But as the autumn wears on, Kerouac is in and out of the starting lineup, scoring three touchdowns against Worcester Classical one week but then seeing only spot duty against Manchester the next. At midseason his role is defined in another Sun story: " Jack Kerouac, Lowell's speed-king, will be used as a 'situation' ball carrier...one of the fastest school boy backs in the state is expected to play a major part in Lowell's offense tomorrow."
After six games Lowell is undefeated and unscored upon, and ranked second in the state, and Kerouac is seeing action as its first—and usually only—man off the bench. His coach, Tom Keady, calls him the squad's "climax runner." However, when the team drops three straight games, Kerouac's name is hardly mentioned. Nevertheless, going into the season finale, the Thanksgiving Day matchup against archrival Lawrence High, he is Lowell's second-leading scorer, with five touchdowns. He begins that game, as usual, on the bench. Then, in the second half, before 14,000 fans, he scores the only touchdown in an 8-0 win. The next day's account of Kerouac's run, beneath a photo of the grimacing halfback lunging toward the end zone, is brief: "With the ball on the Lawrence 14, Zoukis faded back to the 21 and tossed a neat pass to Jack Kerouac who grabbed off the leather on the Lawrence nine and outsmarted one Lawrence secondary man to score right at the corner."
A dozen years later, through the freedom of fiction, Kerouac described the play as it must have felt to him, transforming a simple play into an epic journey in The Town and the City:
Another Galloway player paused, twisted, reached out for the ball, barely grasped it in his fingers, turned and went plummeting downfield along the sidelines. The roaring of the crowd surged and grew thunderous, the Martin mother jumped up on her seat to see, and she saw a figure racing down the sidelines, shaking off tacklers with a squirming motion, plunging through others with a striding determination, tripping, stumbling, staggering on half fallen and half running, straightening out once more, plodding, faking, yet suddenly approaching the goal line in a drunken weary run, staggered aside by another lunging figure, momentarily stopping, then carrying on again, striding to the line falling, with a dark figure smashing into it, now wavering on bent knees, now finally driving over and rolling in the end zone triumphantly.
Eighteen years later Kerouac was still rerunning that same play in Vanity of Duluoz, published in 1968, only a year before he died:
Second half they figure they might need me and put me in. (Maybe they figure I looked awful bad in that Nashua game and nobody'll care.) At one point I am almost loose, but some kid from Lawrence just barely trips me with a meaty Italian hand. But a few plays later Kelakis flips me a 3-yard lob over the outside end's hands and I take this ball and turn down the sidelines and bash and drive head down, head up, pause, move on, Downing throws a beautiful block, somebody else too, bumping I go, 18 yards and just make it to the goal line where a Lawrence guy hits me and hangs on but I just jump out of his arms and over on my face with the game's only touchdown.
In fact and in fiction, that moment meant as much to Kerouac as any in his life. No matter how far he strayed, in life or in literature, he kept coming back to that Thanksgiving Day game against Lawrence in 1938. It earned him his scholarship to college. It also made him the kind of local hero that his literary career never could. Except for On the Road, none of Kerouac's novels was a major financial success. Even that book was attacked both for its content and its breathless, run-on style, which Kerouac labeled "spontaneous prose." Some critics had less flattering descriptions of it:
"Verbal goofballs," said Saturday Review.
"Like a slob running a temperature," said The Hudson Review.
"That's not writing," said Truman Capote on David Susskind's TV show. "It's typing."