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

So when the sun of October slopes in late afternoon, the children scurry home from school, make footballs out of stuffed socks, they leap and dash in the powerful winds and scream with delight. Fires are burning everywhere, the air is sharp and lyrical with the smell of smoke. There are great steaming suppers to be eaten in the kitchens of home as the raw October gloom gathers outside, and something flares far off.
The Town and the City

Gloom is gathering as Duke Chiungos wheels his Lincoln through Lowell, Mass. The Merrimack River, choppy in the brisk morning breeze, looks as wicked as the gray clouds tumbling in from the east. Chiungos glances down at the roiling water and then up at the rolling sky. He turns toward Edward D. Cawley Memorial Field. Halfway there, he slows.

"See that?" he says, nodding at an empty lot surrounded by the downtown's dreary redbrick buildings. A century ago they housed the mills that made this small New England city a giant among the nation's industrial centers. But now the dark buildings are only monuments to the past, some transformed into museums and restaurants, others abandoned. On the lot where a factory once stood, there is a ring of polished granite blocks and some benches. A small sign hanging from a railing reads JACK KEROUAC COMMEMORATIVE PARK.

Kerouac—the man whose reckless living and prose captured the essence of the Beat Generation, the writer whose books mirrored the manic urgency of Eisenhower-era wanderers and became bibles to the searchers of the '60s. Excerpts from his books—Doctor Sax, Maggie Cassidy, The Town and the City, Vanity of Duluoz, Lonesome Traveler and, of course, On the Road, the novel that vaulted Kerouac from obscurity to fame—are chiseled into the granite blocks on this lot. The benches are empty.

"Plenty of people in this town didn't want that park," says Chiungos, a commercial realtor, as he stops at a traffic light and looks at the lot. "They say Jack was nothing but a drunk. But then a lot of people around here just don't have it in their heads that he's a celebrity, recognized all over the world."

The light changes, and Chiungos eases into the town's midmorning traffic, talking about Kerouac—not the man who was crowned king of the Beats, but the boy Chiungos and his buddies called Zagg because of his moves in the backfield. It might surprise the drifters who still stuff copies of On the Road into their backpacks as they set out to find America, but football shaped Kerouac's life, cut him loose from Lowell and launched him into literary legend.

The boy who walked the mile and a half home with Chiungos from Lowell High's practices on fall afternoons 51 years ago was not a world-renowned author, nor was he a drunk shunned by the city where he was born and would be buried. 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.

He was a big enough star to draw college scouts to look at him. Frank Leahy, the Boston College coach at the time, watched Kerouac run for the winning touchdown in the 1938 Lowell-Lawrence Thanksgiving Day game, and then was invited over to the Kerouac home for the holiday meal. Later, Leahy put his public-relations man, a young guy named Billy Sullivan, on the case. Sullivan's uncles owned the Lowell printshop where Leo Kerouac, Jack's father, worked.

But the younger Kerouac turned his back on Boston College to become an Ivy Leaguer, a halfback for Columbia. Leahy moved on to Notre Dame. Sullivan went on to become a pro football mogul, founder of the New England Patriots. The elder Kerouac was fired after his son announced he was heading for school in New York City.

In the fall of 1939 the dispatches from New York began arriving in Lowell describing the hometown hero's exploits. First he played at Horace Mann prep school, to which Columbia sent him for a year of seasoning. The next fall he joined the Columbia freshman team. The Lions' varsity coach, Lou Little, hailed his new halfback as a future star, comparing Kerouac to Columbia legend Sid Luckman, who graduated in 1939.

"This Kerouac was all-Massachusetts State in high school," Little told the Spectator, the university's newspaper, in the spring of 1941, "and he's shown great promise here at Columbia. He's short, but husky and very fast."

This was a story of they could under-stand back in lowell, the kind of all-American glory that hits home in a blue-collar town built on the vertues of hard work and hope. But the next year, Kerouac inexplicably forsook it all. In his second season at Columbia, he quit football, quit college altogether. The stream of novels that were to follow did little to explain that act to the folks back home.

"Here we are," Chiungos says, pulling up to the empty football stadium at the east end of town. These are the same bleachers that were filled with 14,000 fans 51 years ago, when Chiungos anchored the offensive line, and Kerouac was the fastest man on the state's second-ranked team. He, too, avoided Kerouac at the end. The dingy saloons, the embarrassing stumbling and foul-mouthed boisterousness that marked Kerouac's final days—Chiungos steered clear of all that. "He was a little disappointed because I never wanted to see him those last years," says Chiungos. "But the places he was going, that just wasn't my style, and I really didn't want to see Jack like that."

Chiungos is 67, the same age Kerouac would be. Twenty years have passed since Kerouac collapsed in a bungalow in Florida on an October morning, his stomach hemorrhaging after he had drunk a can of Falstaff beer while watching The Galloping Gourmet on television. He died the next morning in a St. Petersburg hospital. Chiungos stands up for the schoolmate he once blocked for. "A lot of people remember the end," says Chiungos, "but not many remember the beginning."

