Web Exclusives: Tooke's Take
a PAW web exclusive column by Wes Tooke '98 (email: cwtooke@princeton.edu)

January 30, 2002:
Lucy and the football
Will basketball once again break our young columnist's heart?

I grew up in a Peanuts household. My father, a man with a deep appreciation for pathos, fell in love with Charlie Brown as a child, and numerous Peanuts anthologies lined the walls of our library. My own loyalties in the comic strip lay mostly with Snoopy - especially when in the guise of his alter ego, Joe Cool - which speaks either to my own emotional vapidity or the self-glorifying tastes of my generation.

But one annual segment involving Charlie Brown did capture my imagination. Every fall Charlie Brown and Lucy would go outside to kick a field goal with a football. Every fall Charlie Brown would recall that the previous year Lucy had pulled the football away at the last possible moment, causing Charlie Brown to fly 10 feet in the air and land flat on his back. Every fall Lucy would patiently explain to Charlie Brown that this was the year that things would be different. And every fall Charlie Brown would again end up flat on his back as Lucy reminded him of the cruel realities of our world.

That little segment from Peanuts prepared me perfectly for my experiences as a Red Sox fan. Every winter I pledge that this will be the year I finally forget about the Red Sox and lead a normal, fulfilling life through the summer months. Then, of course, spring comes and the team wins 10 games in a row and I convert as quickly as an antenna repairman in a lightning storm. And just when I'm finally fully invested, they swoon - not just in the standings, but in vicious internecine war that makes me wonder how I ever could have cared one iota about such a pack of self-absorbed, childish boors.

This season I worry that the men's basketball team may be preparing to perform a milder version of the Lucy and the football trick on me. After I watched the Tigers get thoroughly dissected by California and St. Josephs - and as Penn made some serious noise in early-season games - I made peace with the notion that this was a rebuilding year. In fact, as we entered the Ivy League season at 4-7, I was even prepared to concede that we might (shudder) finish lower than second in the league.

So what happens? On the Monday after the first full weekend of the season, I check the scores, fully prepared for terrible news. But what I discover is that Princeton has swept Harvard and Dartmouth while Penn has managed to lose in Cambridge. And suddenly I'm a believer again. So what if the team has no stars? How about balance: Seven players are within five points per game of the team lead. Who are you going to double, Penn? Huh? Will it be freshman Will Venable, our Brian Earl in waiting? The steady seniors Mike Bechtold and Ahmed El-Nokali? Or the Pounding Pole, Konrad Wysocki?

But warning signs already abound. The dangerous Andre Logan, the team's second-leading scorer and best low-post threat, tore his ACL in the Harvard game and is lost for the season. And I've recently ridden this Princeton roller coaster. After all, the Miracle at the Palestra three seasons ago was followed by Penn methodically marching to the Ivy League title. For the moment, however, my early-season jitters are long forgotten. I am a convert, a true believer, orange and black to the hilt. I have trotted back to the bandwagon like a pathetic puppy and I am ready for another unexpected and magical run to the NCAA Tournament.

At least until Lucy again pulls that football away. So how 'bout them Red Sox?

You can reach Wes at cwtooke@princeton.edu