Friday, October 29, 2021

Moving Ahead

The main focus of Ivy League football the past few days has been the controversial ending of the Princeton-Harvard game.

If you're rooting for Harvard, you'll never the Princeton perspective. If you're rooting for Princeton, you'll never see the Harvard perspective. 

Or will you? It's like one of those debate societies, where you're made to argue the opposite point from the one you believe. TigerBlog tried that in this case, and well, he still comes back to Princeton.

If anything, the game last weekend speaks to two issues that are for another day: 1) the way replay is used and 2) if ties are okay and if not how overtime should be run. That's sort of 2A and 2B.

The game will be discussed by fans for a long time. The reality is that the teams had to turn the page immediately, since the Ivy race moves on.

Both Princeton and Harvard have incredibly tough challenges in front of them, and they have to respond to them without holding on to the emotions of last weekend. It won't be easy for either team.

Harvard is now one of four teams in the league at 2-1. By chance, there are two games this weekend between those 2-1 teams, meaning that by Saturday night two of those teams will be 3-1 and the other two will be 2-2. They're not exactly elimination games, but history is not kind to two-loss Ivy teams.

Harvard is home against Dartmouth tomorrow, while Columbia is at Yale in the other 2-1 vs. 2-1 game. Dartmouth is another team looking to get past last weekend, when the Big Green were shut out 19-0 by Columbia. 

The Lions themselves are 5-1, with only a loss to Princeton, and they are thinking big for the next four weeks too. The same is true of Yale, the only one of the four 2-1 teams who is not 5-1 overall but who is at home tomorrow and who shared the last championship with Dartmouth.

Factor in the forecast for tomorrow in New England, which is for heavy rain and wind, and who knows what direction those games will go in.

The weather for tonight in Ithaca is for rain but not for wind. The temperature will be in the 50s at 6, when Princeton and Cornell tee it up (you can watch it on ESPNU), and they will drop slightly as the game goes on. 

Princeton's task is really difficult. The Tigers have to put last week in the rearview, travel to Ithaca, play on a short week in iffy weather and take on a team that has given them all sorts of fits on Schoellkopf Field through the years.

Cornell comes into the game at 1-5 overall and 0-3 in the Ivy League, which means absolutely nothing. The Big Red have been a very tough out in their three Ivy games, falling by six to Yale, 14 to Harvard and four to Brown. 

Cornell had the ball in the fourth quarter down a touchdown to the Crimson three times but could not tie it. The game wasn't put away until Harvard scored a TD with 1:47 left. That will certainly get your attention.

As TB said, history suggests a tough night as well. In Bob Surace's tenure as Princeton head coach, the Tigers are 3-0 against Cornell in years they win the Ivy title and 3-4 in years they don't. Most recently, in 2019, Cornell gave Princeton fits all night in what became a 21-7 Tiger win.

Princeton follows the game against Cornell with another long trip for a Friday night ESPNU game, this time at Dartmouth. After that is the home game against Yale finally the trip to Penn.

There are any number of combinations left for the Ivy League race. Certainly this weekend's results will give you at least a sense of what's what as October turns to November. 

The bottom line is that nothing is a gimme in this league. Don't be fooled by the records. Don't look ahead to the rest of the schedule. Don't dwell on last week. 

Well, maybe there's one more thing about last week that's well worth remembering for Princeton as it heads to Cornell. 

If you want to win a championship, every possession matters.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

A Staggered Saturday

So if you were looking for TigerBlog yesterday morning and didn't see it, that's because TigerBlog set it to post at 12 pm instead of 12 am.

That happens once or twice a year, so you're set for awhile. In the meantime, please accept TB's apologies. 

What? You thought he forgot to write? Never. 

He's especially not going to forget now that there is so much going on. Here it comes, everyone. It's almost time for the first weekend of the first crossover season this year.

The fall/winter crossover isn't usually as busy as its winter/spring counterpart, but there is plenty that will be coming down the pike in the next few weeks. 

This weekend you'll have huge events for fall teams who are chasing championships and postseason bids, as well as the opening weekend for men's and women's hockey. By next weekend you can add men's and women's swimming and diving to the mix, and then men's and women's basketball season opens shortly after that.

For this weekend, both hockey teams are away - the women at Yale and Brown and the men at Army. Those are real games, by the way, and not scrimmages.

For today, TB will stay focused on the fall. Specifically, there are four teams on campus Saturday, beginning at 11 am and then staggered throughout the day so that you can see every minute of all four events. All four will either directly decide the Ivy League championship or go a long way towards doing so.

TB will go chronologically. 

First, there are the Ivy League Heptagonal cross country championships at the West Windsor course, with the women at 11 and the men at noon.

On the women's side, no Ivy League team is ranked in the national poll. If you go to the regional polls, Princeton is ranked fourth in the Mid-Atlantic Region, behind usual suspects West Virginia, Villanova and Georgetown. Penn is ranked eighth in the region. 

There are then five other Ivy schools ranked in the Northeast Region, led by Harvard, Columbia and Yale at 4-5-6.

What does this mean for the women's race? It figures to be close.

There are two nationally ranked men's teams, Princeton (No. 18) and Harvard (No. 25). What does this mean for the men's race? It also figures to be close.

There aren't too many events on the Ivy League calendar each year that TigerBlog likes more than Heps cross country. Each of the schools has a tent with alums and friends, and the day has a party feel to it. The colors when the teams line up at the start are awesome, and trying to figure out who won as you watch the runners come to the finish line is always challenging.

When the two races end, it'll be time to walk over to Sherrerd Field for the soccer doubleheader against Cornell. It starts at 1 with the women and then continues at 4 with the men.

There are two games left in the women's regular season, and here is where things stand: Brown is 5-0-0, followed by Princeton at 4-1-0 (with a loss to Brown) and then Harvard and Penn at 3-2-0. Princeton plays Cornell (1-4-0) and then Penn next weekend. Brown has Penn and then Yale (1-4-0). Harvard has Dartmouth and Columbia (both 1-4-0).

Since Ivy soccer goes by three points for a win and one for a tie, Brown has 15 points, followed by Princeton's 12. Brown also holds the tiebreaker for the automatic NCAA bid.

At the same time, Princeton is ranked 14th in Division I in RPI, followed by Harvard at 16 and Brown at 22. Clearly everyone is in the hunt for NCAA tournament spots (and even home games). Also clearly, the Ivy title goes through Brown, who would need to lose a game to open the door for a shared title.

On the men's side, there are three weekends left. The standings now are: Princeton (12 points), Cornell (nine points), Yale (eight points) and then Penn (five points). Those three are Princeton's last three opponents, beginning with the Big Red Saturday.

So here's how much the race can swing in one weekend. Should Princeton defeat Cornell, Penn lose or tie its game against Brown and Yale lose to Columbia, then Princeton would clinch at least a tie for the Ivy League championship and earn the league's automatic NCAA bid, even with two more games to play. On the other hand, a Cornell win over Princeton puts the Big Red in control of the automatic bid and leave the two tied for first.

That's a lot for one weekend. Of course, these are the weekends you play for, right? Princeton has won five straight games and six of seven and is at its best now. Cornell is ranked 24th in the RPI, by far the highest in the league (Yale at 61 is next). Princeton, at 111, is actually behind those two and Harvard (89) and Penn (103).

What does it mean? It means that every game is a challenge. 

It's the theme of the weekend at Princeton actually. That's four huge events, staggered for your viewing ease.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Hanging With Zack

Remember a few weeks ago when TigerBlog told you about his trigger finger? 

If you don't, TB's middle finger on his right hand was constantly getting stuck in a bent position. He went to see a doctor who gave him two steroid injections in hopes of fixing it. When it didn't, TB had two other options.

The first was a third injection. TB's question for the doctor was this: Will it work? The doctor's response was this: No. TB's response to that was: Then why bring it up?

With that, his other choice was to have the doctor numb it and cut into his hand. The doctor called it the "minorest" of procedures. It took 15 minutes from start to finish. Then it hurt like crazy for three days. 

Now TB is finally able to start to bend the fingers on his right hand. This past Saturday, though, he couldn't, and he also had a bulky bandage on his hand. As a result, he could barely type.

TigerBlog learned typing in a class in ninth grade and has been a great typist ever since, if he does say so himself. He realized while working at the newspaper that he had to keep his mind and his typing in sync for stories to flow, and so that's really the only way he can write. 

Without his right hand, though, that wasn't an option. He had to type one-handed, and it was problematic. Also, the bulky bandage kept accidentally hitting the arrow up key, which was a whole different issue.

When it came time to write the football story in the press box Saturday, TB was writing at about one-quarter his normal speed and making a ton of mistakes, including the arrow up fiasco. At first, TB's frustration amused Zack DiGregorio, who was standing next to him for the second half and the overtimes, all five of them.

Eventually, though, Zack's good side took over, and he offered to type while TB dictated. TB hadn't dictated a story since he was back in the newspaper days, calling in stories from payphones on deadlines after high school football games.

