Thursday, April 9, 2020

"Game Ball"

"The football peeks out from a crowded corner of my cluttered desk."

Those words were written by Joe Masi, Princeton Class of 1952. They're part of a poem entitled "Game Ball."

TigerBlog has never been a huge fan of poetry. If you asked him what his favorite things written in verse form (and not set to music) have been, he'd probably say "The Cat In The Hat" and "Casey At The Bat."

If you wanted him to say that in verse, he'd say:
His favorite poem is
The Cat In The Hat
His second favorite would be
Casey At The Bat

He's pretty sure that he's still scarred by having to read "Beowulf" and "The Canterbury Tales" in Ms. Nastaj's high school English class. As he thinks back to it, though, he was pretty lucky to have the English teachers in high school that he had. In fact, he'd put his high school English teachers up there with any teachers he had in his educational career, which, of course, includes that college in West Philadelphia.

Pete Carril always talked about the immeasurable value of great high school teachers and coaches. He himself started out as one, and he always had the greatest respect for those who excelled on that level. He's also not the only Princeton coach TB has heard talk about how much better prepared to excel in college the athletes who had the better high school teachers and coaches were.

And that's all he'll say about that now.

For today, he'd like to talk about "Game Ball."

TigerBlog was introduced to the poem from an email that was forwarded to him by Joe's son Brad. Joe, it turns out, passed away on Jan. 11 of this year one week shy of his 90th birthday.

From the obituary that TB read in the Denver Post, he learned that Joe Masi was a cum laude graduate of Princeton who then went into the Navy as an officer before embarking on a long and successful career in management.

You can read the entire obit HERE.

Brad's email says that his father was diagnosed with cancer in June of 2019 and that from then on, he worked with his dad to put together an anthology of his poems, which they entitled "Depression Baby."

HERE is the link for more information.

Masi was a three-time letterwinner in track and field at Princeton, but the poem "Game Ball" refers to his time with the Tiger football team.

He happened to come along at a time when Princeton was in what was probably its most glorious era. The 1950 and 1951 Tigers both went 9-0, and the team was led by the only player in program history to win the Heisman Trophy, Dick Kazmaier.

Princeton was coached by Hall-of-Famer Charlie Caldwell. The 1950 team is the most recent of Princeton's 28 national championship teams.

It was a great time to be a Tiger.

It was also a tough time to be trying to get playing time.

And that's what the poem is about.

Masi talks about his experience with the football team, including three parts that really stand out. One, he was the subject of a five-page story in Life Magazine in 1950 about what it was like to go against a championship football team as the quarterback of what today would be known as the scout team.

Back then, it was the B team, or the scrubs. And so he talks about how he had hoped to open his locker and see a black jersey, symbolizing that he was no longer to be a scrub and instead was to be Kazmaier's backup, only to see a white jersey, relegating him to another season as the scrub quarterback instead.

And of course, there was the whole reason the poem ended up being called what it was.

TigerBlog never actually read the poem. He didn't have to. He got to see Joe Masi read it.

You can too. THIS IS THE LINK.

Maybe it's because so many of the themes from what he's speaking about still resonate today. Maybe it's because his storytelling is so well done. Maybe it's because TB has read so much about the 1951 football season.

For whatever reason, the video is extraordinary.

And if you're going to watch "Game Ball" at the 13:00 mark, go back about two minutes and check out the one before it. That one reminds you of what it was like for the guys on that 1951 team to be growing up with the events of a decade before.

TB is sorry he never got to meet Joe Masi. He's glad he got a chance to hear him read his poems.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this story. My father played with Joe during those great years at Princeton, and was also in the Life Magazine article on the "Omelettes" (i.e., the back-up team). I have passed your story on to my father who said it brought back great memories.