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VANITY ON THE GRIDIRON
Jack Kerouac
January 08, 1968
Years before he became a spokesman for the Beat Generation of the mid-1950s, the author was a promising football player, beginning on the sandlots of his home town, Lowell, Mass., and continuing through high school, prep school and into Columbia University, which he attended on a scholarship. What follows are excerpts from the forthcoming novel, "Vanity of Duluoz," which records the athletic reminiscences of John L. Duluoz—who is Kerouac himself
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January 08, 1968

Vanity On The Gridiron

Years before he became a spokesman for the Beat Generation of the mid-1950s, the author was a promising football player, beginning on the sandlots of his home town, Lowell, Mass., and continuing through high school, prep school and into Columbia University, which he attended on a scholarship. What follows are excerpts from the forthcoming novel, "Vanity of Duluoz," which records the athletic reminiscences of John L. Duluoz—who is Kerouac himself

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This made me happier than anything that had happened so far at Columbia, because also I certainly wasn't happy that I hadn't yet read the Iliad or the Odyssey, John Stuart Mill, Aeschylus, Plato, Horace and everything else they were throwing at us with the dishes.

Comes the St. Benedict game, and what a big bunch of lugs you never saw, they reminded me of that awful Blair team a year ago, and the Maiden team in high school, big, mean looking, with grease under their eyes to shield the glare of the sun, wearing mean looking brown-red uniforms against our sort of silly looking (if you ask me) light blue uniforms with dark blue numerals. (Sans Souci is the name of the Columbia alma mater song, means "without care," humph. And the football rallying song is Roar Lion Roar—sounds more like it.) Here we go, lined up on the field, on the sidelines I see that coach Lu Libble is finally there to give me the personal once-over. He's heard about the Rutgers game naturally and he's got to think of next year's backfield. He'd heard, I s'pose, that I was a kind of nutty French kid from Massachusetts with no particular football savvy like his great Italian favorites from Manhattan that were now starring on the varsity (Lu Libble's real name is Guido Pistola, he's from Massachusetts).

St. Benedict was to kick off. They lined up, I went deep into safety near the goal line as ordered, and said to myself "Screw, I'm going to show these bums how a French boy from Lowell runs, Cliff Battles and the whole bunch, and who's that old bum standing next to him? Hey Runstedt, who's that guy in the coat next to Cliff Battles there near the water can?"

"They tell me that's the coach of Army, Earl Blaik, he's just wiling away an afternoon."

Whistle blows and St. Benedict kicks off. The ball comes wobbling over and over in the air into my arms. I got it secure and head straight down the field in the direction an arrow takes, no dodging, no looking, no head down either but just straight ahead at everybody. They're all converging there in midfield in smashing blocks and pushings so they can get through one way or the other. A few of the red Benedicts get through and are coming straight at me from three angles but the angles are narrow because I've made sure of that by coming in straight as an arrow down the very middle of the field. So that by the time I reach midfield where I'm going to be clobbered and smothered by 11 giants I give them no look at all, still, but head right into them: they gather up arms to smother me: it's psychological. They never dream I'm really roosting up in my head the plan to suddenly (as 1 do) dart off, bang to the right, leaving them all there bumbling for air. I run as fast as I can, which I could do very well with a heavy football uniform, as I say, because of thick legs, and had trackman speed, and before you know it I'm going down the sidelines all alone with the whole 21 other guys of the ball game all befuddling around in midfield and turning to follow me. I hear whoops from the sidelines. I go and I go. I'm down to the 30, the 20, the 10, I hear huffing and puffing behind me, I look behind me and there's that selfsame old long-legged end catchin' up on me, like Cliff Battles done, and by the time I'm over the 5 he lays a big hand on the scruff of my neck and lays me down on the ground. A 90-yard runback.

I see Lu Libble and Cliff Battles, and Rolfe Firney our coach too, rubbing their hands with zeal and dancing little Hitler dances on the sidelines. But naturally by now I'm out of breath and that dopey quarterback wants me to make my own touchdown. I just can't make it. I want to controvert his order but you're not supposed to. I puff into the line and get buried on the 5. Then he, Runstedt, tries it, and the big St. Ben's line buries him, and then we miss the next two downs too and are stopped on the 3 and have to fall back for the St. Benedict punt.

By now I've got my wind again and I'm ready for another go. But the punt that's sent to me is so high, spirally, perfect, I see it's going to take an hour for it to fall down in my arms and I should really raise my arm for a fair catch and touch it down to the ground and start our team from there. But no, vain Jack, even though I hear the huffing and puffing of the two downfield men practically on my toes, I catch the ball free catch and practically say "Alley Oop" as I feel their four big hands squeeze like vices around my ankles, two on each, and puffing with pride I do the complete vicious twist of my whole body so that I can undo their grip and move on. But their St. Benedict grips have me rooted to where I am as if I were a tree, or an iron pole, I do the complete turnaround twist and hear a loud crack and it's my leg breaking. They let me fall back deposited gently on the turf and look at me and say to each other "The only way to get him, don't miss (more or less)."

I'm helped off the field limping.

I go into the showers and undress and the trainer massages my right calf and says "O a little sprain won't hurt you, next week it's Princeton and we'll give them the old one-two again Jacky boy."

But it was a broken leg, a cracked tibia, like if you cracked a bone about the size of a pencil and the pencil was still stuck together except for that hairline crack, meaning if you wanted you could just break the pencil in half with a twist of two fingers. But nobody knew this. That entire week they told me I was a softy and to get going and run around and stop limping. They had liniments, this and that, I tried to run, I ran and practiced and ran but the limp got worse. Finally they sent me off to Columbia Medical Center, took X-rays, and found out I had broken my tibia in the right leg and that I had been spending a week running on a broken leg.

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