There's a difference between writing and dictating, at least for TB. The words have to take an extra step when you dictate, from thought to screen with speech in between. It's a bit odd, really.

Zack himself is no stranger to college athletic communications. He was a student worker at Penn under TB's friends and colleagues Mike Mahoney and Chas Dorman (who is now at Princeton). He helped a bit with keeping stats. It's an athletic communications thing. It's just how you're wired.

Zack began the day on the field, as part of the moment of silence for his father Steve, the former Princeton assistant football coach and New Jersey high school football coach who passed away two weeks ago. Digger, as he was known, was a beloved member of the Princeton football family.

It was at Digger's funeral the previous Monday that Zack had given the most stirring, most emotional, most impressive eulogy TB has ever seen. It was so good that, as TB wrote afterwards, it actually drew applause from the crowded church. TB has never seen that. 

Now it was five days later. In many ways, that's a much tougher time for someone who has just lost a loved one. The funeral is a time to be surrounded by people to whom you are close. The next few days is when the reality of it all, the brutal finality of it all, really sinks in.

That's why it was really good to see Zack at the Princeton-Harvard game.  

As TB has said several times before, he sees a lot of himself in Zack. They share the same sense of humor (dry, sarcastic). They have similar personalities. They like to laugh. They like to make fun of each other. Zack has often told TB that he's shown up for his brother's "Derek's Dreams" fundraising events not to helpful and supportive but instead for "the blog content." He is only kidding of course, but it's typical Zack to say it.

That's how it was in the press box Saturday. They did all of those things. TB told Zack a few stories about his dad, including the time when TB asked Digger when he first starting coaching high schools again after leaving Princeton how his game that day went. "How did it go?" Digger said. "I went in at halftime and told my quarterback he'd have to answer for Santino." That's from "The Godfather" if you don't know.

Zack laughed at that. The two told funny stories back and forth, and there was a lot of laughing Saturday afternoon. It was good for both of them.

TigerBlog can relate to what Zack is going through. He wasn't much older than Zack is now when his own mother passed away, also from cancer, also after a tough fight, also at a very young age. A few days after Digger's passing, TB texted Zack to tell him that, how he could empathize and understand, because he'd been through it too. Because he has, he was able to assure Zack that, just like his own mother has been with TB, Digger will always be there with him for the rest of his own life.

At one point in the game, as Princeton was faced with a fourth down play in the fourth quarter, Zack mentioned that the game hadn't seen a lot of Jacob Birmelin of late. On that play, Birmelin caught a short pass and turned it upfield, ending up in the end zone. As it turned out, replay showed he'd stepped on the line, nullifying the TD. That's when TB told Zack that the turn of events cost him a chance to lead off Monday's blog.

But not Wednesday's, as it turned out. 

And why? Because this is one case of many, one where Princeton Athletics serves to bring people closer together not only around games and parties but also when they need each other the most.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Tie Breaking

There is a unique doubleheader tonight at Class of 1952 Stadium. 

It starts at 5, when the field hockey team takes on Monmouth on Beford Field. It continues at 8 with men's soccer against Fordham on Sherrerd Field, which is on the other side of the facility. That's two games. No admission fee. One stadium. Two fields. 

TigerBlog wanted to start with that. He also wanted to talk a little bit about finishes, specifically those that extend beyond when they were supposed to end. 

The lesson from the football and field hockey games against Harvard this past weekend is fairly obvious. The difference between the teams on the field was essentially non-existent. The impact the games had on the Ivy League races is dramatic. 

Is there a better way to decide who wins such games than the formats in place?

Princeton's 18-16 win over Harvard in football this past Saturday has been dissected enough, with only one more thing left to say: Deciding a football game based on alternating two-point conversions might not be the best way to do so.

TigerBlog remembers when ties were still a thing in football. He was okay with them. Hey, the 1995 Princeton football team won an Ivy League outright championship by kicking a field goal on the final play of the regular season to force a 10-10 tie with Dartmouth.

The reason that overtime came about in the first place was, TB is convinced, to take the pressure off of coaches to have to decide to play for a tie or a win at the end of a game. 

Plus, playing for a tie was always seen as less than courageous somehow, even if a tie was in your best interest. In that Princeton win over Dartmouth, the Tigers had the ball inside the Big Green 1 with four seconds to go, trailing 10-7. A tie or win gives you an outright championship. What do you do? Kick, or try to run it it?

There was also the very famous 1984 Orange Bowl, when Nebraska coach Tom Osborne decided to go for two and the win when an extra point would have given him a tie and the national championship. Instead, the conversion was no good, and Miami won the game 31-30 and the national title.

The problem with football overtime is that there is no good format for it. Football is a rough game, and going too far beyond 60 minutes creates increased chances of injuries. The NFL has shortened its OT, and as a result there have been a handful of ties the last few years. So be it.

Prior to this year, when Princeton and Harvard got through two overtimes still even, they would have alternated possessions starting at the 25 for as long as it took. Now it's just the two-point conversions, which don't seem to work. Ask any neutral person who watched Penn State-Illinois go through nine OTs. 

What's the solution? TB isn't sure there's a great one. Maybe two OTs and then it's a tie if still even? Maybe no OT? If nothing else, go back to the way it was before and get rid of the dueling two-point conversions. 

By contrast, field hockey overtime is mostly perfect. Take four players off the field, open things up significantly and see who scores first. Princeton had played five OT games this season prior to its game at Harvard Saturday, and none of those games had made it past the first 10-minute OT period.

Up in Cambridge Saturday, it was two nationally ranked, Ivy unbeaten teams who played for the inside track to the league title and NCAA bid. They went through regulation tied at 1-1. They went through the first OT. They went through the second OT. Nobody scored.

So on to a penalty shootout it went. TB is not a fan, and not only because Harvard won. As is the case in soccer, TB would love to see the teams keep playing until someone scores. If you know you can't win without scoring, then it changes your mentality.

With the win, Harvard is now 5-0 in the league with games against Cornell and Brown. Princeton is 4-1 with games against Brown and Columbia. To get the auto bid, Princeton needs two wins and two Harvard losses. 

Princeton is still very much in the hunt for an at-large bid. The Tigers are No. 16 in the RPI, with five of their losses to teams in the top 11 in RPI right now, and two of those (No. 3 Maryland, No. 6 Louisville) in overtime. Princeton also has a win over No. 5 Penn State, as well as No. 19 Delaware and No. 20 UConn. That's a very, very strong resume.  

By the way, six of the top seven teams in the RPI are from the Big Ten.

The NCAA selections will be announced on Sunday, Nov. 7, at 10 pm.

Monday, October 25, 2021


 So where in the world to begin with what happened on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium Saturday?

The stadium is 23 years old now, and what happened Saturday has to be the craziest stuff that ever played out there. This was crazier than the 2012 Princeton comeback against Harvard. It was crazier than the 2006 overtime win over Penn, when Rob Toresco lateraled to Jeff Terrell on a fourth-and-goal from the 1.

This might have been crazier than those two combined.

To review, Princeton and Harvard came into the game unbeaten and tied for first place in the league. Both were nationally ranked.

The game figured to be close. There was a lot riding on it. Nobody was prepared for what ended up playing out.

In the end, the teams played through five overtimes before Princeton won 18-16. This game had everything, including controversy. 

So perhaps TigerBlog should start there. Let him start out by saying that emotions run high and that he sees both sides of the equation.

The situation was this: Princeton and Harvard played through regulation at 13-13. In the first two overtimes, both teams kicked field goals and then came up empty, making it 16-16. The news rules say that starting in the third overtime, teams will alternate two-point conversion attempts until one scores and the other doesn't.

Princeton went first in the third overtime and did not score. Harvard lined up for its play, snapped the ball and appeared to convert. That's where the craziness peaked.

For starters, Princeton head coach Bob Surace was trying desperately to call timeout before the Harvard try. After it wasn't granted by the officials and the play was run, Surace pointed to the replay booth. The officials then conferred and said that Surace had in fact called timeout before the snap, which resulted in disallowing the Harvard score. Offensive pass interference was called on the next snap, again nullifying a Harvard score. Harvard was then stopped, and Princeton won it two OT's later on Jacob Birmelin's incredible catch in the corner of the end zone.

The Ivy League put out an official statement yesterday saying that 1) Surace had in fact called timeout before the play but 2) the timeout play should not have been reviewed by the replay booth.

As TB said before, he sees both sides. Had the play not been reviewed, Harvard would have won. If you're a Harvard fan, you're irate. 

But he also sees the No. 1 undeniable fact of the situation: Surace called timeout before the ball was snapped.

If you think it should count, you're saying it's not reviewable, not that he didn't call it. This isn't whether Birmelin stepped on the line on a fourth-quarter catch that ended in the end zone or if he caught the ball in the fourth overtime, calls that both went against Princeton (and by all indications, both reviews were correct). In this case, there is no interpretation of what happened on the field here.

