(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Sunday, November 13, 2005

Homecoming: A First Look

TigerHawk spells out the sentiments of many Princeton alums resulting from yesterday's stunning 21-14 defeat at the hands of the Yale Bulldogs.

Going into the game, the Tigers were 4-1 in the Ivies and tied with Brown for the Ivy lead. Win out, and you guarantee yourselves no worse than a share of the Ivy title -- your first title in ten years. (Beat Yale, and you also guarantee yourself the "Big Three" championship, because you beat Harvard earlier in the season, and that doesn't stand for much except you get to host a pretty cool bonfire behind Nassau Hall that doesn't happen that often). Brown shellacked Yale last week, 38-21, but Tiger fans didn't delude themselves that yesterday's game wasn't going to be a difficult one. The rivalry dates back a long way, and Yale has a good team this year (you may recall that it was Princeton that was picked to finish sixth in the Ivies, with Yale in the first division).

Except a funny thing happened on the way to the tough game. Princeton looked very fluid on offense in the first half, got up 14-0 and was driving for a TD in the waning moments of the first half. Things looked very promising for the Tigers, until Yale intercepted the ball near its own goal line with less than a few minutes to go. Yale went on a drive of its own, but it didn't result in a score. So, at the half, it was 14-0 Tigers.

Tiger fans were buoyed because reports filtered in that doormat Dartmouth was giving Brown fits and even leading at one point (as it turned out, Brown won by 10), so, along with the great weather, the Tigers were perhaps going to slip into first place in the Ivies all by themselves. That's a pretty neat trick in an evenly matched league.

But alas it was not meant to be. The Tigers turned the ball over 7 times for the day, were very conservative on offense in the second half, couldn't stop Yale's passing game on defense, and two late turnovers led to two Yale scores in the final minutes, giving the Bulldogs a hard-fought 21-14 victory. The links will give you more details than I provide here, but suffice it to say that the amazing aspect of the Tigers' day was that they turned the ball over so many times and still almost won the game. If you turn the ball over 7 times, normally you'll lose by three touchdowns. Make no mistake about it -- Yale deserved to win this football game.

Yale coach Jack Siedliecki gets a ton of credit for innovating at halftime and for fielding a team that didn't give up. As TigerHawk points out, the thin ice that Princeton head coach seemingly was on at the season's outset looks like it has returned. Hughes, a very nice man, looked like he extended his Tiger career with wins at Harvard and Penn in the past several weeks. Yesterday's defeat might only rekindle some anti-Hughes sentiment that had been percolating beneath the surface after last season. The metrics for head coaches are easy for all to see -- you get paid to win games and you keep your job by winning more than you lose. During Hughes' tenure, the Tigers have not done what TigerHawk had outlined -- basically contending every now and then for a title, finishing in the top half of the league more often than not, beating Yale with some frequency and winning a title once in a while. As a result, it would appear that Princeton AD Gary Walters will have a tough decision to make after the season.

For diehard Tiger fans, yesterday's defeat at Homecoming at the hands of an old rival on a day where they had Yale almost in full retreat and then played very poorly left all Tiger fans with a bad taste in their mouth. Princeton was outcoached, outplayed and outtoughed. Again.

I don't share TigerHawk's views about writing the Princeton president or Princeton AD, because I'm less of a zealot about Tiger football than he is. And, because it's the Ivy League, unless a coach has brought ignominy to the university through awful behavior, I'm not that eager to pull the trigger on a coaching career. That said, those who are in the position of making these choices have a much tougher one to make than they thought they did only a week ago.