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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Report from the Front: Dartmouth 31 Princeton 0

As one-time (and legendary) ABC football announcer Keith Jackson would have said, "It's a wonderful autumn afternoon for football." Err, at least it was for the visiting Dartmouth Big Green, which shellacked the Tigers, 31-0. It was a tough end to a rough season for first-year coach Bob Surace. I'm sure that if any recruits were following the action closely, they figure that they can go to a great school, a beautiful campus, and play for a guy who played there and coached at the NFL level. That's perhaps the bright side for the Tigers today.

I was there, among the 42 or so people sitting in the end zone, some of whom appeared to have mixed allegiances (one guy wore a Green hat that hat Big Green to the left of a white Dartmouth D on the front of his cap and "Tiger" in orange to the right), another was an alum who played for Princeton whose son played for Dartmouth within the past couple of years. There were the alums in sport coats, even an alum in a sport coat wearing L.L. Bean hunting shoes (the dark brown variety) and an orange-and-black Princeton tie. As Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote in Evita (okay, or at least to paraphrase), "the best show in town was the crowd. . .."

Truth be told, there were almost as many Big Green fans there as Tiger fans, and the former were louder than the latter (no surprise there, as their gridders gave them much more to cheer about than the Tiger gridders did). It was a beautiful day, sun, mid-fifties, wind only mildly gusting from time to time, but the Tigers were down to their third- and fourth-string quarterbacks, and they just couldn't run the offense the way injured starter Tommy Wornham could. The coaches called predictable run plays, and exacerbating the problem were too many balls thrown way ahead or behind of receivers. All in all, though, when you lose 31-0, everyone contributes. More striking, though, was the lack of overall quickness and strength of the Tiger defense, which, when they got there, sometimes were pushed away (and, at times, without great difficulty). I haven't followed the team all season, so I don't know if Princeton was missing a good number of starters owing to injury, but the defense had its troubles all year.

There is a silver lining in all of this, which is that the Tigers have nowhere to go but up. It's a competitive league, for sure, but the Ivies are a little bit like NASCAR. Every driver drives a similar car in NASCAR, and every Ivy team recruits, generally, from the same pool of players. True, all but Princeton take transfers, and a strategic transfer here and there can help fill a gaping hole, particularly at a skill position, and, true, some are bigger and have different ways to get kids in and schools to admit them to. All that said, there are many more similarities between the top and bottom of the Ivy League than probably the top and bottom of every other conference.

It was a fun afternoon to be outside, a great time to catch up with an old friend, fun to see my son and a friend sit near the bottom of the end zone and watch up close, and a time of thanks that I didn't need to wear the cold weather gear. The Dartmouth Big Green will enjoy a long bus ride back to Hanover, New Hampshire, the huge victory enough to fuel the bus and the people riding in it. The Tigers will limp back to their dormitories, lamenting a disappointing end to a frustrating season.


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