Archive For The “2016” Category
This is the crux of the question I’ve been struggling with over the last few weeks.
Like many of you, I was shocked at the election of Donald Trump to become our next President. Also like many of you, I paid as he did things differently when it came to talking about the political foes he defeated, how he went about assembling a cabinet, and how he engaged the press.
Everything about this point in time in history feels historic. No set of Americans have ever elected someone like Donald Trump as President. Nobody, not Trump of the mobs of Twitter people that seem to follow him, have used Twitter to attack people so directly almost like a weapon, especially focused at journalists that are trying to get at the truth.
Frankly, nobody knows what’s coming next.
So how do you write about sports at a time like this? How do you compartmentalize what you’re feeling about the election, and crack open the vault which waxes philosophic about Lehigh’s latest and greatest postseason award for football, or latest achievement in basketball or wrestling?
The answer appears to be to look to history – and to look to sports – to find narratives. And I found one.
Kids come to play football at Lehigh because they want their games to matter.
The first time I asked a question of Lafayette head football coach Frank Tavani was in 2004.
It was at Fisher Field, and I had just spent my first game ever in the press box.
I had gone into that press box hoping to cover an expected Lehigh victory over Lafayette, the final crowning glory to yet another Lehigh football season.
I barely knew what I was doing, how I should act, or how to set up a computer in the press box. But there I was, taking notes for a “game diary” for a national website called I-AA.org.
I had proven my bona fides for writing by penning a very long, very detailed summary of the Lehigh/Colgate game a few weeks prior. That game, a Lehigh victory that went down to the wire, was sort-of a precursor to the type of coverage I do now during Lehigh games in terms of tweeting, except rather than tweet it out instantly to followers, I would write all the observations down, shuffle them up, edit them, and put them in a thousand-word article. (Trust me when I say it made sense at the time.)
But Lehigh did not beat Lafayette in 2004.
Instead, fourth year head coach Frank Tavani’s team would dominate the Mountain Hawks on both lines of scrimmage to secure a well-deserved 24-10 victory, and in so doing punched their first-ever ticket to the I-AA Playoffs.
It was in this environment where I would first ask a question of Frank Tavani, that year a finalist for the Eddie Robinson award for the best head coach in I-AA football.
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It would be all so easy if football were a video game.
If the players were pixels, with easy-to-read sliders with their statistics on them.
Then the FCS playoffs would be easy. You’d plug in the teams, they’d hit each other virtually on the screen, and there would be a result, quantifying the relative strengths and weaknesses of each team. A representative score would come out, and there would be one side bursting with victory, and the other in agony in defeat.
There would be bitterness, some teeth-gnashing, but at least you’d have figured out that the teams gave it their best shot.
But real life is not a video game. Sometimes, star players go hunting, and come down with an illness. It keeps them out of practice, and on the day of the big game, they’re not 100%, or even 75%. Sometimes, foot injuries do not heal, as much as you wish that they would.
And then a team like Lehigh travels up to New Hampshire, not able to put their absolute best foot forward.
Not that it’s an excuse – injuries, and all sorts of other things, happen during a football season. New Hampshire exposed what may have actually been weaknesses hiding in plain sight for this Lehigh team, exposing the soft white underbelly of the Mountain Hawks – the ability to stop an elite running game.
But it was heartbreaking to have Lehigh not be able to put their absolute best foot forward, to not be able to go down with two of their four team captains at full strength.
Instead, all that Lehigh fans got to see were tiny glimpses of the team they had gotten to know so well over the last couple of months, sandwiched around a lot of evidence on how much better the Mountain Hawks need to be in order to compete for a national championship.
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By now you probably know that Lehigh is headed to New Hampshire on Saturday to face off against the Wildcats in the first round of the FCS Playoffs.
About this, some of you are scratching your heads. Lehigh is 9-2, you say. Every single computer rating system has them ranked ahead of New Hampshire, every single human voter poll has them ranked against New Hampshire. Lehigh won the Patriot League outright; New Hampshire weren’t even co-champions of the CAA. Why is New Hampshire hosting us?
