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In more than three years of Princeton sports, five moments stand out

I am not an expert on Princeton athletics, by any means. But I have seen my fair share of sporting events in three and a half years as a sports reporter and editor for the Daily Princetonian.

Of the countless games, press conferences and road trips, certain moments stick out – moments I don't think I will ever forget. They weren't all happy, and they weren't all exciting, but they all made an impact on me.


Here are the five most memorable of those moments:

5. Sprint football vs. Penn, 11/12/99

I finally found the upside to having a station wagon at school, hosting what was probably the first sprint football tailgate in student history. For some reason, the alums arriving in Lot 21 for an event in Jadwin didn't find it as amusing as I did. Oh yeah, the game was fun too.

4. Men's basketball vs. Penn, 2/17/98

Forget the Institute for Advanced Study – the greatest discovery ever made in Princeton took place at Jadwin Gym. It was like something out of "Field of Dreams": "if you jump up-and-down really hard on the bleachers, the floor will shake."

Sitting at the press table on the floor behind the basket, I was one of the first to feel the full extent of this discovery. I think that chair now has a warning for pregnant women and people with irregular heartbeats.

3. Men's soccer vs. Yale, 11/13/99

Whoever faulted soccer for a lack of scoring clearly wasn't in attendance at this game. With night descending on Lourie-Love Field and the air getting steadily colder, Princeton and Yale battled for 120 tense minutes before settling for a tie.

Everyone in the overflowing bleachers was standing during the overtime periods, and it appeared as though all wanted in on the action – proctors continually had to move spectators away from the field. When the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Tigers were rewarded for their efforts with the outright Ivy League title. And those of us in attendance were rewarded with one of the most thrilling Princeton sporting events in years.

2. Football at Yale, 11/14/98


On a cold day in the Yale Bowl, the football team played a game that was a microcosm of its 1998 season, filled with pain, frustration and, in the end, disappointment. It would have been much easier for the Tigers if they had just been bad. But instead they were a team that often played with brilliance. And they were a team that never, ever gave up.

In its second-to-last game of the season, Princeton overcame a 17-point deficit against the Elis to finally take the lead midway through the fourth quarter on an interception return. The Tiger sideline erupted in celebration, sensing that Princeton would crown a season of heartbreak with a win over a surprisingly good Yale team.

But like so many other of the Tigers' hopes, it was not to be. Just 21 seconds later, the Elis scored on a long touchdown pass on their first play from scrimmage. Game over.

As it had all season long, Princeton's defense played with guts and passion. But it could not overcome six interceptions thrown by the offense.

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Though it was the most exciting game of the year, it is not the action on the field that I most remember. Rather, it is the image of senior linebacker Jim Salters '99 standing outside the locker room after the game, struggling to make sense of a season that had gone wrong. In the process, he gave the most honest and thoughtful assessment of a team that I have ever heard.

Toward the end of the interview, Salters summed up the 1998 season better than any journalist could have hoped.

"I know some guys on this team who have put their whole lives into football for the last eight, nine years," he said. "And they deserve better than this."

And they did.

1. Men's basketball at North Carolina, 12/13/97

Ivy League teams don't go into the Dean Dome and beat the Tar Heels. Not when UNC is ranked No. 2 in the country. Not when its lineup includes Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison and Ed Cota.

Someone forget to tell Mitch Henderson '98 that.

The Tigers, in the midst of their 1997-98 dream season, took UNC to the wire before finally losing. After the game, the press lauded Princeton for its effort and used words like "a good loss" and "overachieving." Henderson, the Tigers' determined point guard, would have none of it.

As we stood outside the pressroom, a reporter asked Henderson what he had gained from the loss. His reply was short and to the point: "nothing." Henderson expected to win, no matter who Princeton was playing. He and his team were at the top of their game, and they would settle for nothing less than victory every time they took the floor.

That kind of confidence led the Tigers' to a 27-2 overall record and a first-round win in the NCAA tournament. Their success galvanized student support for athletics and created an atmosphere on campus that, for a time, made Princeton a much more exciting place to go to school. When I think of all the great moments from that season, though, I always come back to Henderson standing in a faraway arena, refusing to admit that any team was better than his. It remains the most memorable of my Princeton sports moments.