These Seniors Mind Any Suggestion This Doesn’t Matter

  • November 16, 2017

BY JAY GREENBERG

Princeton history majors could ace every course and never learn that the school’s football team has had consecutive winning seasons only once in the last 21 years.  Certificates in trivia are not among the school’s offerings. And neither is solace from a botched call that took away an obvious winning touchdown with three seconds remaining at Penn.

“We know we’re better than a .500 team,” said senior guard Erik Ramirez, referring as much to three straight losses by a total of eight points and the plague upon the defensive line as he was to a victory at Penn two weeks ago that never will be counted. With the difference between 6-4 and 5-5 hanging Saturday afternoon on Memorial Field at Dartmouth, Coach Bob Surace wasn’t afraid to say it:  “We have won six games already,” he said. “In our guy’s minds, we are 5-4 with an asterisk.”

All that said–or not said publicly in the way of an apology by the Ivy League-the senior Tigers nevertheless will go through the rest of their lives feeling significantly better about a 6-4 that really was a 7-3 than they would about a third 5-5 in their four years for Old Nassau.  This is true, even if 6-4 would pale next to the Ivy title won in the other year (2016).

“As a team we’re definitely better than we were as freshman (2014) and sophomores (2015),” said senior center Dick Bush. “I think the sixth win would kind of reflect that.

“Despite all the trials and tribulations this year, we will have ended on a good note. Even if the difference is small (in number), it would impact us psychologically, how we leave the program.  It would feel different than another 5-5.”

When you play only 10 games and are allowed 40 maximum before being dragged onto the rest of your life that, however rewarding, will not likely be as much fun as football, then one contest is not a small difference. It’s a precious opportunity.  As freshmen these seniors were told by the coaches and the then-seniors how quickly their Princeton time would fly by. But they didn’t mean this fast, did they?

Where did it go?

“You take each day in stride but time moves really quickly,” said senior cornerback Chance Melancon. “No matter how much you live in the present, the end is always there.

“So when it finally comes, it feels like it came fast because you always expected it, no matter how much you tried to put it off.

“I’m not an emotional person, so I won’t let it affect me before or during the game or I won’t be able to do my job.  But I will miss this considerably. I am not going to be suffering with these guys any longer for a common goal.  And football is great for getting out aggression, which I have a lot of.  I may have to get a punching bag or something.”

Primal scream therapy should be the first treatment option for the 2017 Tigers.  But what is left of them continue to practice like they are 9-0, which they could have been had the football gods not been so mean.

By one reckoning, everything happens for a reason.  There are so many good players coming back next year–either hale and hearty or considerably more experienced– that Princeton already is the smart favorite for 2018, when the Tigers will be talking about how much better they became through all this adversity.

That is not much consolation to these seniors, though. Certainly, they leave with treasured rings. But after winning five of the first six games of 2017, they certainly never expected to be going into Game 10 rationalizing the difference between the respectable (6-4) and the (5-5) mundane.  We are talking strictly about their record here, not the personality of a team that can score like one.

That said, the 2017 Tigers aren’t really going to get any asterisk, except in their heads. And, 35 years from now, their grandchildren will have no sympathy for eight defensive linemen going down and an official running in from 20 yards away to change a call to wrong. Being Princeton grads, these players will have bright kids, who may have children even smarter.  So they probably won’t believe the story anyway.

Dartmouth, needing a Harvard upset of Yale, still has a chance to earn a ring for a shared title. The Tigers are playing for swigs of mouthwash. “We’re just focused on going out with a win, and leaving with a good taste in our mouth,” said senior tackle Mitch Sweigart.

Last year’s seniors hit the jackpot: A rousing Game 10 come-from-behind win over Dartmouth sent them out as champions. Even without a title on the line this time, the recall of their finales likely will be disproportionate to what was its unimportance to Princeton in the standings.

“It is an inherently memorable game because it is the last one,” said Ramirez.  “Our memory will come down to how we perform.”

There is a reasonable chance that football isn’t ending for Sweigart, an NFL draft candidate, on Saturday. “It is different for me,” he said. “But I have no guarantees, so I’m approaching this as my last game.

“I know I am not going to think about it much during the game. But I’ve seen three classes in front of me so I know how emotional it will be.