The answer resides in the bidding process and some NCAA rules, both of which explain why it happened.
I’ll talk about this, and my other thoughts on the bracket, below.
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The parties raged on in the parking garage next to Fisher Field, which were packed with Lafayette fans eager to enjoy a party with plenty of great food and copious drinks.
The tiny businesses below Fisher Field, the small bits of capitalism next to the concrete husks of factory jobs that have left ages ago, had plenty of visiting Lehigh fans, enjoying the tailgates and ready to invade the stadium that they hadn’t seen in four years.
In the line coming into the stadium, a silent protest of hundreds of Lafayette students clad in black, handing out a political statement on a piece of paper and showing some signs that were up seemingly to simply show that these people exist, and are not happy.
Somewhere in this mix of people escaping, people expressing and people denying, a football game was played, one that matched an 8-2 team that was headed to the national stage and the FCS playoffs, the other a 2-8 squad that had their fans questioning the tenure of their head coach.
It was one of the strangest disconnect of emotions that I’ve ever seen in a Rivalry game, one where the outcome, a 45-21 victory by the Brown and White, was almost expected by everyone going through the crowded gates at Fisher Field.
There was plenty to celebrate – for one side, anyway.
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Stop me if you’ve heard this before: As a reward for being the surprise outright winner of the Patriot League football championship, the reward is a trip to New Hampshire, the winner headed to seeded James Madison for a second-round game. And somewhere, Sam Houston State looms on the horizon.
This is the exact situation that Colgate found itself last season, and this year, Lehigh is poised to run through the exact same gauntlet and the exact same teams.
Sunday morning, Lehigh found out their opponents for the FCS Playoffs; the New Hampshire Wildcats. The game will be played at New Hampshire at 2PM EST, and will be available to watch on ESPN3 on your computer and possibly ESPN Gameplan Pay-Per-View on your TV.
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Let’s just put it this way: After looking at the mock brackets from around FCS Nation, mocking it out myself, trying to go over as many possible scenarios that I possibly can – I still have no idea.
That doesn’t mean, dear Reader, that I won’t try, and I won’t try to explain to you what I think could happen. But it’s not easy, and you’ll see why.
Put simply, I feel like this is the most wide-open playoff field ever, for two reasons.
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In the most-played college football Rivalry, there was a mild concern of complacency on the Lehigh side.
Would they be able to manage the emotions of the Rivalry after a bye week? Would they come out flat, and let 2-8 Lafayette take away their chance at an outright Patriot League championship, an undefeated Patriot League record, and a 9-2 regular season mark?
The Mountain Hawks proved resoundingly that fans needn’t have worried.
Lehigh rolled to a 17-0 lead before Lafayette connected on a big pass play, then kept the foot on the gas to get to a 45-7 lead before starting to put in the second stringers.
It was pretty telling that the biggest outpouring of emotion during the game happened when Lehigh’s marching band, the Marching 97, marched off Lafayette’s pep band after they went over on their time to play. It was that sort of day for a joyous Lehigh victory.
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We break down #Rivalry152 – and we give our fearless prediction, below the flip.
When you take away The Rivalry, when you take away the emotions, when you take away the craziness, the energy – what do we have? When you look at the Xs and Os, what do you have?
Certainly, this game, like every Rivalry game, will be dictated and informed by emotion. You can count on the fact, as a Lehigh fan, that Lafayette will play out of their minds. For their seniors, it is guaranteed to be their last game played together as a team. For them, there is no practicing on Thanksgiving.
Countless football teams have taken this “300” mentality and turned it into wins. Quarterbacks that used to struggle to not get intercepted suddenly become the second coming of QB Tom Brady. Linebackers that didn’t wrap up their tackles before suddenly become LB Mike Singletary. It can happen to Lehigh. Don’t think that it can’t.
That shouldn’t stop us, though, from looking over the Leopards and seeing what they’re all about. They will put together a gameplan to come away with victory. It’s up to the Mountain Hawks to keep that from happening.