It wasn't a judgement call. Surace called timeout. It was clear from the press box even before the review. Even the most ardent Harvard fan has to admit that. Nobody can argue that. 

And so, that leaves the other undeniable fact - the play should not have counted - and it didn't. 

The controversy overshadows what was an incredible defensive effort by both teams, one that was reminiscent of the 2018 Princeton-Dartmouth game. Both teams contested every yard, of which there weren't many. 

Princeton and Brown a week ago combined for 1,140 yards. Princeton and Harvard combined for 491 yards. Both teams averaged 1.3 yards per rush. It was an incredible effort by both.

As is the case with tight defensive games, every possession became the highest of drama. Any play could have turned the game in a hundred different directions. 

As TB said Friday, hidden yards played a big role. Princeton punter Will Powers was incredible, averaging 45.4 yards on his five punts, with two of more than 50, on a day when field position was at a premium. Powers was so good that Harvard only was able to even attempt to return one of the five punts, and that was for no yards.

With this game over, Princeton is now 6-0, 3-0 in the league. The Tigers are 24-2 in their last 26 games.

There are four more league games. All will be challenging. Three are on the road, including back-to-back Friday night ESPNU games at Cornell (this Friday) and Dartmouth. Short weeks. Long trips. Not an easy combination.

The league is bunched now. Princeton is 3-0. Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Dartmouth are all 2-1. Nothing is a gimme.

The next four weeks will be intense and unpredictable, with one prediction: It can't be as crazy as it was Saturday.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Orange And Black Day

Today is the 275th anniversary of Princeton University's Charter Day.

To celebrate, the University is encouraging all faculty, staff, students and alums to wear Orange and Black and post those pictures on social media. This will be a relatively easy task for TigerBlog, whose closet and every day wardrobe are dominated by those colors.

As TB said yesterday, it's Orange and Black day today and then Orange and Black versus Crimson day tomorrow. There are four Princeton-Harvard games on the schedule, three of them in Cambridge (women's soccer, men's soccer and field hockey) and one in Princeton (football).

All four of them are huge. TB went through the three games in Cambridge yesterday. Today, he'll focus on football.

Princeton is 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the Ivy League. Harvard is 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the Ivy League. For that matter, Dartmouth is also 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the Ivy League. 

This week it's Princeton-Harvard. Next week it's Harvard-Dartmouth. The week after that it's Princeton-Dartmouth. Yes, there are other teams very much in the mix, including Columbia, who plays Dartmouth tonight, and Yale, who plays Penn tomorrow. 

The Lions and Bulldogs are both 1-1 in the league. The best-case scenario for them would be to have four 2-1 teams at the end of the weekend.

As for Princeton and Harvard, the winner of the game tomorrow does not win the league, but it is a big step in the right direction. It's a matchup of the top scoring offense (Princeton) and scoring defense (Harvard), not to mention teams that are ranked in pretty much every FCS Top 25 poll.

You know who would have loved this game? Yav. 

Who is Yav? If you have to ask that question, then you weren't around Princeton in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s or the early 2000s. Yav, who is actually Harvey Yavener, was a Trenton Times sportswriter then. He covered a ton of Princeton stuff, and he would have been all over this game. There would have been a very long feature story about one of the Tigers, about whom Yav would have said "great kid" after the 45-minute of so interview. When Yav interviewed you, well, he certainly got to know you. Also, the story would have had almost nothing to do with football.

There would have been previews. There would be a long postgame story. Ah, Yav would have loved it.

There's good news on the Yav front for those who remember him. Yav just celebrated his 92nd birthday the other day, and he told TB that he feels great and doesn't have one thing wrong with him.

Tigerlog has absolutely no doubt who Yav's favorite player on this Princeton team would be. It's Andrei Iosivas, the decathlete/wide receiver. Yav always loved the fooball/track kids, and his favorite track event was always the decathlon.

Iosivas is part of a remarkable Princeton wide receiver trio that also features Jacob Birmelin and Dylan Classi. Princeton has had some great wide receiver pairs before, with combos like Derek Graham and Kevin Guthrie in the 1980s and more recently future NFLers Stephen Carlson and Jesper Horsted.

A trio like this, though? Last weekend against Brown, all three went over 100 yards receiving, combining for 22 catches for 461 yard and three touchdowns. That's incredible stuff right there.

The challenge this weekend is a significant one. Harvard is the league's leader in passing efficiency defense, and its first five opponents have combined for just three TD passes while throwing seven interceptions. 

On the other side of the ball, Harvard leads the league in rushing yards per game with 213. Princeton is second in rushing defense, allowing 54.6, behind only the Crimson.

Maybe this game turns on the hidden yards, which is where Princeton punter Will Powers becomes such a weapon. Powers leads the league with 47.2 yards per punt, which would be second in the FCS were it not for the fact that Powers hasn't had to punt enough times to qualify. To be ranked, punters need to average 3.6 attempts per game. For five games, that would be 18. Powers has punted 13 times.

Of course, his one punt last week against Brown went 75 yards, and he is a weapon no matter how many times he's needed. So is freshman placekicker Jeffrey Sexton, who missed his first-ever extra point attempt at Lehigh on opening day and since then has gone 21 for 21 on PATs and eight for eight on field goals.

Kickoff on Powers Field tomorrow is at 1. It's well worth being there for this Homecoming Day game, with perfect fooball weather on the horizon for a high-stakes game.

It's Orange and Black Friday today. Will it be Orange and Black again tomorrow?

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Seeing Crimson

It's just two days until the Princeton-Harvard showdown.

Princeton is the top scoring team in the Ivy League. Harvard is the top defensive team in the Ivy League. Both are unbeaten in the league and nationally ranked.

That's the background on the Princeton-Harvard field hockey game Saturday in Cambridge. What? You thought only the football game was big? 

Just as is the case in football, Princeton and Harvard field hockey are both perfect in the league. They're both ranked (Harvard 12th, Princeton 14th). Princeton has the top scoring offense. Harvard has the top scoring defense.

The current Ivy League field hockey standings have Princeton and Harvard at 4-0 each. There are four teams (Penn, Brown, Cornell, Yale) at 2-2 each. 

The winner of the Princeton-Harvard game will take a huge step towards the Ivy League's automatic NCAA tournament bid. To not get the bid, the winner of the game Saturday would have to lose its remaining two and then have the team that loses Saturday win its last two. 

Harvard's remaining league games are against Cornell and Brown. Princeton finishes with Brown and Columbia.

Harvard is 11-1 and has allowed only five goals all season. Princeton leads the league and is seventh in Division I in scoring offense, with 40 goals in 13 games. 

Princeton has won five straight games, including a pair of overtime wins last weekend, both by 3-2 counts, first against Cornell and then against Penn State, who was ranked fifth at the time. Princeton is 8-5 overall, with four of those losses to Top 10 teams, two of which, against No. 4 Louisville and No. 8 Maryland, were in overtime.

Speaking of last weekend, Ali McCarthy was the Division I (and Ivy League) Offensive Player of the Week after scoring twice and having two assists. The overtime goals were scored by Beth Yeager and Sammy Popper. 

The unsung hero of it all was Hannah Davey, who assisted on the two overtime games. To get there, she had to control the ball for about 100 or so total yards, which isn't easy to do. Both times she made long runs, and both times she set up the winner perfectly.

The field hockey game starts at noon. 

It's one of four Princeton-Harvard games Saturday, and they're all huge. The football game, of course, will be played in Princeton and kicks off at 1. The other three are all at Harvard.

In addition to the field hockey game in Cambridge, there is also a Princeton-Harvard soccer doubleheader. The women start it out at 1, followed by the men at 4.

The current women's soccer standings have Brown at 4-0 and Princeton and Harvard at 3-1 each, both with a loss to Brown. The current Division I RPI for women's soccer has Brown 17th, Harvard 18th and Princeton 28th.

Since it has wins over both Princeton and Harvard, Brown also has all the tiebreakers for the automatic NCAA bid should it come to that. The winner of the game Saturday will have a huge at-large chip come selection time.

On the men's side, Princeton is the lone perfect Ivy team so far, with a 3-0-0 league record that includes wins over Dartmouth, Brown and Columbia. Harvard is 0-1-2 in the Ivy League but 5-4-3 overall and playing at home.

The standings now have Princeton with nine points, followed by Yale with seven (2-0-1), Cornell with six (2-1-0) and Penn and Brown with four each (1-1-1). It was Yale who knocked off Cornell last week, after the Big Red had been nationally ranked.

Princeton, a 2-0 winner over Lehigh Tuesday night, plays its final non-league game Tuesday against Fordham. That game is an 8 pm start on Sherrerd Field, after the Princeton-Monmouth field hockey game at 5 on Bedford Field. 

As an aside, it would be interesting to have field hockey and soccer at the same time, since they share the same facility and have a press box that faces both fields. On the other hand, there's only one sound system there, so that might be confusing for the PA announcer.

