Tuesday, September 26, 2023

That's 40 Years

TigerBlog was recently asked a simple question: If you could go back to being 18 years old, knowing everything you know now, what career path would you choose? 

He thought about it for a while. This is how he answered: "So many different possibilities, but this path is definitely the right path."

Even now, he can't think of anything else he might have done. He originally thought he might head to law school, but that was never going to happen. He's certainly no salesman, no businessman, no scientist. He was always good at math, so maybe an actuary? 

No, TigerBlog had only one possible career, and it's the one he found, even if it's not the one he was planning.

Like he said, when he went to college, he was thinking law school. When he was a freshman at Penn, he had a work-study job in the basement of the psychology department, where he and Fran McCaffery —yes, the Fran McCaffery who today is the head men's basketball coach at Iowa and who back then was a grad assistant at Penn — spent hours copying, collating and stapling assignments. 

Though Fran, TB met Jack McCaffery, who has been a longtime columnist for the Delaware County Times and who back then worked at the Trenton Times. Jack asked TB if he wanted to cover some high school football games, and TB said he would, even though he had absolutely zero experience as a writer. 

None would be necessary, Jack said. He'd learn on the job — but he also had to realize that "once you get the ink in your blood, you never get it out." TB has never forgotten those words. 

Jack went with TB to his first assignment, which was a high school football game in Bryn Athyn, Pa., between Pennington Prep and host Academy of the New Church. It would be the first 700 or so words TigerBlog ever wrote for public consumption.

That game, by the way, was played 40 years ago Saturday. 

Forty years? TigerBlog can still remember that game. It was a beautiful Friday afternoon. Pennington broke open a close game in the second half to win 22-0, breaking the school record for longest winning streak. 

Was his story any good? Probably not. He's written a lot of bad stories in his lifetime. He's also written some pretty good ones.

TigerBlog cannot even remotely guess how many words he's written since that day, how many games he's been to, how many stories he's churned out. He will say there can't be many people anywhere in any medium who have written as much as he has. 

Feature stories. Game stories. Pregame stories. Speeches. Books. He's around three million words in TigerBlogs alone, without counting anything else. 

He started out covering high school sports. Eventually, the late Harvey Yavener took him on as his assistant in covering local colleges, Princeton included. That was in the late 1980s. When the job opened at Princeton, he jumped at the opportunity. 

Where would he be today had it not been for that series of random events back at Penn that started when he took over for BrotherBlog in the psychology department. He met Jack through Fran, who could have worked anywhere on campus or coached at another school. Jack happened to work at a newspapers that needed people to cover games and didn't really mind if they had no experience.

Fast forward to today, and it turned out that becoming a writer suited TB perfectly. Like he said, he can't imagine what else he might have done all these years. He might have made more money in another line of work, but he wouldn't have enjoyed it and he wouldn't have been good at it. Really, to this day, he has no idea what people who have "real" jobs do all day.

More than anything else, writing has served TB in two ways. 

First, it's enabled him, and challenged him, to be creative on a pretty much daily basis. He's learned all about deadlines, how to write quickly, what works and what doesn't, whose work he respects and whose he doesn't.

Second, and way more importantly, it's opened up the doors to a lifetime's worth of experiences and even better, introduced him to almost all of the people in his life who are important to him. There are only a small handful of those people from before he wrote his first story.

When TB first started out writing, he figured it was something he would do for a few years and then move on to whatever it would be that he would do. Each year, he'd try to think of what that might be, and he was never able to figure it out. 

Then, each fall, when a new academic year was starting, he'd get the game excitement he always got, which made him say "okay, one more year." That excitement has never gone away.

And so here he is, in 2023. He's gone through his 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s and is now into his 60s. It's not something a lot of people stick with. It's weekends and nights. That's asking a lot, and not everyone wants to give those times up. 

For TB, it's always been an extension of his life. His son and daughter went to dozens of games and then became athletes themselves. They grew up around Princeton, and his daughter would become a four-year lacrosse player there. 

He's gotten to meet Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, Senators, Congressmen, even two Presidents. He's met professional athletes, actors, Olympians, Broadway stars, military leaders, religious leaders. He's seen Princeton play games in eight different time zones.

At Princeton, the talk is always of the four years and 40 years. Come here for four, and make relationships that will last 40 or more. TigerBlog went somewhere else for four years, but he's created a lifetime of friendships nonetheless. He's written stories about some of the most fascinating people you could ever possibly meet, and he has an endless numbers of stories he can tell, many of which he can never print.

Through all those years, there's always been another game to cover, another story to write, another person to interview, another person to meet, another person to see again. 

It's been an incredible forty years. 

He wouldn't trade them for anything.

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