Longtime Tewksbury resident Jay Gaffney (who recently moved to Lowell) very kindly shared this terrific tale of two football playing authors whose athletic careers brought them to the playing fields of Lowell, Massachusetts. Jay can be contacted at JJGiiiLaw@verizon.net
Copyright, James J. Gaffney III, 2012
LOWELL’S “OTHER” FAMOUS FOOTBALL PLAYING AUTHOR.
Lowell can turn up in unexpected places. For me, one surprise encounter was reading Rich Man Poor Man author Irwin Shaw’s short story, God on Friday Night. Lamenting the hardships of his solitary travels, Shaw’s main character, Sol the comedian, says “I’m a man who has to play in cheap nightclubs in Philadelphia, and Lowell Massachusetts and Boston. Yuh don’t know how lonely it can get at night in Lowell Massachusetts”. (Decades P.90) * Another surprise was learning that Jack Kerouac was not the only famous gridiron author who dug his cleats into Lowell turf. Irwin Shaw played his football for Brooklyn College, but on two cold fall afternoons in 1932 and 1933, Shaw and his Brooklyn College Warriors (Yearbook P.207) brought their game to Textile Field and Alumni Stadium to take on the Lowell Textile Millmen.
In Lowell, Kerouac is the name which football playing writers usually brings to mind. His football exploits were part of the Kerouac legend along with On the Road and the Beat Generation. His 1938 game winning touchdown against Thanksgiving Day rival Lawrence High led to expectations of football fame which could have been the stuff of a pretty good legend by itself. As described in the October, 1989 Sports Illustrated Article: “Before he met Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs; before his cross-country jaunts in drive-away Chevys and empty boxcars; before the jazz, the dope, the manic prose and finally the fame; before he became tormented by the success he sought and drank himself to death; before all that, Kerouac was, purely and simply, a football star.”(SI P.1)
Kerouac’s football career got off to a slow start. He didn’t see much playing time until his senior year – even then spending a lot of time on the bench. He wasn’t even on the field to start of the famous Lawrence game. (Angel P.26) The Lowell Sun called him a “situational player.”(SI P.3) His sporadic playing time generated some heated local debate. Coach Keady called him a “climax runner” (SI P.2, T&C P.72) secret weapon held in reserve for critical game situations – possibly a PR ploy to quiet the “we want Kerouac” chants from the stands. One of Lowell lore’s go to sources, Father Armand “Spike” Morrisette, thought Keady was one of those rigid coaches who “when he had his mind made up on a lineup, that’s the way it stayed” (SI P.6) Kerouac’s father Leo, as portrayed in The Vanity of Duluoz always suspected skullduggery afoot and blamed “payoffs” for keeping his son on the bench. (Vanity P.171)
The undersized Shaw’s situation never attracted any conspiracy theory attention – he barely made his Madison High School team and never got off the bench. (Shaw P.29) After graduation, Kerouac’s football career seemed poised to build on that Lawrence game touchdown. Columbia (Vanity P.23) had outbid BC and Notre Dame for his gridiron services. His next stop – as a self described “ringer” (Cassidy P.168) was Horace Mann Prep School where Coach Lou Little sometimes stashed red shirt prospects (Angel P33). Kerouac led that team to an undefeated season and City Championship. (Sub P.46) His freshman season at Columbia got off to a fast start “probably the best back on the field’(SI P.7) until it was ended by a broken leg in his second game (SI P.8, Sub P.52). Returning for his sophomore year, he found himself languishing on the bench again. Lou Little had compared Kerouac to Sid Luckman, (SI P.1) but praise didn’t translate into playing time, and, by now, the old Lowell High perseverance was gone. When the 1941 season opened with Kerouac on the bench, he quit – the team and then the school. He drifted back to Lowell, did some sports writing for the Lowell Sun and signed on for a wartime Merchant Marine hitch dodging German U-boats to bring munitions to England.(Angel 52.)When his ship returned, the flame of football glory flickered briefly – only to fizzle out in another playing time dispute. Little sent Kerouac a telegram urging him to rejoin the team for the 1942 season (SI P.8, SubP. 65). When he showed up, Kerouac, once again, mostly sat. Kerouac wanted to get in against Army so he could show up old Lowell High rival and now Army team captain, Hank Mazur. (Angel P.59) When the game ended with Kerouac stuck on the bench, he walked again – this time for good – off on the first steps of his literary journey with its famous milestone, On the Road. read more »