Beyond Tuesday, Princeton then is home with Cornell, at Penn and then home with Yale on three straight Saturdays. 

Of course, there will be plenty of time to worry about those games later. For now, the focus in on Harvard Saturday. There are four Princeton teams doing just that right now.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Jordan Rules

TigerBlog will never be able to think of Grant Wahl without thinking of Bill Jordan. 

If you follow international soccer, then you know who Grant Wahl is. He's as good as it gets in the field and has been for a long time, with Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and now with CBS.

When he was at SI, Grant wrote the cover story that made then-high school junior LeBron James into a household name. The story, which you can read HERE, is a nice throwback to when James wasn't the international business he is now. 

It's a really good piece of writing. So is a lot of what Grant has written.

It's just that it'll be hard for Grant to ever top his take on the Jordan rules, which was his story in 1994 in the Daily Princetonian about then-Princeton senior running back Bill Jordan.

Okay, maybe TB is exaggerating just a bit. Or is he? You can decide for yourself HERE.

If you don't feel like reading the whole thing, here's a small part of it:

Bill Jordan is laughing. In his bedroom, telling stories about his "homies" and his family, who really are synonymous. In the media guide, next to mug shots of his grim-faced, Adam's appleexposing teammates. Come to think of it, Jordan laughs just about anywhere. Jordan is slow. Not slow of mind, but of pace. He doesn't keep a calendar. His admittedly rambling drawl presents a welcome contrast to the usual what's-up-see-you-later type oh campus. He watches every minute of Monday Night Football. Bill Jordan doesn't rush things.

Then consider that this was for the school paper, back when Grant was a Princeton student (and a Princeton Office of Athletic Communications student-worker). 

TB remembers reading the Jordan story when it first came out and being awed by the writing. He read it again yesterday, and it brought back all the same feelings. TB remembers reading it and learning from it and then later applying that to pieces he's written. And still writes.

Also if you didn't read the story, Jordan's father was an Air Force pilot, and he moved around a lot as a kid. The 1995 football media guide lists his hometown as Montevideo, Uruguay.

TigerBlog saw Bill Jordan for the first time in years at Steve DiGregorio's funeral Monday. Jordan was one of the former football players who dropped everything to be there for their former coach.

Jordan had an interesting Princeton football career. He was the leading rusher on the 1991 freshman team, back when there were still freshman teams. He switched to defense as a sophomore and was a backup cornerback on the 1992 Ivy League championship team. 

As a junior he was Keith Elias' back up at running back. He was the starter his senior year, when he ran for 842 yards. He also was instrumental in the Big Three championship and bonfire that year, with 142 yards against Yale and 120 against Harvard in a pair of wins.

TB saw Jordan outside the church, and he didn't recognize him immediately through his mask. He was able to spend time with Jordan and another former Princeton running back, Marc Washington, at the reception aftewards.

Washington and Jordan asked TB about the current team, especially the offensive skill players. They talked about John Mack, the new Ford Family Director of Athletics. When TB mentioned Mack's time as an OAC student-worker as well, the conversation shifted to Grant and the story, as well as another former OAC student-worker, Jordan's Princeton roommate Marc Ross. 

They both joked about how the football record book needs to keep listing the 17 players it does under career yards per carry, since they rank 16th (Jordan, 4.24) and 17th (Washington, 4.20). TB assured them that he'd do his best there.

TB and Marc Ross have stayed in touch through the years. TB and Jordan have not. 

Still, TigerBlog remembers Jordan from his Princeton days as being very humble, very mature and very appreciative of whatever TB did for the program. He remembers him as a very strong, hard-working running back.

It was great to see him, and Washington, another great "kid." Kid? They're in their 40s now.

Obviously, it would have been better to see them under less tragic circumstances, though it says a lot about both that they were there. And of course about Digger.

It also says something about what Princeton Athletics are all about. TB says this all the time, but ultimately they're about the relationships that are formed and how the shared experiences stay with you forever, even for the case of the guy who was the team's communications contact at the time. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Saying Goodbye


TigerBlog was walking on Nassau Street yesterday morning when the strong wind blew something in his eye.

As he kept walking, he could feel whatever it was, and he tried to wipe it away. The wind got a little stronger, though, and try as he might, he couldn't keep his eye from tearing.

In that moment, TB was struck by what would be the theme of the moment. This would not be a day to keep from crying, no matter how hard he tried.

TB walked on Nassau Street on his way to the packed St. Paul's church. It was there that he would attend the funeral of his dear friend Steve DiGregorio, who passed away last week after his brave battle against cancer. Digger, as he was known, was a Princeton football coach for 13 years and part of the staff of three Ivy League championship teams.

Like all funerals, this one featured smiles as well as tears. There were smiles when seeing old faces that TB hadn't seen in a long time. It was smiles when people told stories about Digger. 

It was tears when the reality of why they were all gathered there made its way to the surface. Ultimately, it just all so sad.

There were people there from every area of Digger's world. There were rows of Nutley High School football players, the ones Digger had coached as recently as a year ago, when he was the New Jersey high school Coach of the Year. 

There were his friends from Nutley, the ones he grew up with, when he was a football player there too.

There were the Princeton football players, so many of them, back from the years that Digger coached them. Again, it was at once good to see them and sad think of why.  

One of them, Marc Washington, flew in on the red eye from Los Angeles, attended the funeral and the reception that followed and then went back to Newark to fly back. He came in for less than 24 hours, just for Digger.

There were the people with whom Digger used to work at Princeton. There were the friends he had from living in town, the friends with whom he and his wife Nadia had raised kids together. 

Chris Thomforde, the former Princeton basketball great from the 1960s and now a minister, talked about planting seeds, and how from the seeds of Digger's life and how he lived it came the bond, the connection, the love he shared with everyone there. 

Digger's oldest son Zack gave a eulogy that was so composed, so inspirational and so moving that it resulted in something TB had never before seen at a funeral: applause, and lots of it.

Digger was buried in Princeton Cemetery, the same one where former U.S. President Grover Cleveland is also buried. Digger, a student and teacher of history, would have liked that. Like everyone else at the gravesite, TB put a flower on the casket, pausing to press his hand against the wood while he said "goodbye buddy" out loud, softly.

He cried as he said the words. He cried often during the day. He cried when he saw his friend in the open casket, wearing a Nutley football sweatshirt, with Princeton football and Muhlenberg – where he'd been a defensive end – gear inside as well. He cried when he saw the boys for the first time, Zack, Derek and Aaron. He cried when others cried.

That's what the day was all about. It was about trying so hard to focus on all of the good things about Digger, all the good times Digger had shared with all of the people there, all of the love that brought all of these people together yesterday.

And yet, ultimately, none of that could change the reality. Digger was gone. He was only 60. He left all of this behind, through no fault of his own.

And that was just too sad to be true.  

Like the wind that blew relentlessly into TigerBlog's eyes earlier in the day, there was nothing that could be done to change that. 

And so it was a day when it was just too sad to keep from crying.

*          *          *

TigerBlog is hardly the only one who cared deeply for Steve DiGregorio. Former men's basketball player and assistant coach Howard Levy, who was as close to Digger as anyone, also cried yesterday. Cried, and laughed. He wanted TB to share this, and he wanted to share what it below his take, which was written by Howard's son Lior:  

“Hey John, take Howie and Riva over to Digger’s place to show them the type of housing they could get,” said new Princeton head basketball coach Bill Carmody to his assistant John Thompson III, in the summer of 1996, shortly after Coach Carmody asked me to join his staff at Princeton because he “needed another pair of eyes.”  Digger was the assistant football coach that was also basically part of the basketball staff.  He played lunch ball, worked the summer basketball camps and was one of the few guys that Coach Carril let into the “inner circle” of Princeton basketball.

So John walked me, my wife Riva, and our one year old son Lior, the 200 yards or so from Jadwin Gym to the apartments on the other side of Palmer Stadium, on Western Way.  There we met Steve and Nadia DiGregorio and their one-year-old son Zack.  Little did I know that was the start of one of the closest and most consequential relationships in my adult life.  And now, way too soon, we say goodbye to Digger, who died the other day after a valiant two year battle with cancer.  I assume that Digger and I would have met anyway and become friends, but there was something about this meeting that seemed special and set the stage for the family bonds that soon developed.

We moved in about a month later, and our partnership was solidified.  2 coaches in a community of professors, mostly young families and it was an idyllic life.  In our first collaboration, Digger and I bullied the University into putting in a new playground to make up for the disruption caused by the demolition of Palmer Stadium.  That playground is about to get demolished after 25 good years, and though our families moved out many years ago, I proudly note that our sand toys remain. 

Then came Mia, Derek, Aaron and finally Noa.  We were together for everything—Hannuka and Christmas, Easter and Passover, First Holy Communions and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, trips to the shore and Hershey Park, fireworks, Princeton baseball games and especially first days of school and Halloween.  Even after we moved, we got together for the walk to school on the first day.  Riva and Nadia were co-presidents of the Riverside School PTA.  Their extended family became ours and vice versa.  I loved that our Israeli cousins knew the DiGregorios.  And that sfogliatelle from North Jersey became a staple desert at our annual Hannuka party.

