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Morning, breakfasts, saltpeter so we wouldn 't get horny, showers, taping, aching muscles, hot September sun tacklings of silly dummies held by assistant coaches and idiots with cameras taking our pictures dodging this way and that.
What were the chances of Columbia this year? Nothing, as far as I could see....
Kerouac stayed in the Sun's headlines after his climactic Thanksgiving Day touchdown, spending the winter of his senior year on the school's indoor track team, sprinting, hurdling, running twice in the Boston Garden and becoming Lowell's leading point-scorer. But as far as his classmates were concerned, he had already moved beyond Lowell High. He was bound for Columbia.
"We were all so proud," says Charlie Kirkiles, who was a sprinter on the track team and who stops in most mornings at Samaras's store for a sip and some small talk. "We were all just ordinary kids. We were poor. We didn't have big ideas about life. So when Jack got that scholarship, I mean, how many kids did that from Lowell High? Who ever heard of one of us going to Columbia? We thought it couldn't happen to a nicer guy."
Kerouac spent the 1939-40 school year at Horace Mann in the Bronx. He roamed the city, discovering jazz and writing profiles of Glenn Miller and Count Basie for the high school paper. He wrote fiction as well, publishing two short stories in the school's literary magazine. But what he did best was run with the football.
The 1940 Horace Mann yearbook describes Kerouac as "A brilliant back," detailing his November 1939 performance against the rival Tome School in the kind of Homeric terms the young Kerouac might have written himself: "Kerouac turned in one of the most remarkable individual performances ever seen on the Maroon and White gridiron. The fast-stepping back sparked the game with his brilliant broken-field running. Midway in the first quarter, he returned a Tome punt 72 yards for the lone touchdown; a little later, he dashed sixty-five yards before being pulled down on the Tome fourteen; and near the end of the game, he added the finishing touch to his dazzling exhibition, by breaking away for a gain of twenty-nine yards."
Hyperbole about Kerouac wasn't confined to his classmates. According to a New York Herald Tribune report of that same game, "The visiting squad formed a vague background for the brilliant running of Kerouac."
The profile beneath Kerouac's yearbook photo reads as if he had achieved his Bing Crosby dream: "Brain and brawn found a happy combination in Jack, a newcomer to school this year. A brilliant back in football, he also won his spurs as a Record reporter and a leading Quarterly contributor. Was an outfielder on the Varsity baseball nine."
When he arrived at Columbia in the fall of 1940, it seemed that Kerouac had finally found his niche, quickly establishing himself on the freshman team. In its report on an opening loss to Rutgers, the campus newspaper called Kerouac "probably the best back on the field." That brought varsity coach Little out to the next game, which was against St. Benedict's prep school. Little was accompanied by the Dartmouth coach, Earl Blaik. Little and Blaik saw the kid from Lowell return the opening kickoff 90 yards. After an ensuing punt return, the coaches watched Kerouac limp to the sideline.
Little was skeptical of the injury and forced Kerouac to practice during the week. By the next game, against Princeton, Kerouac was in too much pain to play. A doctor's report, which was mentioned in that week's Columbia Spectator under the headline KEROUAC LOST TO YEARLING GRID TEAM, reads: "Their hopes darkened by the news that Jack Kerouac, star back, will be out with a leg injury for the rest of the season, Coach Ralph Furey's Freshman gridiron charges practiced in the rain yesterday afternoon."