Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Right Stuff, Redux

TigerBlog has told you this story once before, so indulge him again.

On the other hand, it's possibly you don't remember it, since it was back in 2011.

When TB was a student at Penn, he spent a lot of time going to the movies in a little theater on 40th Streeet, next to Smokey Joe's, whose website claims that if you've ever attended or worked at Penn, you've probably been there. TB would have to concur, and in fact he'd guess that's probably close to 100 percent true.

Anyway, one night his friend Ed Mikus Jr. asked him if he wanted to go see the movie "The Right Stuff," which TB knew had something to do with astronauts. He also knew it was three hours long, and he doubted he could sit through a movie that lasted that long, at least he thought at the time.

He went anyway. Back in those days, there were no cell phones, and TB didn't have a watch, so he had no idea how long he'd been watching. At one point, though, he noticed someone else's watch, and it said that the movie was past the 2:30 mark.

All these years later, and TB still remembers the astonished feeling he had at knowing how quickly the time had gone by. He would have guessed before he saw the time that it had been about 30 minutes in, not 30 minutes from the end.

The movie remains one of the best he's ever seen. It's mostly about the original seven Mercury astronauts, but it begins on Oct. 13, 1947, the day before Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, a previously unimaginable accomplishment that many thought would result in certain death.  

Pretty good stuff, right? Or is that, the right stuff?

Chuck Yeager died this week at the age of 97. He lived 73 years past when he broke the sound barrier, and he joins those seven Mercury astronauts are some of the greatest American heroes of all time.

As TB said, he told you that story back in 2011. It was back on April 13, 2011, in fact.

TB didn't remember the context of why he wrote that in the first place. When he went back and checked it out again, he connected it to the Princeton-Rutgers men's lacrosse game of the night before.

That game saw Princeton defeat Rutgers 11-10 after trailing 8-3 in the third quarter on what was one of the most miserable weather nights you'll ever see. Also, both teams were sub-.500 that year, which for Princeton was a season known mostly for two things: 1) a staggering number of injuries and 2) the emergence of freshman Tom Schreiber as a world class star.

TB wrote this after the part about the movie:

The game was delayed by lightning for 75 minutes, and it was played in really strong wind, temps that fell as the game went along and periods of heavy rain. This was the 89th meeting in the series, and - with Rutgers at .500 after a loss to Marist and Princeton at 2-6 and battling injuries that have crippled what was a promising season - this figured to be one of the least memorable of all of them. The fact that almost nobody was there to see it made it even more likely that the game would be an afterthought. But that's the beauty of sports. You never know when you're going to stumble across a game that starts out with no expectation and then ends up being not only exciting to the very end but also historically unprecedented.

As TB reread that, he was struck by the notion of what he said about the beauty of sports. It's so true.

There are two kinds of great games. There are the big ones, where two teams play for first place or a championship or something tangible. And there are the other ones, where the records and standings might not suggest that something special is about to happen and then you get to see something extraordinary.

The first kind you know is coming and the buildup is there leading up to the start. Often those games don't live up to the hype.

The other kind gives no sense that it's about to happen, and that makes it even more special. When TB thinks back to that night at Rutgers, he remembers sitting in his car during a massive thunderstorm waiting to hear if the game would be played at all. The idea that he was about to see one of the best games he'd ever see never entered his mind.

There have been a lot of games like that in TB's time here. Maybe there haven't been many that approached that Rutgers game, but there have been so many nights where TB had no expectations of anything out of the ordinary and suddenly he found himself watching a masterpiece.

It's part of what makes working in sports so great.

It's also part of what TB is looking forward to the most when the games start again, having that feeling of being struck once again by the magnificent capabilities of athletic competition.

For now, he's waiting patiently, hoping it'll come around soon enough.

And as for "The Right Stuff?" If you've never seen it, make sure you watch. It's worth your three hours, even though it won't seem nearly that long.

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