Steve and I agreed on virtually everything—Giants and Met fans, American history buffs, Bruce and The Godfather lovers, proud Democrats, 1970s pro wrestling fans (Chief Jay Strongbow is from Steve’s hometown of Nutley, and in one of our last conversations we discussed Baron Miguel Sekluna from the Isle of Malta), lovers of pizza (especially Contes) and Italian food.  Steve was impressed that I knew that real Italians call their pasta “the macaroni” no matter what it is (I had a Sicilian grandfather).  We coached Little League together, and fought the league to outlaw base stealing because none of the catchers could throw the ball to second base. 

“Wouldn’t you rather teach them a force play?  It happens way more often than stealing home in real baseball.”  Despite our combined 25+ years of coaching experience at the time, we lost that one because, “Little League rules allow it.”  It cost us a few games not stealing bases, and a few of the parents were pissed, but at least the kids learned some baseball.

Then the football staff got fired, and both families left Western Way.  We stayed close and our friendship and those of our kids blossomed.  It often felt like one family with six kids.  When Derek got diagnosed with A-T, we banded together to form Derek’s Dreams, and have raised over $1,000,000 to help fund research to find a cure for this extremely rare disease.  The first Derek’s Dreams dinner was such an incredible event and a forerunner of a lot of great work done for this cause by our families and others that loved Digger and the DiGregorios.

After leaving Princeton U, both of us found new passions—Steve teaching and coaching at his alma mater, Nutley High, and me coaching at Mercer County Community College.  We both were fortunate to have the opportunity to impact different populations than we encountered at Princeton.  We collaborated often.  I spoke a couple of times at Nutley and arranged to get a few guest speakers for his History classes.  He and Derek accompanied our team to Washington D.C. several times and served as our tour guide/historian at the Supreme Court and at the Museum of African American History.  We supported our kids as they grew at high school and college track meets, football and basketball games.

Steve brought me into the football world—he asked Jason Garrett to allow me to work at Jason’s annual football camp and leadership summit—a decision he sometimes regretted!  The Starfish Charities event became an annual can’t miss event on the Levy-DiGregorio calendar.  It also gave me enough football knowledge and connections to (intentionally) make Digger cringe.  Like the year when the head coaches drafted their assistants and I was chosen before Digger and a host of other football lifers (for social reasons only!).  One year the Final Four was in Dallas, and Jason invited me to spend the day at the Cowboys facility.  When I showed up, Jason immediately whisked me into a staff meeting with the defense and their new coordinator Rod Marinelli.  Then a bit later the defensive coaches were walking through somethings on the field and Jason was behind center to help them, when he said, “Howie, come dot the I.”  That year the Cowboys defense was much improved, and I knew I could get a rise out of Digger by attributing their improvement to my suggestions that day.

And now he’s gone.  Hard to believe.   I already miss talking about coaching philosophy with him—one of us would call the other most days on our way home from practice.  “Everything matters” was one of his tenets that I shared with my team yesterday.  I’m honored that he considered me as good of a friend to him as I considered him to me.  I’ll miss him but the work of the Levys, DiGregorios and others will go on to honor his memory.  May his memory be blessed.

*          *          *

“Whoever made up the line ‘there’s no such thing as a stupid question’ is an idiot” said Steve to me after I probably asked him the 4th or 5th stupid question in a row- at this point purposely egging him on. I have many, many memories of me and Steve going back and forth, usually me asking or saying something that would annoy him, and Steve responding with the perfect combination of anger, wit, and humor that would leave me, or whoever he was dealing with, speechless (which was obviously his goal).


However, on this night, Steve skipped right over the wit and humor.  It was a beautiful summer Princeton evening in 2011 when Zack, Christian Giles and I decided to hang out in town. The three of us have spent countless amounts of time together over the years and, while we definitely knew how to annoy our parents, we never got into any real trouble. But this evening, we decided to head across the street to the University and ride some golf carts.  


Now in case officer Lanzi or any other public safety officers are in attendance I will not disclose any information on how a University golf cart key was obtained, but with this key we took a golf cart and had a wonderful time riding around campus. And we would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for those meddling football coaches! As we were on the way TO RETURN the golf cart, one of the assistant football coaches caught us outside of Jadwin Gym. Just our luck that the football team was having a team dinner in the Jadwin lobby that night.


We were humiliated as we were forced to sit in the lobby while seeing familiar faces like coach Verbit and Coach Surace. Public Safety arrived first and started telling us about all the wrong and irresponsible things we did, which was scary in its own right, but all of us knew that the real fear was looming as we waited for our parents to arrive.


First my dad walked in, and while I was expecting him to scream at me like one of his players didn’t cut backdoor hard enough, he did the only thing even more terrifying… walked right past us, didn’t look at me, didn’t say a word. Then Christians mother, Janet, walked in, who was thankfully so much nicer to us than my dad (Thank you for that Janet!). Now the way my memory serves it, after Janet walked in, the ground started rumbling, and I could have sworn that the Jaws theme song began playing in the background. Steve barges in, swinging the door so aggressively that I'm sure it became unhinged. He wastes no time shouting at the top of his lungs…. “I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU DO WITH THE OTHER KIDS, I’M GONNA TAKE MY SON AND KILL HIM”.


Now everyone needs to understand that Steve is my second father, and he would refer to me as his fourth son. But at that moment I was so happy to not be associated as one of “Steve’s sons”. Sorry Zack!!!


After everyone calmed down a bit and the public safety officers warned Steve that he cannot be making death threats towards his son, we all went home. The problem was that Zack and I rode bikes from my house to campus. Me and Zack had to bike home with my dad and Steve tailing us in their cars. This was easily the longest bike ride of my life, and I’ve had to ride in all these Million Dollar Bike Ride fundraisers.


While this moment was terrifying at the time, I am so thankful for every moment I got to share with Steve, and many moments there were. If I listed all of them we would be here a very long time but as he did for everyone that came in contact with him, he showed me unconditional love and support through everything. And all I wanted to do was make him proud. He never liked being celebrated, which is exactly why he deserves to be celebrated today. Steve will always be the standard, he will always be my role model, and he will always be my second father. Love you always and forever pops. Love, Your 4th Son Lior



Monday, October 18, 2021

Setting Up A Big Game

TigerBlog has no idea what was said on the Princeton football sideline, if anything, after Brown's Joseph Shell picked up a fumble and returned it 71 yards for a touchdown.

What TB does know is that it's hard to imagine a team answering so decisively.

The situation was this: Princeton was up 42-21 in the third quarter and driving to put the game completely away. Instead, Shell's TD stunningly made it 42-28 instead of 49-21, and suddenly it was a game again, one in which Brown had all the momentum.

Get a stop and the ball back, and now the Bears would really be in position to make things tough for Princeton. Things didn't get any easier for the Tigers when the kickoff went for a touchback.

So what did Princeton do? 

Well, two plays later, the ball was in the end zone again. Two plays, 75 yards, 31 seconds, 49-28.

The final score would be Princeton 56, Brown 42. The game essentially ended after that answer, though.

The first play saw Cole Smith find Jacob Birmelin over the middle for what became a 67-yard catch and run. Collin Eaddy took it from there, running it in from the eight. 

The win improved to Princeton to 5-0 on the season. It sets up a game whose implications are obvious for this coming Saturday, when equally 5-0 Harvard comes to Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.

The game against Brown was a wild offensive showcase that features 98 points (the most ever between the teams in the series) and 1,140 yards of total offense, of which 807 came in the air.

Smith's 67-yard completion to Birmelin was part of his own nearly perfect day, as the Tiger senior quarterback completed 25 of 27 passes for 476 yards and four touchdowns. Those 476 yards were the second-most in a game in program history, behind only Bob Holly's 501 against Yale in the famous 1981 Princeton win.

Smith also became the fourth Princeton quarterback to have two 400-yard passing games in a career. The other three? Holly, Doug Butler and Chad Kanoff. Of course, perhaps Smith's is more impressive, in that he's only started five games.

The game also saw Eaddy rush for four touchdowns, and 130 yards on 15 carries. The four touchdowns were one off the school single-game record, set by Ellis Moore in 1967 against Harvard (unless you count the 11 that Philip King scored against Columbia in 1889).

Eaddy now has seven rushing touchdowns in the last two games. Eaddy now has 28 for his career, tied with Ellis for seventh all-time at Princeton, two away from tying the great Cosmo Iacavazzi for sixth. The school record is 49, by Keith Elias, (unless you count the 62 Knowlton Ames – nicknamed "Snake" – had from 1886-89). Eaddy also had 2,190 career rushing yards, sixth all-time at Princeton and 132 away from Walt Snickenberger for fifth. 

