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Mike D'Orso
October 23, 1989
Before going on the road, Jack Kerouac was a gridiron star
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October 23, 1989

Saturday's Hero: A Beat

Before going on the road, Jack Kerouac was a gridiron star

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"I had only been a priest about three years," says Father Spike of his first encounter with Kerouac, in 1937. "He looked very upset, and he says, 'My name is Kerouac, Jack Kerouac' I knew his family, but I did not know him.

"So I says, 'What's the matter with you? You look so upset.'

"And he says, 'Everybody's laughing at me. I want to be a writer, I want to be a poet, and they're laughing at me. They call me a sissy.'

"So I says, 'I'm not laughing.' I says, 'To be a writer is a great, wonderful and influential thing, a very important thing.' But, I told him, to be a writer he would have to go to the university, and his parents had not much money.

" Well,' he says, 'I'll play football; I'll get a scholarship. And I'll show them I'm not a sissy.'

" Fine,' I says. And that's what he did. I remember when he made the touchball in the big game—you know, the point. Oh, boy, I mean he was the hero. Lots of headlines. Just like Doug Flutie, you know?"

It is the 1938 Lowell-Lawrence game that Father Spike remembers. But that game was still two seasons away when Kerouac first went to see him. The strange thing is that for all his fabled speed, Kerouac never became a fixture in coach Keady's lineup. "Jack was tremendous," says Chiungos, who was a two-year varsity veteran by the time Kerouac joined the squad as a junior. "But Keady was the kind of coach who when he had his mind made up on a starting team, that's the way it stayed.

"Rough and tough, that's the way he coached, but then that was the era. Jack was something special when he had room to run, but all we had were these moth-eaten plays, you know, bulling through the line for four or five yards. It was a game of brute strength, a fairly simple game. We'd practice 15 plays during the week, then use about four in the game. Jack, he was a breakaway player, and they weren't used to that. It was like Jack was just ahead of his time, in a way."

Kerouac did not take being benched in stride. Something was simmering inside him. Chiungos sensed it long before Kerouac wrote about it.

"Jack harbored a great deal of hostility toward this town, or toward some of the bigger people in this town," says Chiungos. "It seemed he didn't think some of the people in authority were fair in the way they dispensed things, whether it was the businesses who hired and fired his dad or the coach who didn't play him enough. It was like he didn't think the world was fair. He was sensitive, and he would remember. He wouldn't say too much about it, but he would remember."

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