"The years teach much which the days never knew."- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Game #9-084: Princeton at Lafayette LeopardsNovember 24, 2012 2:00 pm
Kirby Sports Center
EASTON, Pa. - Somehow Jim Finnen had never heard of Joe Arnone until Saturday. And that's a shame.
As I took my seat at the Kirby Sports Center Saturday afternoon, the voice and - let's be honest - age of the public address announcer immediately got my attention.
Modern technology allowed me to do some quick research and find out that Jim Finnen has been the voice of Lafayette athletics since 1964, a legend in the Lehigh Valley, even though I had never heard of him until Saturday. By his estimation, he's missed two games in the last three decades, and often shows up at road games when they're within reasonable distance (like rival Lehigh, only 15 miles away).
His story, and that of Arnone - the legendary Central Connecticut announcer - are remarkably similar. Both have served approximately the same amount of time at their institutions, both served briefly in the military in the 1950s, each kind of stumbled upon the area they now reside but eventually made it their long-time home (Finnen is an Albany graduate, who took various radio jobs before coming to Easton).
They are approximately the same age, in their late seventies.
I figured, him busy and all, I would wait until after the Lafayette-Princeton contest to introduce myself to Finnen. The Kirby Center gym is scheduled to be renovated after this season, and that's a good thing. The rest of the campus, including the adjacent Fisher Stadium for football, is beautiful, as is the rest of the facility in which the main basketball court resides. For now, the crowd sat at rickety old wooden benches.
Princeton has stumbled a little bit out of the gate, although two of their losses on the way to their 1-3 start (Rutgers, Syracuse) have come above the Red Line. The Tigers were dominant in this one. Senior Ian Hummer looked like he could be a quality linebacker or tight end if he wanted to.
At 6-foot-7, he doesn't have a great outside game, but was way too strong for Lafayette. Princeton raced to a 19-4 lead, led by 10 at the half, and then pulled away for a wire-to-wire 72-53 victory behind 28 (with seven rebounds and five assists) points from Hummer, 17 from T.J. Bray, and 13 from Will Barrett. The Tigers, picked to win the Ivy League in the preseason, looked the part on Saturday.
As the second half started, I noticed what appeared to be a familiar face down next to the Lafayette bench. The older gentleman sat chatting with what appeared to be a priest, watching intently as the action went back and forth. Leading by 16 and the game getting late, Hummer made a rare mistake for a turnover and compounded the error by committing a foul at the other end.
The older man's eyes squinted and his hands, almost reflexively, moved to the top of his head.
Yup, that was Pete Carril, alright.
In retrospect, of course it was. Carril, now 82, is from nearby Bethlehem and played for Lafayette, graduating in 1952. He bounced around the local high school ranks, he took over at Lehigh for one year before going to Princeton in 1969.
We know the rest, ending in induction to the Hall of Fame in 1997. He had his chances to jump the Red Line. Many of them. He didn't.
As someone who grew up admiring Carril and his work, it's amazing to think that this is the 17th Princeton season since Carril retired (he was an NBA assistant afterward). Our Game always adapts and evolves, and even though this version of the Tigers shows flashes of the Princeton offense Carril made famous nationally two decades ago, it's not quite the same. Even the current coach, Mitch Henderson, only played two years under Carril (including the 1996 upset of UCLA in the NCAA Tournament) and the last two under current Northwestern coach Bill Carmody. Other teams still run Princeton-like sets, but not the way he used to when I used to see the Tigers in their heyday every year in New Haven.
As the game ended, and the crowd started to file out, many of the visiting Princeton crowd walking right past where Carril was sitting, and I was a little disappointed that more of them didn't acknowledge Carril. Is it possible, gasp, that they didn't recognize him? Seventeen years is a long time, I guess. But 10 NCAA Tournament appearances, 514 wins, leading the nation in scoring defense eight years in a row? Yeah, I know, it was a long time ago.
Sadly, that's the way it goes. It will happen to all of us. Aristotle knew it 2,500 years ago: "Time crumbles things; everything grows old under the power of Time and is forgotten under the lapse of Time."
Being the meticulous announcer he is, Finnen announced how many points every person on both teams had scored and when the next men's and women's home game was before signing off (hopefully, the Kirby Center will get a better sound system next year as well). I told him about Arnone and that he was probably been doing it a little longer than he had.
"Well, I guess I'm new at this then," he said.
I thanked him for his years of service to Our Game, and asked him if he knew Carril to which I knew immediately was a silly question.
"I could tell you plenty of stories from over the years."
And he did give me a tidbit that made my day.
"You see the guy he's talking to," Finnen said, referring to the priest I mentioned earlier. "That's Bishop John Barres. I remember him playing for Pete at Princeton."
The Most Reverend Barres was ordained a Bishop in 2009 and now serves the Diocese of Allentown, which includes the Lehigh Valley. He was never a star at Princeton, in fact he spent most of his time on the junior varsity squad in the early 1980s.
But the life lessons he learned stuck with him long after he graduated.
"(Carril) always preached radical unselfishness," Barres said when he was ordained. "I think that's how things work."
Finnen briefly talked with Carril and Barres sharing a laugh before going on his way. As Carril went to grab his cane and hat and head toward the door, Barres helped him.
We're taught - most times subliminally - that's it's all about money, power, and fame, most times in that order.
But, as people like Finnen, Arnone, and Carril teach us as they enter the final laps of lives they truly enjoyed, it's not.
And it never will be.