“Six hours on a bus will give you time to reflect. When people get back here, I think it will be real emotional.  All these hours a week, for four years of your life, you were spending with a group of guys.  After Saturday, you will never have that same kind of connection with them and, whatever you do in life, you will never work as a team for a common goal in quite the same way.

“It’s a special time in your life. And we’ll miss it.”

Meant to be Broken Dept:

Senior Chad Kanoff needs 145 yards to pass Doug Butler ’86 as Princeton’s all time single season passing leader. Butler will be in Hanover, his arm cocked to deliver congratulations.

“I have to say it is with a mixed feeling of pride and embarrassment that the record has lasted this long,” said Butler, today the CEO of Reward Gateway, a human resources software company.

“I’ve joked with (former offensive coordinator) James Perry and (current) Sean Gleeson that using a million quarterbacks every year was helpful to me. But I sent Chad a note this year saying, ‘It is about time, 34 years is enough.  You can do it.’ He must have taken me seriously.

“I have been to a few games in person the last couple years and spoken to him a handful of times. He is a good kid; I am really thrilled for him but I feel for him, too. I also had one of those frustrating years where you are just a few points away from an incredibly good season. We lost a Penn game on a bad call, too.

“At the risk of sounding like some bitter old man, I will say that the shovel pass didn’t exist when I played.  We called that a pitch. But Chad is much more athletic than I ever was.  If you are telling me he doesn’t have a quick first step, I didn’t have the second and third step either.”

Already a national semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy (scholar-athlete-leader-citizen), Kanoff was added this week to the Walter Payton Award—for the top offensive player in the FCS.

Kanoff also is only 225 yards away from passing Perry, who played at Brown, for the Ivy League’s second-greatest passing season, plus needs 382 to surpass Jeff Matthews’ all-time mark achieved for Cornell in 2011.

Kanoff’s current 72.2 season completion average almost surely will leave him ahead of Jason Garrett’s Princeton-record 66.5 for one season.  But, as computed by Princeton football Sports Information Director Craig Sachson, Kanoff would need to complete his first 71 passes this week to better Garrett’s Ivy League career mark.

Hey, Butler once threw 59 passes against Colgate during his career. ‘Ya never know.

Finale Dept:

Dartmouth’s Week 10 place on the Princeton schedule, a spot held since 1990, ends with Saturday’s game.  Dartmouth, no longer wishing to take the long trip every other year during its exam time, initiated the move and Penn and Princeton saw the opportunity to further their rivalry by annually closing against each other.  Dartmouth next year will move into the week eight slot.

Ask a Tiger or a Tiger alum who is Princeton’s greatest and you can get up to three answers – Yale, Harvard or Penn­. But as Harvard and Yale will always close against each other and it seems fair to say that Penn almost universally considers Princeton its greatest rival, the move makes sense.

“When I played, Penn was the team to beat,” said Surace. “To the guys right after me, it became Dartmouth.

“Since I have been back, Dartmouth has been really good and at least one of the teams has been playing for a title in the final week. So it’s been a huge rivalry, too. But I’m fine with this. To win a championship you have to beat everybody anyway. It doesn’t matter to me in which order.”

Dartmouth is moving its home game in 2019 against Princeton to Yankee Stadium so that the teams can celebrate the 150th anniversary of college football.  So this will be Princeton’s only visit to Hanover during a four-year cycle.

It’s Not Over Until We Say It is Over Dept:

Monday morning, we will have the wrap-up from Dartmouth and coverage of Sunday’s team banquet, with all the traditional honors awarded there. Tuesday we will report the announcement of the All Ivy team and, the following Monday will be at the announcement of the Bushnell Cups for Ivy offensive and defensive players of the year in New York.

In coming weeks we will post our annual review of the best plays and players from a season of the highest highs and lowest lows, plus Bob Surace’s reflections on the contributions of each of the seniors.

Tiger Tails

Jesper Horsted and Stephen Carlson have made Princeton the first team in Ivy League history with two receivers of 10 touchdowns in a year.  Horsted needs eight catches to match Kevin Guthrie’s 34-year-old Princeton record of 88 . . . The Big Green leads the all-time series 48-44-4.  The Tigers broke a 6-game losing streak with last year’3 38-21 clinching of the Ivy title on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium. . .The  game will be streamed live on the Ivy League Network (Cody Chrusciel and Craig Sachson) and broadcast on WPRB (13.3 an TuneIn app search Princeton IMG Sports Network)

[email protected]