SportsProf

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

How Sweet It Is

It's not often when you get to attend a game that sees your alma mater clinch a league title, and, if you're a Princeton alum, it really hasn't been all that often. Today, Tiger fans flocked to Princeton Stadium to see if the hometown eleven could beat visiting Dartmouth for at least a share of the Ivy title (a Harvard win over Yale along with a Princeton win over Dartmouth would have given the Tigers the title outright; Yale would go on to beat Harvard 34-13).

Today we went up to Princeton Stadium on an overcast (but thankfully not windy day), met up with friends in the end zone closest to the campus, and watched with anticipation as the Big Green from Hanover, New Hampshire, without a pep band, visited Princeton. It was late-arriving crowd, as with about five minutes before kickoff we were wondering whether the game would draw as many fans as the Princeton-Penn game of a few weeks ago (which is a good draw because the schools are roughly 50 miles from one another). It drew many more.

The Tigers played well early, scored on the opening drive and were up 17-3 with about 2 minutes to go in the half. The Tiger defense looked uncharacteristically passive after that point, the Big Green marched down the field, and, lo and behold, it was 17-10, Tigers, at the half. While the Tiger faithful were happy to see their team in the lead, they were concerned. After all, this was doormat Dartmouth, and apparently no one sent Buddy Teevens' Big Green squad the memo that they were supposed to give the game the old college try and let Princeton's superiority pad a three-touchdown lead by early in the third quarter. That never happened.

Instead, the Tiger defense had trouble with Dartmouth's overall plan of attack, and early in the fourth quarter it was 17 all, and the Tiger fans were wondering whether the title they'd been waiting for over the past ten years was going to slip into Lake Carnegie. Fortunately, the grit of the Tigers showed once again, as they tightened up the defense and got the offense more organized (read: shovel passes to tough-as-nails FB Rob Toresco), and the final was 27-17, Princeton.

At the end of the game, my nine-year old daughter suggested that she, I and her nine-year old friend (who, with my daughter, made for a matched set of made-for-Princeton kids with their red hair) venture onto the field. The Tigers installed a funky new synthetic turf last season, and it felt like you were walking on a nice yard. Alums of all generations climbed over the walls to celebrate, forty-somethings were throwing footballs to their kids, the Princeton band played "Old Nassau" and "The Princeton Cannon Song," players signed autographs, sang the fight songs with their helmets held high, mingled with their friends and just enjoyed the spirit that was alive on that field at game's end.

The feeling is hard to describe, really, except to say that there was a great sense of a warm community, of little kids running around, of alums smiling at one another about how nice the whole day was (regardless of the whether, a nice day would be if your team clinched the title in a nor'easter), of everyone participating in song. This was a Tiger team that was predicted to finish sixth in the Ivies, and a coaching staff that was maligned for the way the team fell apart after leading Yale at homecoming last year by double digits with a few minutes to go, only to lose the game. Were the Tigers to have had another second-division finish under Hughes, I believe that speculation would have started as to how long a rope Princeton Athletic Director Gary Walters had given him and when he would be replaced.

No one in Tigertown is talking about that now, however, and for their money Roger Hughes is the toast of the town. The team not only shared the Ivy crown but played with grit the entire season. It was a team that could come back, a team that started out with a defense better than its offense and ended with an offense (at least a passing game) that was better than its defense. It was a team whose best athlete is its back-up quarterback, a quick-footed young man who covers kick offs and punts and comes close to blocking punts each week, a guy who runs fast around the end and plays hard even though QB is his natural position and he played it in high school. It's a team with two hard-nosed running backs, wide receivers who don't drop many balls and that starts two true freshmen at guards.

It's a true team.

Our everyday lives are full of distractionss, things that could derail us if we let them, aches and pains of all sorts. Yet it's comforting to know that each of us can find a place where the setting is nice, where we can be in fresh air and with our families having fun and escape from everything. Today, Princeton Stadium was such a place for Princeton fans.

How sweet it is (and "it" doesn't happen that often).

Very sweet, indeed.

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