 to see then-junior Donn Cabral run away from the field down the final straightaway. TigerBlog is hard-pressed to describe how impressive Cabral was over the final 200 meters or so of that race. He was in a full sprint, not looking the least bit bothered. And, as TB recalls, Cabral was sick that day.

Since then, by the way, Cabral has been an NCAA champion and a two-time Olympic finalist in the steeplechase.

The setting at Heps is pretty much perfect for a championship event like this. The weather when the event has been held in Princeton has included snow and torrential rain. At Van Cortlandt, it always seems to be perfect.

Tomorrow's forecast? Sunny and 64.


The best part, other than the tents, is when the runners come towards the finish line and the spectators and coaches are left to try to figure out which team is the winner. At first, it's easy to keep up. Then, as the flood of runners pours across the line, it becomes impossible, at least for TB.

If you're in New York, get out there tomorrow to see it.

John Mack won't be there. He's back in Detroit, where he grew up.

He's always welcome in TB's office. He knows that.

It was great to see him the other day. He knows that too.

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