While the subject is Princeton football records and Eaddy, he is now averaging 5.7 yards per carry in his career, or more exactly 5.66 (2,190 yards, 387 carries). The program record is also 5.7 yards per carry, held by Elias, who had 4,208 yards on 736 carries, or 5.72. That's pretty close.

In fact, if you don't want to do the math, TB already did it for you. For Eaddy to be above Elias now, he'd need to have 29 more yards at this point. At least that's what TB came up with.

Princeton is 5-0 for the third straight season. The first one in that run got to 10-0. The last one got to 7-0 before finishing 8-2. 

Up next is Harvard. Both teams have been very impressive. Their one common opponent is Brown, whom Harvard defeated 49-17. 

TigerBlog has already scouted out the long-range forecast for Princeton. Apparently it will be sunny for all of the next 10 days, including Saturday, when it will be clear and a high of 61.

Of course, who knows if that will hold up. If it does, though, it will be a perfect backdrop for a big game, with two 5-0 teams going head-to-head. There's a third 5-0, 2-0 Ivy team, and that's Dartmouth, who has also looked really good through the first half of the season.

It'll be Dartmouth at Harvard a week from Saturday. The Friday night after that will be Princeton at Dartmouth. Much will be revealed by then.

In the meantime, that little round-robin begins Saturday on Powers Field. 

With a record-setting offensive explosion behind them, the Tigers can now put their full focus into that.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Another Friday, Another Big Weekend Ahead

There was a Princeton Department of Athletics monthly staff meeting yesterday. 

Maddy Plank and Charlie Bagin were part of the agenda. The two Princeton basketball players gave a recap of their cross country bicycle trip from this past summer, a trip that TigerBlog kept you updated on a few times as it was happening.

TB has never met either one of them. He didn't get the chance to do so yesterday either, since they both had to leave before the end of the meeting to get a class. 

As a result, TB emailed them to say that he enjoyed their presentation and that he's still looking forward to saying hi. And that he's extremely jealous of their trip. What they did was extraordinary, and perhaps only the kind of thing you can do when you're in college. 

Could TB ever do something like that at this stage of his riding life. Perhaps he will try it at some point. He can guarantee you that it won't be starting this weekend.

There are too many good Princeton athletic events on the calendar for that. While it's not quite crossover season yet (though it is looming), it is a busy few days for the fall Tigers, with some great events on campus and on the road.

The field hockey team has two home games this weekend, this afternoon at 4 against Cornell on ESPNU and then Sunday at noon against Penn State. Here are some things to know about the weekend in field hockey: 1) Princeton and Harvard are the only Ivy unbeatens, and they meet next week in Cambridge, 2) Cornell and Brown are both 2-1 and either would win the league's automatic bid by winning out, which makes today's game huge, 3) Penn State is currently ranked fifth in the country (the Tigers are 16th this week) and 4) Beth Yeager needs one goal to break the school record for goals by a freshman (she's currently tied with Michelle Cesan and Amy MacFarlane with 14).

So that's the field hockey weekend. It can be summed up this way: The game next week in Cambridge is huge, but it's not time to be looking to that quite yet, not with the challenges on Bedford Field this weekend.

There's a soccer doubleheader tomorrow against Columbia. It starts at 4 with the men's game, and then it concludes at 7 with the women.

If you look at the Ivy League women's standings, you'll see Princeton is 2-1-0, behind 3-0-0 Brown and Harvard. There's still a very, very long way to go, but every game is huge now, not just for the league but also for a possible at-large bid. Columbia comes into the game 1-2 in the league and 7-4-1 overall.

On the men's side, Princeton and Cornell are the only unbeaten, untied teams in the league, after just two league games for each. That tells you something about the depth and balance of the Ivy League. 

After just two games, in fact, five teams have at least one league loss. Yale is 1-0-1. Columbia, this week's opponent, is 0-1-1 in the league and 1-6-3 overall.

There is also home women's volleyball, tonight (Yale) and tomorrow (Brown) as the double round-robin reaches the midway point. Princeton and Yale have been the top teams in the league the last few years, and the Tigers are 5-0 in the league to date. Yale, though, is 3-2, and it is Brown who suddenly is 5-0. You have to go back to 2001 for Brown's last Ivy title, so you know this is a big trip for the Bears.

Princeton's football team will be in Providence Saturday to take on Brown. The Tigers, 4-0 and ranked in every FCS poll now, have six Ivy games in six weeks beginning tomorrow, with kickoff at 12:30.

Princeton is looking to join Harvard and Dartmouth at 2-0 in the league. There are two Ivy games tomorrow (Princeton-Brown and Penn-Columbia).

Brown, led by former Princeton offensive coordinator James Perry, is 1-3 on the season, but the Bears did smash Colgate 31-10 last weekend to get in the win column. Any conversation about Brown begins with E.J. Perry, who leads the Ivy League in every passing category: attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions. Perry and Princeton's Cole Smith are 1-2 in the league in total offense.

There is also home cross country and women's tennis and even a home women's hockey exhibition game this weekend.  The complete schedule is HERE.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Goodbye, Digger

TigerBlog was going backward.

Literally, as in scrolling back through years and years of old text messages. His mind was going backwards too, back to a few weeks ago, which in turn took him back 30 years before that. 

He smiled a bit while he did all this. It didn't last, though. The only thing that lasted was the hurt and the sadness, which came from the reality of the day, which simply hovered over everything else in a way that TB couldn't escape, despite his best efforts.

There was only one reality. You can't go back. 

Maybe your mind can. Maybe your memories can flood back. The clock, though, the clock is always ticking. Sometimes – sadly, horribly, tragically – the clock runs out.

Steve DiGregorio passed away Tuesday night at the young age of 60. He fought his hardest against the cancer that had attacked him, held on as long as he could. 

He was one of the best friends TigerBlog will ever have. He was one of the best people TigerBlog will ever meet. He had one of the biggest hearts TigerBlog has ever seen. He was one of the most loyal people he's ever come across.

He was someone whom TB looked at more than once and thought "if you could be more like he is, you'd be a better person."

Digger, as he was known to everyone, spent 13 years with the Princeton football team as an assistant coach, leaving after the 1999 season. He became a high school coach and teacher in New Jersey, and as recently as one year ago, he was the New Jersey high school coach of the year after leading Nutley High to a perfect season.

There was a lot of sadness yesterday. There were tears from every Princeton football player and Nutley football player that Digger ever coached, wherever they were when the found out the news, however long its been since they last saw him.

Digger beat the cancer once, and in fact he was working in a non-coaching capacity with the Princeton football team as training camp this summer was beginning. Then it all turned, quickly, shockingly, tragically.

There aren't too many families out there quite like the DiGregorio family. There aren't too many people tougher than Nadia DiGregorio, Digger's wife of 30 years. If there is someone tougher, it might be Derek DiGregorio, their middle child, who has faced head on a rare disease called Ataxia-Telangcietasia, something nobody had ever heard of when the diagnosis first came around all those years ago. 

Together, the DiGregorios attacked, forming a foundation called "Derek's Dreams" and raising money and awareness for research and a cure. The family, including Derek's brothers Zack and Aaron, reached out to the people they knew for help, and everyone they knew dove in to do whatever it was they could.

That's how much the DiGregorios are loved. 

TigerBlog met Digger when he was still in the newspaper business. They became really close once TB started working in Jadwin, and he would often head down the hall to Digger's office for breaks here and there. They would talk about anything and everything - Princeton football, history, raising kids who were very little at the time and their mutual love of the 1970s TV show "The Odd Couple."

Yesterday, as TB was trying to process what happened, he scrolled back through all of his old text messages from Digger. Each year on Nov. 13, Digger texted TB the YouTube clip of the opening credits of "The Odd Couple," which includes "On Nov. 13, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence."

The text messages brought back a lot of laughs with Digger. And that's what Digger loved to do. Laugh. He had a deep, husky, staccato voice with an accompanying laugh, and there was no way to be in his presence for long before you heard it. His humor was dry and sarcastic, and he loved to make fun of people and be made fun of himself. 

Going back through those messages was nice. It's just that, as TB said before, it didn't change the reality of the situation.

It was early September when it all started to become clear that this was not going to go well for Digger. Soon he was in hospice care, first in the hospital and then at home. That the end was coming didn't make it any easier when it finally rolled around. 

TB went to see him several times in the last few weeks of his life. One of those times, while he was still in the hospital, it was just two of them for a few minutes. Digger asked TB if he knew what the prognosis was, and TB nodded slowly. Then Digger asked if TB would do him a favor. 

"Of course," TB said. What was the favor? "Would you write my obituary?"

And so TB did. it wasn't easy. It's not something that he wanted to do. It was chilling, actually. It was horrible. It made TB cry. But it was important to Digger, so it was something TB wanted to do perfectly for him.

The last time he'd see Digger was two Sundays ago. He went over to the DiGregorio's house, where Digger was set up in a hospital bed downstairs. The TV was on, showing the Giants-Saints game. Nadia was there. So were the three boys. A few other friends came in and out. Hank Towns, the former Princeton equipment manager, was there.

