Monday, September 28, 2020

Happy 75th

This past Saturday would have been the home opener for the Princeton football team.

It would have been Bucknell at Princeton. TigerBlog supposes the game would have been on Faculty and Staff Day, and he further assumed it would have been an evening kickoff.

The game would have been a rematch of the one a year ago in Lewisburg, where Princeton defeated Bucknell 56-23 on a steamy day.

Kevin Davidson threw an Ivy League-record seven touchdown passes in that Princeton win, while Andrew Griffin tied the Ivy League record by catching four of those.

Both Davidson and Griffin had played smaller roles in their careers prior to last season, when they both exploded into starring roles. By season's end, Griffin was a first-team Academic All-American - Princeton football's first in 21 years - and Davidson was on his way to the Cleveland Browns' training camp. 

Though two weeks of this season, there would in all certainty have been seniors like Davidson and Griffen a year ago, players who waited their turn for three years and then took advantage of it when the opportunity came for them. Through the years those have been some of TB's favorite Princeton athletes, the ones who were loyal to the program, worked hard, stayed with and finally were rewarded with a chance.

There have been dozens - hundreds - across all sports through the years. 

If you are such a player, you have done more than gotten a chance for some playing time. You've learned a lot about yourself, and you've taken lessons that you almost surely will use for the rest of the your life in tough situations. 

That's one of the great values in sports. 

There will always be athletes who come in and from Day 1 are stars. It's not to say that they don't work hard - quite the opposite, most stars are also the hardest workers. It's just that there's always something to be said for the ones who have work just as hard but don't get to show what they can do in the games. 

It would be easy to give up, or to not work as hard.

For Davidson, his situation was even tougher, since he would almost surely have been the starter for two years had John Lovett not gotten hurt and missed what would have been his senior season of 2017. Instead, Lovett came back the next year to win a second Bushnell Cup and lead Princeton to a 10-0 record. 

Davidson then had only one year as a starter, and he led Princeton to an 8-2 record. His name can be found in many places in the Princeton record book, under "career" as well as "individual."

As TB went about his business Saturday evening, he contrasted things to what would have been had there been a game. He would have been in the press box. There would almost surely have been an event in the Class of 1956 Lounge.

And of course, between those two locations, he almost surely would have seen Gary Walters, the Ford Family Director of Athletics Emeritus.

Gary is a part of the fabric of Princeton Athletics. His role in the history of the athletic program is secure.

He first came to Princeton in the fall of 1963, after playing high school basketball for Pete Carril at Reading High in Pennsylvania. By his sophomore year, he was the starting point guard on a team that reached the NCAA Final Four. As a senior, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

He would go on to a career in coaching, television and finance before shifting to return to Princeton in 1994 as the fourth Director of Athletics. He would spend 20 years as the Tiger AD, during which time Princeton teams combined for 220 Ivy League championships, or 74 more than the next-best total in the league during those years.

His legacy includes a great deal more than just on-field success. He was the one who originated the phrase "Education Through Athletics," a core belief that is still about more than just words on a sign. There was so much more than that, in areas like facilities, gender equity and the integration of athletics into the overall educational mission of the University. 

Like his successor, Mollie Marcoux Samaan, Gary very much valued the student-athlete experience and the role athletics played in the education of the student-athletes above all else.

Beyond all the Princeton stuff,  Gary also was a national leader, especially in his role on the Division I men's basketball committee, eventually rising to committee chair.

Today is Gary's birthday. His 75th.

It would have been good to see him at the football game Saturday night. There will be others.

In the meantime, happy birthday to Gary. 

There haven't been many Princetonians who have given more than he has.

No comments: