Tuesday, December 4, 2018

John Lovett, Two-Time Bushnell Cup Winner

TigerBlog saw a flash of light Sunday night from his car and assumed it was lightning.
Then he saw it was a bunch of different different colors, which suggested either something strange in the atmosphere or, even more improbably, fireworks. On Dec. 2. In the rain.

And yet that's what they were. Rainy fireworks in December.

TigerBlog never figured out why there were fireworks on a rainy December night. Perhaps they were to congratulate the two Bushnell Cup winners, even though the announcement wouldn't be made for a few more hours yet. There wasn't really much drama to the ceremony, held yesterday in New York City.

From about midseason on, it was clear who the two winners would be. On the defensive side of the ball, it was going to be Dartmouth's Isiah Swann. On the offensive side of the ball, it would be Princeton's John Lovett.

And that's exactly how it worked out (you can read the story about Lovett's win HERE).

As a Princeton fan, TB would have liked to have seen Mark Fossati or Tom Johnson win, though he gets why it went to Swann, who intercepted nine passes this year for a defense that ranked second in the FCS in points per game. TB congratulates Swann, just a junior, on the honor.

On the offensive side, it was Lovett's all the way. Lovett and teammate Jesper Horsted were the two finalists, which meant that the offensive player of the year award was going to go to a Princeton player for the third straight year. And, as big a fan of Horsted's as TigerBlog is, Lovett was the clear winner.

Speaking of Horsted, he's the best wide receiver TigerBlog has seen play at Princeton, and TB has seen some good ones. It's not just because he graduates as the all-time leader in receptions and touchdown receptions either.

Why does Horsted leap to the top? Is it just because he's the most recent, or because he played on an unbeaten team? Maybe. There's always that tendency.

But that's not it. TigerBlog made a list of the best wide receivers he's seen play here, and Horsted really combines the best qualities of all of them - hands like Kevin Guthrie and Derek Graham, size like Trey Peacock and Phil Wendler, explosiveness like Marc Ross and Chisom Opara. Probably the best receiver TB has seen here other than Horsted is Michael Lerch, who was the same sort of do-everything player (he even had a sack once as a defensive end), but Horsted adds size that Lerch didn't have that makes him even more of a match-up nightmare.

Even with all that, the Bushnell Cup was always going to go to Lovett. With this win, Lovett becomes Princeton's first two-time Bushnell winner, after he won it in 2016 as well, and the fifth two-time winner in Ivy League history.

Lovett is not the best pure passer TB has seen at Princeton. Jason Garrett actually is. For that matter, Lovett isn't even the best pure passer to win the Bushnell Cup at Princeton in the last two years. Chad Kanoff, the 2017 winner, is.

What Lovett has, though, is a combination of skills and intangibles that are extraordinary. His personality and toughness defined Princeton's 10-0 season, with leadership that was obvious even from TB's seat in the PA booth.

As for what he tangibly brought to the team, Lovett's ability to convert short-yardage situations extended countless drives that resulted in countless points. Because of the way he can run, defenses had to worry about him before anyone else, and that just made everyone else even better. And, even though he had to be the center of attention for every defense (and even though sacks count as negative rushing yards to the quarterback in college instead of negative team passing yards like they do in the NFL), Lovett still averaged 99.3 rushing yards per game this year, not to mention 303 total yards of offense per game.

Princeton won the final 13 games in which Lovett played, and the offense he guided this year is the highest scoring in the history of the league. And consider two other remarkable things: 1) Lovett played more than half of the year with a cast on his non-throwing wrist and 2) he put up gaudy stats while hardly playing in the fourth quarter.

Lovett's legacy goes beyond just two Bushnell Cups, two Ivy League titles and one perfect season, as great as those achievements are. No, with Lovett, it's time to talk about where he ranks all-time in the entire history of Princeton football.

TigerBlog considers himself to be a pretty good historian of Princeton football, and he doesn't think it's hyperbole to say that Lovett belongs in the conversation at least among the 10 greatest players ever to play at Princeton, and certainly to have played at Princeton since the formation of the Ivy League. Of all the players that he's seen at Princeton, going back to the early 1980s, TB would put Lovett in the top two, along with David Patterson, the 1995 Bushnell Cup-winning linebacker.

The ceremony yesterday was televised on ESPN+, and as TB said, neither result was surprising. Nor was it surprising that Lovett, when he spoke, made it seem like he just happened to be the guy who won the award and that it's really a team award.

To some extent, that is true. Princeton's 10-0 season was fashioned by a true team effort, and TB really liked the picture he saw of all of the teammates who were there to share in the moment with Lovett.

But he was the one who made the entire operation run, and everyone of those teammates knows it, even Horsted, as much as TB likes how he plays.

John Lovett though?

TB has never seen anyone at Princeton play football the way Lovett did as a Tiger.


Steven J. Feldman '68 said...

It really hurts to see Maine beat Jacksonville State 55-27 in the first round of the FCS football playoffs. Yale beat Maine earlier in the season 35-14. I realize that Yale had Kurt Rawlings in the Maine game, but Rawlings also played the week before when Yale lost to Holy Cross and he also played in Yale's close game with Cornell. We could have gone a long way in the playoffs, especially against teams that were not that familiar with our multi-weapon offense.

George Clark '69 said...

What a pleasure it has been to watch the Tigers of Lovett and Kanoff these past few years. Tremendous job by Coach Surace and his staff building a juggernaut that will be tough to stop in the future as well. Let's put you on the spot, TB. Who are the Top 10 players in Tiger history?