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Monday, October 23, 2006

Homecoming

Lost in all of the shuffle of a busy weekend in sports was my homecoming, where the Princeton Tigers hosted the Harvard Crimson, and my son asked me a few times what's Harvard's mascot. I was about to quip something like "Chairman of the Fed" when I realized that he could be Princeton's mascot. Of course, there is a Tiger on the field, but we didn't spot anyone in a Crimson suit acting, well, like a Crimson. For the six year-old set, that's important stuff.

It was a beautiful day in Princeton, and the alumni were out in full force. The Princeton University Band, which features a violinist among its members, entertained alums at pre-game parties, like this one:




Okay, so there are no band and athletic scholarships, and this band is about 32-strong and will not be confused with a band from the SEC, which probably gives scholarships and has about 200 members on average. Then again, ask most people at this Ivy contest what they first think about when they hear SEC, and they'll tell you it's the Securities and Exchange Commission. My guess is that the regulatory agency in DC probably has more folks in it who are alums of Ivy bands than SEC bands, but then you never know.

There was anticipation in the air. Harvard and Princeton both went into the game undefeated, and it was the first time since 1922 (and Princeton's famed "Team of Destiny) that both squads faced each other when undefeated. Harvard's QB was returning after a five-game suspension. Crimson fans would argue that he'd be rusty and therefore Princeton would have the advantage; Princeton fans would counter, more convincingly, I think, that the Crimson would have the advantage because the Tiger coaches weren't able to watch films of the QB this year and plan a defense against him.

In any event, it was a back-and-forth contest. We sat on the visitors' side of the field, where it was about 10 degrees warmer and we had to squint a bit. We watched the Harvard offensive line coaches fire up the troops, and heard a New Englander amongst the linemen exhort his teammates to "kick their asses", but with the "a" in "asses" sounding Roosevelt-like in its patrician discourse, so it was "ah-sses". The young man was passionate, but it was clear that the Harvard O-line was not going to whip out Steve Austin's "Bottle of Whup-Ass" any time soon. You gotta remember that unlike in certain other conferences, Ivy kids don't get course credit for playing football. Somehow, it's hard to fear a pollysyllabic behemoth who might have read Ivanhoe all that seriously when compared, say, to a 310-pound NFL O-lineman who's favorite reading is the menu at McDonald's. The former may have some appeal to the New York Times set, but it's the latter who leads your hometown team to a Super Bowl championship.

But don't say the Ivy kids don't care as much. They do. (The fans probably don't, as the Princeton Stadium wasn't full, and it seats only 25,000 fans).

Fight fiercely, Harvard did. On the one hand, it must be easier to coach "smart" kids. On the other, their bodies can't always do what the coaches want them to do. Here's an example of a Harvard precept (the coach is the guy kneeling with the Harvard baseball cap on backwards, drawing up a formation):



While the line play interested my kids, they thought it was really nice of the Harvard kicker to serve the other player drinks. Cute observation, because on most football squads the kicker is lucky not to have the offensive linemen tape him to the goalposts after practice. I didn't tell the kids that, though. They might get the wrong impression about kickers, football and Ivy League football.

At any rate, the Tigers enjoyed a good first half after having their first punt blocked and seeing the Harvards score on the ensuing possession. After that, it was mostly Princeton, as the Tigers led 24-14 at the half and seemed in control of the contest. There was a controversial unsportsmanlike conduct call on the Tigers at the end of the first half that led to a Harvard score. My group was about as far away from the call as a fan could be at Princeton Stadium, so we chalked it up to overzealousness and a player one-upping an opponent about which school had the better genomics program. Getting the last word on boasting about tougher curricula is probably worth 15 yards if the punch line was good enough. Then again, from a football standpoint, that call helped give Harvard renewed life.

Harvard woke up after halftime. Perhaps the head coach chanted "Larry Summers" ten times to the left side of the defensive line and linebacking corps at halftime, or perhaps he appealed to their sense of scholarship by positing that the Princeton players felt superior because their school has taken steps against grade inflation while Harvard has not. Or perhaps he told them that their play resembled a bunch of Republican congressmen running from the press at the mention of former Congressman Foley's name more than an undefeated football team on a quest for a championship, but whatever the motivation, the Harvard eleven responded.

Two touchdowns later, is was 28-24, Harvard, and things looked bleak for Princeton. The Harvard QB looked like an upper Midwestern version of Donovan McNabb (this is a very loose analogy, because he ran well, but his physique more resembled that of College Physics Magazine's Hunk of the Year Contest winner than that of the Philadelphia Eagles' QB, who, at about 240 pounds, could fit in on the average Ivy line with little problem), dropping back and then running for first downs. The Princeton defense tried to contain him, and they had difficulty. Yet, during the day, they excelled at keeping their arms in their air trying to defend passes, and ultimately a few fell into the hands of Princeton's nickel back late in the game.

The Tigers marched downfield on the first of that future Wall Street star's picks, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on one of Harvard's defensive backs helped the Tigers immeasurably. Whether the young man was flagged for boasting about Harvard's larger endowment is open for speculation, but the Tigers drew energy from the flag and scored what would prove to be the game-winning touchdown. Final score: Princeton 31, Harvard 28.

Yes, the Tigers are actually tied with Yale for first place in the Ivies. Here's proof:



And that's when the second pick happened, again by the same defensive back, and the Tigers ended up running out the clock.

Good food, good friends, good weather, the kids had fun, so what's more to ask on Homecoming, I ask?

Parking -- Free.

Pre-Game Party -- Free.

Tickets at the 40-yard line -- $4 apiece.

Programs -- Free.

Post-Game Party (with shrimp and oysters) -- Free.

Victory over Harvard at Homecoming and a fun outing with the family: Priceless.

Or, as they would chant in Tigertown:

Hip, hip, hip!

Rah, rah, rah!

Tiger, tiger, tiger!

Sis, sis, sis!

Boom, boom, boom!

Bah!

Tigers, Tigers, Tigers!



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