Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Speaking Of Indiana

Did TigerBlog mention that he was in Indiana last week?

It was actually his fourth trip to the state, all four of which have been for Princeton Athletics business. It dawned on TB as he got on the plane to head there nearly a week ago that it was the first time he'd be making the trip without Tom McCarthy - Princeton's former football and basketball radio voice - as his travel partner.

The first of the four trips was in March 1996, for what figured to be a quick stay at the NCAA men's basketball tournament. It was an emotional few days for the Tigers, who had just snapped an eight-game losing streak to Penn with a stunning overtime win over Penn at Lehigh in an Ivy League playoff game, on a night that became even more stunning when Pete Carril announced that he would be retiring after the NCAA tournament.

As for that NCAA tournament, it all seemed like it was going to be so anti-climatic. Princeton drew UCLA, the defending NCAA champion, at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. Even as he prepared to go, TigerBlog figured that Princeton fans would talk about that night at Lehigh forever, with little thought given to the following tournament game.

As it turned out, TB was wrong. In one of the more amazing things about TB's time here, that playoff game against Penn has been relegated to an afterthought, even though, really, it's one of the top three or so most emotional events TB has been a part of here.

TigerBlog has heard many of the players involved say that the win over Penn meant more to them than what happened a few days later, when Princeton beat UCLA 43-41 in one of the most famous college basketball games ever.

As TB walked from the Westin to the Indiana Convention Center the other day, he couldn't remember which of the several hotels that are all connected by walkways was the one in which he stayed in 1996. He does remember the walkways, which took him to the RCA Dome - which no longer exists - and today would take someone all the way to Lucas Oil Stadium.

He also remembers that, back in 1996, his postseason media guides were shipped to Indianapolis, to the RCA Dome. When he got there, the guides were nowhere to be found, and he had to struggle to quickly get them reprinted, which he was able to do. It wasn't until he got back to Princeton that he wondered whatever happened to the original guides, and when he investigated, he found out that a very nice woman signed for them and put them in a closet. They were probably still there in 2007, when the building was torn down.

Speaking of the RCA Dome, TB will also never be able to think about his time there without remembering the sign that then-intern Vinnie DiCarlo brought back with him, the one that said "This Is Not A Public Entrance To The RCA Dome."

The days TB spent at the RCA Dome were obviously among the best, if not the very best, that he has had in his time at Princeton. After the win over UCLA, everyone in the area immediately became a Princeton fan, especially in the local restaurants, when TB and the travel party went to eat and found out that there was a Princeton connection. It was an incredible trip, from start to just about finish, as the second round loss to Mississippi State was a big letdown.

One last story - TB assumed that Princeton was going to lose to UCLA, so he only packed to stay until the day after the first round. Once Princeton won, he had to go to the local mall to buy clothes for the next two days.

His next two trips to Indiana were also for Princeton basketball, each time with a different head coach.

The first was later in 1996, when Bill Carmody coached his first game as Carril's successor, at Indiana University. TigerBlog, as well as McCarthy and Mark Eckel, then of the Trenton Times, missed their flight from Newark to Indianapolis on the day of the game because of a major accident at Newark Airport. Instead, they ended up driving to Philadelphia, getting on another flight and making it to Bloomington on time, but with not much time to spare.

Then, in 2000, the flight was to Indianapolis and then a two hour drive to Muncie, home of Ball State University. It was there that John Thompson III won his first - and then second - games as a head coach, as Princeton knocked off Weber State and Ball State to win the First Merchants Classic.

JT3 and the rest of the staff celebrated both nights, by the way, at the local Outback Steakhouse.

Anyway, the trip last week included a stop at the Purdue-Wisconsin game. TB watched Purdue blow away the Badgers at Mackey Arena and then watched essentially a repeat on TV Saturday at Iowa. Purdue is for real.

Added all together, and TB has gone to Indiana four times. In those four trips, he's seen 12 college basketball games, only five of which featured the Tigers, with three different Tiger head coaches.

Indiana. Basketball.

There's a movie in there somewhere.

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