Friday, March 5, 2010

Living History

TigerBlog, being a history major back in the day (as well as something of a geek), sometimes uses a mind game of associating famous dates with who was the President of the United States at the time.

For instance, TB was recently in a meeting when someone referenced something from 1868. TB immediately asked who the President was (answer: Andrew Johnson).

When TigerBlog read Craig Sachson's piece on Jack Bales on, the first thing that leaped out was his birthday. Jan. 5, 1911. Who was President, TB thought? William Howard Taft?

Jack Bales was born before Woodrow Wilson was elected President. He was born before the NFL or the NHL or the NBA or the Indianapolis 500. The World Series was less than a decade old when he was born.

The first World War was still three years away; it was closer to the Civil War than the Vietnam War.

In his lifetime, Jack Bales has lived through the evolution of society through radio, TV, computer, cell phone, car, airplane, rocket and everything else.

He was 16 the year Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. He 18 when the stock market crashed. He was 28 when "Gone With The Wind" came out. He was 34 when World War II ended. He turned 50 before John Kennedy's inauguration. He was 61 when the Watergate break-in occurred. He was 69 for the "Miracle on Ice." He was 78 when Ronald Regan left office.

Today, he's 99. And, to be honest, he looks pretty good for 99.

When Jack Bales was born, it was impossible for anyone to have predicted that he would reach 99, let alone that when he was 99, he would sit down tell his story while something called a video camera recorded his words and captured his images and that this would then be available on something called a computer, which would connect to something called the internet.

If you want to see it, he's just a click away, over on and

What a life it's been for Jack Bales. He grew up in Ohio, but his dream was to play football at Michigan. Instead, he came to Princeton, and he was a member of Princeton's undefeated 1933 team.

Nineteen thirty-three, that is. One-nine-three-three. As in 77 years ago. His first varsity season was 1931, when Princeton went 1-7, improving to 2-2-3 the following season, Fritz Crisler's first as Princeton head coach. Bales himself was a 1932 All-America.

Bales was hurt for almost all of the 1933 season, but he did play against Yale in a 27-2 Princeton win, the first for the Tigers in the series since 1926. It ended the season at 8-0.

Watching the video of Bales, you see him and hear his words while also seeing pictures of him as a player, of his helmet, of an old football. His speaks in a soft, low, deep voice, but his memory is tremendous and his stories are awesome.

Watching him, you also realize that he's the last survivor of that team. Clearly someone has to be, and being that he's 99, it's not surprising that he's the last of the group. Still, why him? What was his secret? He looks like he took good care of himself, but is it just destiny? Luck?

Whatever the reason, Jack Bales is still here. He's seen so much in his time, way more than he was able to share on a video.

TigerBlog is a big fan of old movies. Often, when he's watching something from the 1940s or earlier, he feels like he's watching science fiction, something that isn't real, something from another world. He thinks of the people in the movie, who made the movie, and what life was like for them back then.

And then here's Jack Bales. Born in 1911. Still going strong in 2010.

He's done more than endure. He's been a constant in a 99-year stretch unlike any other in human history. If you were born in 1511 and were still alive in 1610, how much did you really see?

In the case of Jack Bales, he's seen it all, seen stuff that TigerBlog could only read about.

What a life he's had.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had the pleasure of attending the sold-out 1998 inauguration of Princeton Stadium when, before the game, a couple hundred football alumni marched out onto the field behind their respective class banners, which went all the way back to 1922.

I had the same reaction then that you had to Jack Bales' video. It was like watching history unfold before me. Besides all the historical events that these guys had witnessed first-hand, I thought that some of these players had been on teams which received votes for the national championship -- amazing how times had changed.

I started to choke up a little and my girlfriend at the time asked me why. I replied, "It makes me feel part of something bigger than myself." She looked at me as if I had three heads. We broke up after the Harvard game that year. Some people have no sense of history.