As they sat there, it was, again, like old times. Aaron got up and left the room, and immediately everyone else started ragging on him. Derek gave TB a hard time for eating more than one of the soft pretzels. Everyone told funny stories, and everyone laughed. That's what there was more than anything else. Laughter.

It's how it should have been, even in the final days of Digger's life. Or maybe especially in those days. 

Digger could still laugh. He was still into the football game. He was, if it's possible to say this, happy.

TB, from his seat, could look out the window at the sunshine. He remembers clearly thinking one thing: It's too bad this day has to end. 

The clock, though, kept ticking.

Eventually TB got up to leave that day. He walked around the side of the bed, and put his hand on Digger's. He bent over to say goodbye, still hoping he'd get to see him again. Maybe Digger knew that wasn't going to happen. 

As TB said goodbye, Digger whispered – he could only whisper by then – what as it turned out would be the last thing he'd ever say to TigerBlog. After 30-plus years of friendship, 30-plus years of being invested in each other's lives, of being there for each other, of sharing lines from an old TV show that would crack them up, after so many nights of watching Princeton basketball in Jadwin Gym, after all the bike rides to raise money for the fight against A-T, for all of that, this is the last thing Digger ever said to TB:

"I love you brother."

TB will never forget that. He'll never forget Steve DiGregorio. And he'll never forget what his response to his friend was:

"I love you too."

They both meant it. 

Rest in peace, Steve DiGregorio. It was an honor to be your friend. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Tee Shot

TigerBlog Jr. spent six years or so as a Princeton basketball ballboy back when he was a kid.

At the time, he was also learning to play the saxophone, and at some point he set as his goal to play the national anthem on his saxophone before a Princeton game. As such, he began to practice the song, to the point where when he was 11, he felt he was ready.

Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn't. Half the time he'd try to play it, he'd do it well. The other half? It wasn't always smooth.

Still, he was determined, and so it was on the night of the men's home game against Cornell on Feb. 6, 2009, that TBJ stood out at center court, all by himself with his sax, and began to play.

TigerBlog was on the radio that night. He stood courtside and watched, helpless really to do anything about it if it started to go off the rails. 

As it turned out, it never did. TBJ sailed through the song without missing a note. It was impressive, for the way he played and also for the way he risked failing.

And so when it TB was offered the chance to do something similar, he didn't turn it down, even with the possibility of failing in a major way. And so too it's why TB was drawing inspiration from his son as he stepped into the moment.

It all started when Ed Calkins, a member of the 1992 men's lacrosse NCAA championship team, sent TB a text. The Friends of Lacrosse golf outing was coming up. Did TB want to hit the ceremonial first tee shot?

This would be like throwing out the first pitch. It's a real honor, and yet it's frightening, in that a lot could go wrong, with no place to hide from it.

TB briefly thought about declining the opportunity. Then he thought back to his son and the anthem. Just do your best, he told him that night. He would have to take his own advice. 

Keep in mind, TB isn't very good at golf. He'd last played in the last Friends of Lacrosse outing, which was in 2019. The time he played before that was the one before that. The time before that? It was before TBJ ever picked up a sax.

Just hitting off a tee at a driving range is an iffy thing. Now factor in that there would be nearly 100 people watching him hit this first drive? Yikes.

Plus TB doesn't even own golf clubs, or golf shoes, or a golf glove. In fact, he had to borrow clubs from one of TBJ's best buddies, Matthew, who was a ballboy with TBJ all those years ago. 

TigerBlog actually remembers driving them to the game the night TBJ was going to play the anthem. What did Matthew say to him? "Ten bucks says you mess it up."

Armed with Matthew's clubs, TB arrived at Springdale early to get in some practice shots. If there is a club that he's consistent with, it's a five-iron, but there were two problems with that: 1) he couldn't really hit a ceremonial tee shot with an iron and 2) Matthew doesn't have one in his bag. He did have a six-iron, but TB instead decided on the five-wood.

He then hit around 100 practice shots. About half of them were good. When he tried to figure out what he was doing right on those shots and do it again, he'd dribble it off the tee or have it never get more than a foot off the ground or hit it really far to the left or right.

"Ten minutes," Ed told him at one point. Was there a way to back out now? Nope.

Eventually, it was time. Ed brought the whole group together and asked TB to come forward. TB then basically said that he thought about saying no but that he decided to do it, knowing that he was going to be doing this in front of the group of people in his life who would more than any other never let him forget it if he messed it up.

He walked up to the first tee. He turned back to see the army following him. Now it was time. 

"What's the worst that can happen?" he said. "We're about to find out," someone behind him called.

Then it was time. He took the five-wood, drew it back, swung, kept his head down and hoped for the best.

Crack. It made that perfect sound golf balls make when you hit them just right. He looked up to see the ball rising majestically and making its way high, straight and far down the fairway.

At first, he was a bit startled. Then relieved. There was applause. There were congratulations. 

And for TB, there was a sense of satisfaction, not at how well he'd hit it but that he'd done it in the first place. 

When he was leaving at the end of the day, the last person he saw was Jon Hess, one of the keystones of the 1996-98 NCAA champions. "Nice shot," Jon said.

"Thanks," TB said. "I'll be living off this forever."

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Good Choice

TigerBlog saw Tom Brady's stats from Sunday's 45-17 Tampa Bay win over Miami, and they looked eerily familiar.

Brady was 30 for 41 for 411 yards on the day. When TB first saw them, he was 30 for 41 for 412 yards, but one yard was taken away for some reason.

If you recall, those are pretty much Cole Smith's numbers from Princeton's opener against Lehigh. To be exact, Smith was also 30 for 41, and he threw for 412 yards, the original number TB saw for Brady. 

In other interesting statistical news, Brady is 44 and Smith is 22. The math there is easy. Whether you like Brady or not, it is unbelievable that someone his age can be doing the things he's doing in the NFL. 

Meanwhile, since the conversation is about Princeton football and the NFL, TB will combine the two subjects. It was great to see Caraun Reid back in the NFL Sunday, now with the Tennessee Titans. 

Reid is a defensive lineman with two career NFL touchdowns. That total has now been matched by Jesper Horsted, another Princeton football alum. 

Horsted caught a touchdown pass in the Chicago Bears' 20-9 win over Las Vegas Sunday. Horsted, if you recall, caught three in the Bears' final preseason game. 

The TD catch against the Raiders was his second in the regular season, after he pulled one in on Thanksgiving Day 2019. The catch Horsted made Sunday makes him an important historical note as well, since he was on the receiving end of Justin Fields' first NFL regular season TD pass.

The current Tigers played a very entertaining game this past Saturday, defeating Monmouth 31-28. Princeton trailed 21-6 at one point and led 28-21 at another. The game was won with 10 seconds left on Jeffrey Sexton's 35-yard field goal into the wind that blew off the Atlantic Ocean, which is about a half-mile or so from the field.

Sexton, by the way, had another field goal of 46 yards to end the first half and was 3 for 3 on extra points. His performance earned him Ivy League Special Teams and Rookie of the Week honors. 

And with that, TB can get into what he really wants to talk about today. Bob Surace's, um, well, insert whatever word you want to use.

Surace was faced with this situation Saturday: Fourth-and-1, his own 34, two minutes to play, 28-28. What would you do? What did Surace do? He went for it, of course.

If you look at it solely in terms of putting yourself in the best position to win the game, there's only one choice there. Go for it, just like he did.

If you don't get it, you can still get a stop, use your timeouts, force the field goal attempt and even if it's good have time to get the ball back. If you punt it, you're giving Monmouth the chance to drive a bit and take it all the way down before kicking the field goal - with the ocean breeze at its back.

The statement that Surace made was that he trusted everyone on his offense and defense. He's saying to Collin Eaddy - "we need a yard; get it for us." He's saying to his offensive line - "he needs yard; make sure you give him the chance." He's saying to his defense - "if this doesn't work, you'll get us the ball back."

The issue isn't whether you should go for it or not. The issue is whether coaches have the courage to do it. TB has no doubt that the smart play is to go for it there. He also has no doubt that very, very few other coaches would have had the courage to do so.

Why? Play it out. If Eaddy had been stopped, then Monmouth gets the ball back with a chance to win it. If the Hawks did so, then Surace gets the blame for his decision. If he punts and Monmouth drives and wins it, then he doesn't get the blame.

He doesn't get the blame, but he also doesn't get the win. It certainly had risk involved. If Eaddy had been stopped, then Monmouth had a great chance to win it.

TB saw Surace after the game, and they both shrugged their shoulders as if to say "duh, of course you go for it there."

Eaddy got the first down. Nine plays later, Sexton gave Princeton the win.

There's a time to punt. There's a time to be bold. That was a time to be bold.

Not every coach gets that. 


Monday, October 11, 2021

Glory Days

TigerBlog walked into the Princeton football locker room, or more accurately team area, after Saturday's very entertaining 31-28 win over Monmouth and was greeted by very loud music.

