Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Year In Review Part 1

Well, another year has pretty much come and gone. 

In a matter of a few hours or so (okay, about 35-40 or so of them, depending on when you're reading this), it'll be the year 2022. 

TigerBlog is going to spend today and tomorrow with his own little Princeton Athletics 2021 review. First, though, he did want to mention the passing of John Madden.

It's been 13 years since Madden was last a network football commentator, which means it's likely that current Princeton athletes have little to no memory of ever hearing Madden. It's been almost 20 years since he last worked with Pat Summerall, which means it's been awhile since a current generation remembers seeing the two of them together. To that group, John Madden is probably known as the guy from the video game.

If you got back a bit like TB does, you'll remember Madden as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders in the late 1960s and 1970s. TB was not a Raiders fan at all, but there was always something about Madden that made him seem so likeable, even back then.

That quality zoomed out during his TV career, especially when he and Summerall formed the greatest broadcast team of all time. If you didn't see them, then you missed out on something really special. Madden came across as someone who was having an incredible amount of fun every second of every game, and that made the listening experience even better. 

Listening to Madden was like having some crazy fun guy come over to your house to watch the game with you. He knew the game inside and out, but it was so much more than that. He had no shtick, no forced laughter, no cliches. He was just being himself, or so it appeared. When you factored in his legendary fear of flying and the Madden Cruiser bus that he used, he became even more of a larger-than-life personality.

And now he's gone, at the age of 85. There are tons of football fans who, like TB, never met John Madden but are still quite shaken by his death. And so TB wanted to mention him today.

With that, it's time to get to the Year in Review.

TB has always done a recap of the top moments of the year as it is ending. Up until last year, he did a countdown of the top 10 or top 15 or so, ranking them in his own order of what would be the biggest.

Last year, he got away from that and just listed the top moments in no order. Since he won't be doing that part of the review until tomorrow, he'll worry about it later.

For today, he wants to mention four things that happened with Princeton Athletics in 2021 that weren't exactly "events" or "moments" per se but are a huge part of the year that is ending nonetheless.

First, and obviously, there is the Covid pandemic. Once again, Princeton – and all of college athletics – had to navigate a previously unknown world, with no definitive workable solutions that have worked in the past to draw from.

The pandemic wiped out the fall and winter seasons of 2020-21 and then most of the spring, though Princeton was able to compete in seven different sports (four crews, men's and women's track and field, softball) to varying degrees. Just having teams back on the field (and track and lake) at all last spring was a great sign.

This fall operated as close to normal as anyone could have hoped, with every scheduled event played and with fans in attendance. There were highlights galore in the fall, and the winter began with some great performances as well.

Now, though, Covid has come back with a reminder that things aren't quite back to normal. There have been cancellations throughout college (and professional) sports, with the hope – the very, very, very big hope – that this is all temporary. 

Still, 2021 is destined to be remembered as a very Covid-impacted year. TB isn't the only one wishing that 2022 is not.

It's also going to be remembered as the year John Mack became the Princeton Ford Family Director of Athletics. When Princeton has a change in the AD spot, it's always a top story for the year, since there have only been six people who have had that title.

Considering that it's been 80 years since Princeton created the position, yes, only having six ADs is a big deal. Mack, the 10-time Heptagonal champion, has been back at Princeton since September, and he has begun to make his mark in the department and around the campus. 

His short speech in Jadwin Gym back in late summer when he was introduced was typical of who he is, with his passion and love for Princeton University and the athletic program obvious to anyone who heard him talk that day. That was just as clear when he took the microphone at the bonfire after the football wins over Harvard and Yale, or in any of the videos you've seen him in to date.

Third, there were the Olympic Games. Princeton was well-represented in Tokyo, and there were medals won by Ashleigh Johnson (gold in water polo) and rowers Tom George and Fred Vystavel, who both won bronze. There were great stories up and down the list of Princeton's Olympians, including Julia Ratcliffe, who finally smashed through the qualifying standard for the hammer throw before finishing ninth in the event for New Zealand, steeplechaser Lizzie Bird, who finished ninth in her event for Great Britain, and Gevvie Stone, who made her third appearance in rowing.

There were also three active Princeton athletes who competed: fencer Mohamed Hamza, who made his second appearance in the Games, pole vaulter Sondre Guttormsen and steeplechaser Ed Trippas.

Lastly, for today at least, TB would also like to mention his book "I Can Do Anything ... Stories From The First 50 Years Of Women's Athletics At Princeton." HERE is the link if you'd like to get more information and/or buy it.

It might be a bit self-serving, but TB will also remember 2021 as the year the book was finished. 

And with that, he'll be back tomorrow with Part 2.

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