Cornell pep club: Science Guy & Insult Comic Dog
Bill Nye is ready to rip off his blue lab coat and put on a Big Red shirt. Come Thursday night, The Science Guy will metamorphose into a Cornell Crazy.
Dressed in team colors, he'll watch the Cornell-Kentucky game at an alumni party in Santa Monica, Calif. The mechanical engineering grad, class of '77, is still true to his school. And he's pulling for a team that's true to its Ivy roots.
``This is regular cultural anthropology majors with economics on the side,'' he said. ``It's not these astonishing, clearly superior athletes who just are bigger and stronger and faster and more athletic and can shoot better. It's a real team look to it.''
Certainly it's the most intriguing game at the NCAA tournament. The mighty Wildcats and their monster fan base fronted by Ashley Judd. The little Ivy Leaguers, backed by a curious collection of rooters who often stayed away from the gym in their day.
``You could count on one hand the number of basketball games I attended when I was at Cornell,'' said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, class of '74. ``The basketball program was in disarray.''
That's how Keith Olbermann remembered it. The MSNBC ``Countdown'' host was the backup public-address announcer at Barton Hall in the late 1970s and ``the crowd was so small and the building so big, they could have hidden the entire U.S. Army in there during most Cornell basketball games,'' he wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
But now, just try to hold back Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Or rather, the inspiration behind him, ``Saturday Night Live'' wizard Robert Smigel.
``Cornell wasn't exactly a hoops haven when I was there,'' Smigel said. ``I played intramural hoops at Cornell and I think we got as much attention as the basketball team. Which is to say no attention.''
The total number of games he attended? Zero. ``But I did see my first Springsteen concert there,'' he said.
Smigel was at the upstate New York school for two years. Raised in Manhattan on the Knicks glory teams of Walt Frazier, Willis Reed and Bill Bradley, he went to the campus in Ithaca to follow the career path of his father, a prominent dentist.
Last weekend, Smigel and his dad watched as Cornell overwhelmed Wisconsin to reach the round of 16 - the Big Red had never won a single game in the tournament until this year.
``I can't believe how well they shot the ball. I'm used to watching the New Jersey Nets,'' he said. ``I'm surprised how excited I am watching them.''
No word on how Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg views her Cornell v. Kentucky. Bill Maher, Jimmy Smits and Janet Reno are among today's prominent Big Red alumni. The athletic history? Ed Marinaro, the 1971 Heisman Trophy runner-up turned actor, and NHL Hall of Famer Ken Dryden top the list.
In fact, until Cornell got good in recent years, some students would get basketball tickets at Newman Arena solely because they could then sneak across a corridor into Lynah Rink to watch the ultra-popular hockey team.
To Bettman, the guys on ice were the coolest.
``It was all hockey at the time there, and so was I,'' he said in an e-mail. ``That said, the Big Red connections remain. My wife and children all went to - or now attend - Cornell, so there is a strong family rooting interest.''
``I watched Sunday's game at a sports bar with more than 100 fellow Cornellians, including my son, my son-in-law and two friends from college. My two friends and I were the oldest people in the room by 30 years or more, but we didn't care.''
Olbermann, class of '79, is caught up in the fever.
``It is nice to show people that 'student-athlete' is not an oxymoron,'' he wrote. ``And it is hilariously, giddyingly empowering to know Cornell owns this tournament, at least until Thursday night.''
Adds Nye, the Science Guy: ``Just to get this far is pretty great. But I've got to say, the way they're playing, I like our chances.''
AP Sports Writers Rachel Cohen and Ronald Blum contributed to this report.