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Marathon Man

By: Princeton Athletic Communications
          Release: 03/07/2008
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Courtesy: Princeton Athletic Communications

The curse words that fly from Bryce Chase’s mouth at a rate of two or three per paragraph are there merely as punctuation marks, rather than subjects, verbs or even the more extreme modifiers.

You can forgive him for this for a bunch of reasons. First, he’s not using them to be offensive. Next, he’ll be 68 on his next birthday, so who’s going to teach him new tricks anyway? Lastly, who would expect any different after learning that he spent eight years in the United States Marine Corps?

He remembers clearly the day nearly 50 years ago when his father marched him down to the recruiting station and sent him off to what he calls “Parris Island Prep” before allowing him to enroll at Princeton University. He quotes directly the drill instructors who trained him, still laughing at their outrageousness.

For that matter, he can recall every detail of his life without hesitation, with complete recall, without missing a detail.

Except for one.

“I can’t remember,” says the consigliore of the Princeton men’s lacrosse team, “the last time I missed a game.”

Chase says this as he is recovering from the flu, a bug that came on at the end of last week and knocked him out for the weekend. It left him on his couch in Princeton, listening on the radio, rather than on the sideline for Princeton’s game against Johns Hopkins in the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium.

“I was looking at the sideline before the game,” says former Princeton All-America Matt Striebel ’01. “Something was missing. I couldn’t figure it out at first. Then I said to my dad: ‘Brycie’s not there.’”

While Chase isn’t exactly sure of the last time he missed a game, he knows his streak went back to at least when Art Robinson became head coach of the Tigers before the 1971 season. It’s possible that his streak dated back to the season before, when Chase joined the Princeton coaching staff with the freshman team.

At a minimum, the game against Hopkins last week ended his streak at at least 525 straight Princeton games. The 11 games of the 1970 season would have made it 536 straight or someplace in between. No matter what, it’s been a long, long time.

“I love Bryce,” says Princeton head coach Bill Tierney, who was coaching his 297th game at Princeton and first without Chase on the sideline next to him. “He’s a guy who’s so important to have around you. The great thing about Princeton is its tradition, and he’s a bridge to so many eras, past and present. He brings so much to the kids. Comic relief. Sanity. Sensibility. He’s good for me, and he’s good for everyone around the program.”

Chase’s position is technically that of volunteer assistant coach, a position he’s held under head coaches Robinson, Mike Hanna, Jerry Schmidt and finally Tierney. When not working with the Princeton lacrosse program, Chase is also a partner in a local law firm.

“When I first got the job, I had about three weeks of camp to still work at Hopkins,” says Tierney, who became Tiger head coach in 1988. “I got a call from a guy, and he told me that his name was Bryce Chase and that he would be my lawyer and my volunteer assistant coach. He told me to send him the paperwork when I bought a house and that’d he’d be there for the first practice. I said ‘okay, sure. Why not?’ ”

Chase almost never misses a Tiger practice. He can give insight on lacrosse or life or any combination of the two.

“The thing that stands out most for me about Bryce is the timing on his speeches,” says Striebel, who also spent a year as a coach with the Tigers after graduation. “They’d break all the tension. He was more than comic relief, though. He’s seen so much. There’s not a whole lot that’s going to happen in a lacrosse game that he hasn’t seen before. It’s very calming to have someone like that around.”

Striebel’s is an assessment that Chase somewhat echoes.

“Right now, I try to do what I call ‘leavening the loaf,’” he says. “I’m a sounding board for the guys. Some days, when T and Metz [associate head coach David Metzbower] are being a little tough, a kid can get a little bewildered. I can settle them down. I like to talk to Bill about things I think might be of value, things he might want to think about. I never do it when anyone’s around.”

Chase’s connection to Princeton lacrosse predates even his long tenure on the coaching staff. His father, Harold, pitched for the baseball team before graduating in 1943 and ultimately becoming a professor of constitutional law and American government at the Woodrow Wilson School.

Bryce grew up around the campus and its athletic events while attending the same public schools in town that are still there today. He played football, soccer, basketball and baseball at Princeton High School, graduating in 1958.

“I was accepted into the Class of 1962 at Princeton,” he says. “My dad told me ‘congratulations, but you ain’t ready for Princeton’ and then took me down to enlist in the Marines. I spent a year first at Parris Island Prep and then at Camp Lejeune and spent eight years in the Marine reserves. I got out at the rank of Private First Class. I enjoyed my Marine Corps experience very much. At the time, I was ambivalent about it, but in retrospect it was a good idea my old man had.”

For an 18-year-old, Parris Island can be a bit intimidating.

“The drill instructors can be very colorful,” he says. “If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ it’s just like that. I think the old Corps was a little nastier. These guys were extraordinarily funny. They’d string together cuss words like nothing you ever heard. About three weeks into it, I was either laughing or trying not to laugh, and one of the instructors got in my face. Finally, he just stopped and said ‘son, you think everything is funny, don’t you?’

“We had a rifle inspection one day, and we had a guy who was a sad sack. One of the instructors came over and looked at his gun and yelled ‘hey, Sgt. Hickman, this guy has a spider web down his gun barrel. And Sgt. Hickman came over and said ‘boy, don’t you know you’re not allowed pets in the Marine Corps?’