The song? "Glory Days." Was the playing of Bruce Springsteen at a stadium that's about five miles from the Stone Pony in Asbury Park some sort of statement about New Jersey? Or was it coincidence?

Either way, the Princeton-Monmouth football game was a great one, and something that is great for the state of New Jersey. Neither the Tigers nor Hawks have another in-state opponent on the schedule, and given that they both came into the game ranked in the FCS, yes, this was a great New Jersey event.

The teams were separated by one spot in the FCS poll, with Princeton at No. 24 and Monmouth at No. 25. On the field, they weren't separated by very much at all. In the end, the game-winner came with 10 seconds to go on a 35-yard field goal by freshman Jeffrey Sexton, or else it would have been overtime between the two.

Sexton's kick came into a fierce wind. TB checked his phone just as the Tigers were lining up, and it said that it was 21 miles per hour. It seemed like more.

The game seemed lost and then won and then who knows what after a crazy second half. Whoever was going to win was going to have come from behind in the second half, and as it turned out, that would be Princeton.

This game had everything. Big plays. Bad plays. Huge momentum shifts. Very brave play calls. Redemption. What it didn't have was anything at stake for either team as far as conference play went, but hey, this was still a great game to watch. 

The Tigers trailed 14-3 when Sexton drilled a 46-yarder with the wind at his back on the final play of the first half to make it 14-6 at the break. With Monmouth set to get the ball to start the third quarter, it seemed pretty obvious where this was going. Get a stop, and the momentum was Princeton's. Let Monmouth score, and coming back might be tough.

So what happened? Monmouth took the ball and went on a 16-play march that took half the third quarter and ended up with a touchdown. Just like that, it was 21-6, and Princeton seemed to be in trouble. From there, though, the defense allowed Monmouth just 56 more yards, 28 of which came on the last play of the day, a seven-lateral attempt to pull a miracle. Monmouth would have three possessions between that 16-play march and the time Sexton's field goal was good, and those three drives combined featured 15 plays for 28 yards.

In the meantime, Princeton punted on the next possession after that third quarter touchdown. The next three drives went like this: TD, TD, TD, with 176 yards of offense mixed in. It took 11 minutes of game time, but suddenly it was 28-21 Princeton.

Those three touchdowns all came from Collin Eaddy, who is basically a touchdown machine near the goal line the way John Lovett was. Eaddy now has 24 career rushing touchdowns, tied for seventh all-time at Princeton.

Those touchdown drives featured the remarkable skillsets of Princeton's top three wide receivers, all of whom were extraordinary on the day. From the game story:

There was Dylan Classi. First he caught a two-point conversion to make it 21-14 in the third quarter. Then he accounted for 51 of the 67 yards on the next drive, with a 17-yard completion to Birmelin to get things started and then catches of nine and then 25 more to the Hawk one to set up Eaddy again, tying it at 21-21. Classi finished with five catches for 64 yards, the last of which was an 18-yard grab on a fourth-and-six that set up the Tigers at the Monmouth 21 in the final minute.
There was Andrei Iosivas, who caught four passes for 76 yards, including a 30-yard acrobatic reception near the sideline that set Princeton up for first-and-goal at the six before Eaddy's third touchdown and an earlier 38-yard catch and run that at first was called a TD before review placed it at the one, where Eaddy punched it in, prior to Classi's two-point catch that made it 21-4.
And there was Jacob Birmelin, who caught nine for 109 yards, including a 22-yard catch on the game-winning drive. It was his third 100-yard receiving day of his career.

All three were amazing. 

Princeton's defense forced a punt on the drive after the Tigers took the lead. Here's where the redemption part comes in. Cole Smith, while trying to run out the clock, instead threw an interception that Monmouth returned for a touchdown to tie it with 2:53 left. Instead of kneeldowns after one more first down, now Smith had to dust himself off and get right back to it. 

And that's exactly what he did. He calmly led the Tigers down the field, completing 4 of 7 for 48 yards to get the Tigers into Sexton's range. He also converted two fourth downs, including one that not too many coaches would have dared to try. 

TB will get back to this later in the week. For now, just think about the situation. Tie game. Fourth and 1. Your own 34. Two minutes to go. You going for it? 

Bob Surace did. And he was rewarded. 

As for Smith, he earlier in the half had taken a bad sack when the Tigers were in field goal range instead of throwing the ball away. Of course that was on one of the TD drives, and Smith bailed the Tigers out on that one by converting a third-and-22 on that amazing catch by Iosivas.

This time, it was on a third-and-10 at the Monmouth 21. A sack would have been disastrous, and Smith seemed to show the moment he realized that, putting his head down and picking up three yards up the middle. The next play was the game-winner.

What did the game mean? Nothing in terms of the league, which now has a gauntlet of six games in six weeks, beginning Saturday at Brown.

In terms of being a bit more ready for that stretch? It meant a lot. Once again, just like it did last week against Columbia, Princeton was at its very best when the game was the tightest.

That's a trait that teams that want to play for championships need to have.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Heading To Monmouth

For its final non-league game, the Princeton football team will be traveling to Monmouth for what figures to be a pretty good matchup.

Before any of that, though, here are TigerBlog's three favorite facts about Monmouth football: 1) the Hawks have only had one head coach in the 29 years of the program, 2) head coach Kevin Callahan is one of 11 children and he is married to a woman who is also one of 11 children and 3) one of his wife's 10 siblings is former Princeton men's basketball coach Bill Carmody. 

That's pretty good stuff, right. First, can you imagine how many cousins that leads to on both sides? Second, it's Bill Carmody, one of TB's favorite people ever.

As for the game itself, well, it's already Week 4 for the Princeton football team.

Time doesn't ever seem to move faster during the year than it does during Princeton football season. It's a 10-week sprint, and it's over in a blink. That's always how it seems to work.

This week is always an interesting one for the Tigers. It's the final non-league game, after opening with two other non-league games and then the league opener.

The last time Princeton's schedule did not start out that way was in 1999, when the Tigers opened with Cornell. Before that, you have to go back to 1975, when Rutgers was the Week 1 opponent, to find a year when the Tigers didn't play at either Cornell or Dartmouth to start the year.

Back then, Princeton and Penn would alternate opening the season at either Dartmouth or Cornell and then end the season at home against the other one. It wasn't until 1991 that Princeton and Penn ended the season in either Hanover or Ithaca. 

This was supposed to be because of the threat of bad November weather in those two places. As it turned out, it was in the 50s that day in Hanover.

Meanwhile, back in the present, Princeton is heading on the road tomorrow for its final non-league game of this season. The ride is a short one, and the opponent is a good one.

The Tigers will make the one-hour drive east to the Shore, where they will take on the Monmouth Hawks. Princeton is 3-0 on the season, having outscored Lehigh, Stetson and Columbia 119-7 between them. Monmouth is 3-2 and has been ranked in the top 25 at times this year.

Monmouth has played five games, and four of them have been decided by at least 27 points, with two wins (over Charleston Southern and Gardner Webb) and two losses (to Middle Tennessee and Holy Cross). The other game was a 26-23 win over Fordham.

Monmouth's two wins have come in the team's first two league games, in the Big South, to be exact. Monmouth has five league games remaining. You might be surprised by one of the remaining five: Robert Morris, which is no longer in the Northeast Conference. The other four games are against Campbell, North Carolina A&T, North Alabama and Kennesaw State. 

Princeton and Monmouth have played once before, back in the Tigers' unbeaten 2018 season. The final score that day was 51-9 Tigers; this one figures to be closer.

Monmouth averages more than 30 points per game and nearly 400 yards of offense per game, including 151 on the ground. Princeton allows 2.3 points per game and has allowed seven rushing yards in three games. Princeton leads the FCS in both of those areas, as well as in sacks per game.

Actually, Princeton leads all of college football in scoring defense and rushing defense. That's FBS, FCS, Division II and Division III. Only Division II Michigan Tech and Division III Lakeland average more than Princeton's 5.33 sacks per game.

Princeton's defense has been extraordinary through three games. Only twice since 1933 has Princeton allowed fewer than seven points in its first three games combined. Any guesses? 

The last time was in 1963, when Princeton shut out Rutgers and Penn and held Columbia to six in between. In Week 4, Princeton added another shutout, this time against Colgate.

Before that, it was 1956, when Princeton gave up six to Rutgers on opening day and then shut out Columbia and Penn before allowing 20 to Colgate (a 28-20 win) in Week 4.

Offensively, the passing game stood out in the first two games. Last week, it was the running game, especially Collin Eaddy, who ran for 103 yards and became Princeton's seventh career 2,000-yard rusher. 

Once this game is over, Princeton has six more Ivy League games to go, only two of which are at home. There are big Ivy games this weekend, with Yale-Dartmouth and Cornell-Harvard. Princeton can't look ahead to any of that now, though.

First up is a very, very good Monmouth team. Hey, who is Bill Carmody rooting for in this one?