Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Brycie's Night

TigerBlog remembers a day when Matt Bailer won 12 of 12 face-offs and scored three goals in a win over Harvard.

TB also thinks Bailer had a better performance this past Saturday night.

Bailer was the emcee for the Bryce Chase night that the Friends of Princeton Lacrosse put on Saturday at the Hyatt Regency, and to say that he was an A+ in the role would be like saying he was pretty good that day against the Crimson. In other words, it doesn't quite capture exactly how great an emcee he was.

Still, for as funny and engaging as Bailer was, it was one sentence from the president of the friends group that really summed up the night.

Jon Hess, one of the greatest players in Princeton lacrosse history, stood up and spoke to the freshmen on the current team, who along with the rest of the 2014 Tigers were in attendance. Hess said how they must be a bit overwhelmed by it all, wondering what they've gotten themselves into, wondering who all these people were, wondering how they fit in.

Then he got to the main point.

"This," he said, "is what Princeton lacrosse is all about."

He's right. And as he said those words, TigerBlog realized that so much of what he's always believed about Princeton lacrosse, about Princeton Athletics in general, was 100% true. And TB was certain that he had chosen the right career - and in the right place.

Princeton has won six NCAA men's lacrosse championships since TB has been watching the team play. There have been 10 Final Fours, eight NCAA finals and 16 Ivy League championships. There are 26 Ivy titles in all and 10 national championships in all.

Hess himself has one of the great resumes of any player who ever played college lacrosse.

He was on three NCAA championship teams, and the Tigers won the Ivy League title all four years he was here. Princeton went 43-2 his last three years, including 9-0 in the NCAA tournament and and 18-0 in the Ivy League.

He ranks third all-time at Princeton in points scored with 215. He was a two-time first-team All-America and the Most Outstanding Player of the 1997 NCAA Final Four.

And what did he saw Princeton lacrosse was all about? The people.

And he meant it. And it's true.

And that's why the big ballroom at the Hyatt was packed, because of the people.

The man of the hour was Bryce Chase, who graduated in 1963 after being a midfielder during a time when Princeton was in the middle of winning nine straight Ivy titles. Bryce, who then attended law school at the University of Minnesota, rejoined the program in 1970 as an assistant coach under Art Robinson, and he has been around ever since.

He has worked with five head coaches, dozens of assistant coaches and hundreds of athletes. He has been a rock, a foundation for the program for all of those years, when so many people - coaches, kids fresh out of high school, everyone else who has been a part of it - have leaned on him for his strength, his loyalty, his devotion, his counsel, his humor.

To say that Bryce - Brycie, they all call him - is loved something of an understatement. To say that people like to, as a way of showing how much they love Brycie, make fun of him is also an understatement.

In other words, it was the perfect blend of comedy and emotion.

They came from all over the country to be part of it. They told stories about Brycie and about all the others. They laughed about the wins and the losses and the funny moments and the serious moments. They mocked each other for how they looked now and how they used to look, how they used to run, what kind of shape they used to be in.

TigerBlog isn't a huge "hey, how are you" type of guy, but even he was caught up in it. He was struck by the fact that he had seen, for the most part, every game that most of these players had played during their time at Princeton, and he was instantly taken back to the moments that these people had shared and that he has had the great fortune to have observed.

For TB, there were three moments that stood out more than any other.

First, there was the point where the current players stood and introduced themselves to the room, in numerical order, beginning with No. 1, Brendan DeTomasso. One after another they stood up and said their names, their position, their class year, their hometown. It was at once a moment that made it clear that the current state of Princeton lacrosse is in their hands while also hammering home for them that the 2014 team is not an island, that there is so much history - and support - to this program.

Then there was when Bryce himself spoke. Bryce is funny, and he speaks like the ex-Marine that he is. TB has seen him at his sternest and at his funniest, but there is always a toughness to him that befits his Parris Island days.

This time, he was at his softest, his most appreciative. TB won't say he was uncomfortable in the spotlight - far from it - but his words and gestures screamed that he too understood he was part of something much larger than his own experiences with the program.

He never came across as "what's all the fuss about." Quite the contrary. It was more like he knew that this was quite a fuss, that it was about him - and he was completely moved by the moment. Not to tears or anything like that. That wouldn't be his style in the least. But moved by it all, no doubt.

And then there was the No. 1 moment of them all.

TigerBlog has heard it said and said it himself and written it himself a billion times. Princeton Athletics is about spending four years here and making friendships that last for the 40 years after that. Actually, TB has been selling it short.

There was Bryce, on the stage, along with eight of his classmates. This is 50 years later, and there they were, nine men in their 70s, together again. TB doubts any of them even gave a thought about whether or not they would be able to get there that night. Honoring Brycie? When and where?

And the moment got even better, as they were joined by the five players who graduated in 2013, the most recent class of Tigers, players who graduated 50 years later.

TigerBlog thinks Princeton lacrosse could be pretty good this coming year. Like Final Four good, win-it-all good.

Maybe time will prove him wrong. Maybe it won't.

Either way, that's not what this will be about in the long run. It'll be about the people they're with, the friends they've made, the experiences they're sharing, the fact that 50 years from now, they'll be the ones standing on that stage together, along with the Class of 2064, who on that day will be the most recent Princeton grads.

Jon Hess was right. That's what it's about. Oh, and you can multiply this out over 38 sports and thousands and thousands of current and former athletes.

TB knew it all along. If he was ever going to forget, Brycie's night made it crystal clear.


Phyllis chase said...

The wife of the honoree thanks you for your words and your commentary on the video. You do a great service to Princeton Athletics

Phyllis Chase

Anonymous said...

Harvard is a college, Princeton is a tribe