“We were out on the hand grenade range, and they kept telling us to throw it like a baseball. Pull the pin and throw over the top. This one guy throws his sidearm, and it landed right on top of a bunker where another instructor was with his recruits. The instructor picked up the grenade and tossed it over the top. It exploded about one second later. Our instructor said ‘boy, this ain’t the movies.’ ”

After one year on active duty, Chase became a reserve – and a Princeton University freshman. It was then that he became introduced to the sport of lacrosse.

“When I was a freshman, I got assigned a room in Pyne Hall,” he says. “There were lacrosse players from Baltimore all around me. I was going to play baseball, but my eyesight was starting to go and I couldn’t hit the curve anymore. They told me to play lacrosse. They knew I could run fast. I could run fast back then. Fast and all day.”

That spring, in 1960, Chase was one of about 50 players on the freshman lacrosse team, coached by Bob Casciola, who would go on to coach the Tiger football team and later become president of the National Football Foundation.

“I was still learning how to play,” Chase says. “First time out there, first time ever in a lacrosse game, I promptly went offsides. But towards the end of the year, I began to play more and more. Ferris Thomsen [Princeton’s Hall of Fame lacrosse coach at the time] would come over and watch the freshmen practice. He liked guys who could run.”

Chase would play on the Princeton varsity for the next three years, during which time the Tigers would go a perfect 15-0 in Ivy League games while winning three league championships (Brown would not participate in Ivy League men’s lacrosse until 1964 to bring the league to its current seven men’s teams). On the national scene, Princeton would struggle during Chase’s years against what he calls “the Big Four” of Hopkins, Maryland, Army and Navy, with a combined record of 1-11 and only a 13-9 win over Maryland his senior year.

“I became a pretty solid player,” he says. “In those days, you had a scorer, an all-purpose player and a guy who could play defense on your midfield units. I was in the first midfield for two years, and not because I could score. I probably scored around 20 goals in all. But I did get to guard a lot of good players.”

After graduating in 1963, Chase was off to law school at the University of Minnesota, a place where “it is cold as anything from October 1st until April 15th. One year, the golf course didn’t open until June 15th, and that’s deprivation.”

Upon returning to Princeton, he gradually became involved with the lacrosse program again, first as assistant freshman coach under Art Hyland, whose expertise was more in basketball.

Back then, you had to coach two sports, so Art was the freshman basketball coach and freshman lacrosse coach,” Chase says. “He told me he could give me $300 to be his assistant. Then I became the head freshman coach and when freshmen became eligible in the 1970s, I became an assistant coach by default.”

Chase quickly gave up on the idea of becoming the Tiger head coach at any point, concentrating instead on his law career. His first nearly two decades saw Princeton lose many more than it won, as none of the first three head coaches Chase worked with had a better than .500 record with the Tigers.

Then, in 1988, Chase hooked up with Tierney, whom he had never before met. At the time, Princeton was in a stretch of four straight losing seasons, including years like 2-11 in 1984, 1-14 in 1986, 3-12 in 1987 and then 2-13 in 1988, Tierney’s first year.

“It’s a famous story now, but he came in here talking about how you have to do things to win national championships,” Chase says of Tierney. “I looked at him and thought ‘nice guy, but he’s out of his mind.’ It wasn’t very long before I came to the conclusion that of all the people I’ve ever met, he’s the best I’ve ever seen at what he does. That’s saying a lot, because I’ve seen a lot of bright lawyers, a lot of bright people in all areas.”

In the early days with the two, Chase earned something of an overblown reputation for his ability to pull Tierney back to the sidelines at just the right moment before a yellow flag would fly. From the beginning, their’s was a relationship that meshed, and it continues to this day, six NCAA championships and 13 Ivy titles later.

“He’s a very, very young old guy,” Tierney says. “He’s been around Princeton for what, a thousand years? He’s played here. Coached every level here. He has great insight into people. He has his fingers on the pulse of these kids. He helps with every aspect of the program. He’s great at it.”

Chase and his wife Phyllis, a travel coordinator for Princeton’s athletic teams, have 10 grandchildren. He likes to play golf and estimates that he does so more than 100 times a year. He has run 31 marathons in his life, most recently the 100th Boston Marathon in 1996, and he still runs three or four days a week.

And he’s still out there regularly, at his two vocations, lawyer and coach.

“I’m still into it,” says Chase, who coached the U.S. over-45 team to the 1998 Grand Masters World Championship. “The relationships are sustaining. I hear from the guys all the time. At random times, I’ll get a call from one of the players from awhile ago, and it’s like no time passed. The kids are great. They’re the reason I do it. They young men are so smart and so funny and so energetic. Even when we didn’t have the best athletes, this was always the case. They always try hard. They always do their best. That’s all you can ask. It’s why I’m out there. I guess I’ll keep doing it until February’s get too cold.”

Bryce Chase went to get a flu shot in September. He was told that the vaccine wouldn’t be available until a week later.

“I neglected to return,” he says. “My bad, as the kids say.”

The bug started to creep up on him at the end of the week, and he was wiped out by Friday, unable to get off the couch until Sunday.

“It was weird,” Bill Tierney says. “It was my first time out there without him. It was strange.”

Strange for Bryce Chase as well.

“I did not really enjoy the experience; it was not fun for me,” he said.

Just not in those exact words.


- by Jerry Price







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