There is something dry, lifeless, almost clinical, about perfection in sports that belies the sweat and muck that go into producing it. A perfect game, a perfect season; going strictly by the book, wouldnt the former be defined as 27 strikeouts, 81 strikes, no balls? Likewise, the latter could be construed as a team reaching its potential and playing its best each time out, whatever the score.
This is folly, of course, and numbers are the lifeblood of any sporting discussion. The number 14 has always possessed a certain cachet for Ivy League basketball teams, but the Penn Quakers are doing their best to remove some of its mystique by making perfection seem almost routine. It almost makes one wonder what they are planning for an encore.
As the Ivy League has gradually begun to resemble an actual Division I conference where more than two teams can be considered legitimate contenders, Penn has made it clear that it is playing, for all intents and purposes, a different game. The Quakers 14-0 Ivy record this season was the seventh in school history, but the fifth in the last 11 years. For comparison, the gap between perfect seasons Nos. 2 and 3 was 22 years.
In addition to being an aesthetically pleasing group to watch, this was a team hardened by the experience of last seasons 2-3 start and subsequent 10-game winning streak. This translated itself into an almost other-worldly poise and sense of confidence that only increased as the season wore on. The home-and-home series against Brown offered perfect examples. The Bruins, with Earl Hunt, the leagues top scorer, and slippery point guard Jason Forte, were undefeated entering the February 15 game at the Palestra, but they went scoreless in the last four minutes and lost, further embarrassing themselves with coach Glenn Millers carping about the referees allegedly favoring the Quakers.
The rematch in Providence, played in front of a screaming mob at the high-school-sized Pizzitola Center, again found Hunt & Co. with a chance to make a statement, with the same result, except this time Brown closed a gap in the waning minutes before misfiring on a potential game-tying basket. This is the way it is when pretenders play contenders: they get the one possession, the one chance to grab for glory and if they blow it, it doesnt come around again. At least, not until next year.
As senior point guard Andrew Toole stood in his stocking feet in the hallway outside the Penn locker room after the Quakers 69-65 win, he addressed the criticism that the Quakers of recent years had a habit of tightening up in the clutch. I think at the beginning of the year a lot of people were thinking that we didnt have the poise, that we couldnt win the close games, but we won two against Brown, he said. We have a lot of guys who have been in close games. And from last year, we know how fragile it is.
Toole captured the essence of this Penn team in the first half of the game in Providence with a sequence that slipped by almost unnoticed in the games ebb and flow. With Hunt guarding him at the top of the key, Toole faked right, dribbled once left, then crossed back over to the right, leaving Hunt clutching at the air. Driving through a thicket of players in the lane, he deftly switched the ball from his right hand to his left in mid-air and curled it softly over the rim, as if he were setting down an antique vase on a high shelf. As he turned to run back upcourt, Toole looked at press row and let out a whoop, partly in exultation and partly as if even he could not quite believe what he had just done.
These Quakers believed in themselves and backed up those beliefs, and in doing so added their names to an already illustrious tradition and inched the standard for future teams just that much higher.
You had to figure Bob Seddon was going to go into coaching just from his choice of college. The list of collegiate and professional coaches who have graduated from Springfield College in western Massachusetts is lengthy, beginning with James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, and includes former New England Patriots coach Dick MacPherson and former Sacramento Kings coach Garry St. Jean.
Seddon has outlasted them all, or at least a good majority of them. The 1956 Springfield graduate is still at it, for which generationsand we do mean generationsof baseball players and fans at Penn should be grateful.
The all-time leader in baseball victories at Penn, Seddon won his 600th game in March, in his 33rd season in West Philadelphia. Chew on those numbers for a second: in 1971, when Seddon took over as head coach, the parents of most of his current players were probably just hitting puberty. Prior to that, he had already coached high-school baseball and soccer in North Jersey for 10 years, and in 1968 was named Penns head soccer coach, a position he held until 1986.
Longevity has its place. So do wins, and you usually dont find the former without the latter. Thirteen 20-win seasons and five trips to the NCAA Championships speak to that, as do the numerous all-Ivy selections, batting champions, pitching leaders, and players of the year (three pitchers and two field players), not to mention the two Penn graduates currently on major league clubsDoug Glanville EAS92 (Texas) [Alumni Profiles, April 1998] and Mark DeRosa W97 (Atlanta) [Alumni Profiles, September/October 2001].
As far as the wins go, most coaches will tell you that those are the kinds of things theyll appreciate after they retire, Seddon said. I think what has been most rewarding to me has been all the players who have given back to the program. Also, being involved in the fund-raising and working with the architects and engineers on the new baseball stadium.
The Penn Athletics Hall of Fame inducts its fourth class on May 10. Whenever Seddon decides to step down, there will surely be a plaque awaiting him.
Sports columnist David Porter C82 has another article on page 36.
From Feb. 10 - Apr. 6
Womens Basketball (15-12)
Womens Indoor Track
Mens Lacrosse (4-5)
Womens Lacrosse (4-7)
Mens Heavyweight Rowing
Mens Lightweight Rowing
Mens Tennis (9-7)
Womens Tennis (12-4)