He was publicized as a great "climax runner" in the newspapers. Instantly he had hundreds of friends, students and teachers alike, and he hardly knew what to do about it all. In the company of his fellow teammates he soon learned the knack of limping and swaggering through the halls of the school in all the glory of a famous hero.
—The Town and the City

The Town and the City was Kerouac's first book, published in 1950, seven years before On the Road. In it, Kerouac tells the story of a boy growing up in a gloomy New England town, playing ball on the sandlots, starring in school, dreaming of becoming a college athlete and seeing that dream briefly come true before it falls down around him in the early years of World War II. He is left aimless and empty, at the side of a highway headed west.

The first chapters of the author's life story are the same. They can be seen in rough outline in ghostly fragments of The Lowell Sun. These are stored on microfilm in the basement of the downtown public library—the library where Kerouac went when he played hooky from high school and read the works of William Shakespeare. On the half-century-old pages of the Sun's sports sections, Kerouac is a boy again.

Here he is, in the summer of 1937, a 15-year-old pitcher for the Pawtucketville junior league baseball team. The team is dead last, 1-8. The box score shows Kerouac was shelled in an 8-4 loss, yielding five hits and four walks in the first two innings. He did better at the plate, batting cleanup, getting two of Pawtucketville's four hits. In the group photo, Kerouac, wearing a sleeveless T-shirt and jeans (the league had no uniforms), looks sullen.

That October, he is listed as one of the two youngest players on Lowell High's varsity football roster. At 5'8", 155 pounds, he is also one of the smallest. It takes the Sun a few tries to get the new kid's name right: "Leo Kerouac turned in some real nice football yesterday afternoon and may see some action in the Lowell high backfield against Manchester," says one piece. "Leo Kerouac seems to be well on the way to becoming an excellent ball carrier," says another. And there he is, as Jack, later that season, "knifing" for a four-yard score in a B-squad game.

Then it is 1938, and Kerouac makes headlines as a starter on what promises to be one of the strongest teams in Lowell's history. After the season opener, the Sun columnist chooses to highlight the halfback: "Young Kerouac has the legs and the style. He looks like a football player."

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 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."

The attacks stung. Kerouac was famous when he died at 47—his obituary was headlined in The New York Times—but he was miserable. His friends still wonder, as they did then, if Kerouac was ever as happy as he was on the football field.

Sam Samaras runs the liquor store where Kerouac was a regular during his last years in Lowell. But the two men go back further than that, back to the Saturday mornings in the mid-1930s, when Samaras would take his gang of Greek buddies across the river and challenge Kerouac and his French-Canadian pals to a football game. Kerouac's team was so strong they ran ads in the Sun challenging all comers.

"Man, it was rough," says Samaras, sitting on a case of beer in the back room of his store and recalling those sandlot Saturdays. "Nobody had helmets. A couple of guys had jerseys, that's all. This was a time when the toughest guy ruled, you know what I mean?

"But the thing about Kerouac is he wasn't a fighter; he wasn't belligerent. Still, he could take a blow. No matter how hard you hit him, he'd get up and congratulate you.

"And fast? He was dangerous. You had to hit him early, because once he got out of the backfield he was gone. Couldn't catch him. One time—this wasn't in a game against us—he scored nine touchdowns. Nine touchdowns. I think he wrote about that in one of his books."

Kerouac did, in Vanity of Duluoz:

"...we won 60-0, after missing 3 points after. I thought from that morning on, I would be scoring touchdowns like that all my life and never be touched or tackled...."

Samaras is 68. Many of the boys he mentions who played in those pickup games are now dead. But across town, in archives at the University of Lowell, some of their voices are preserved on tape among the 300 hours of interviews recorded in the 1970s by a writer named Gerald Nicosia, whose book Memory Babe is considered the best of the many biographies of Kerouac. On those tapes some of Kerouac's closest boyhood friends—men named G.J. Apostolos, Scotty Beaulieu and Skippy Roberge—focus on what sports meant to Kerouac. And to all of them. Like the Sun stories on microfilm, the voices are scattered snippets, fragmented echoes of the past.

"He was good at everything," says one voice.

"Strong as a goddam bull," says another.

"Right here, right in his thighs, that's where he had it."

"What a build."

"And what a sister!"

Laughter and the sounds of the men pouring themselves another round of drinks. Then Samaras's voice can be distinguished: "He wasn't, I don't know, he wasn't hungry enough. He wasn't the kind of guy who was real gung ho. He wouldn't hurt anybody."

A silent pause, the clinking of glasses.

"Apparently," someone says, "he wanted to be a writer."

"Had to be."

...although I also know everybody in the world's had his own troubles, you'll understand that my particular form of anguish came from being too sensitive to all the lunkheads I had to deal with just so I could get to be a high school football star, a college student pouring coffee and washing dishes and scrimmaging till dark and reading Homer's Iliad in three days all at the same time, and God help me, a WRITER whose very "success," far from being a happy triumph as of old, was the sign of doom Himself.
—Vanity of Duluoz

By the time Kerouac reached high school, he was torn in the way he would be until the end. He was driven to devour books and, as he wrote in Vanity of Duluoz, "to end up on a campus somewhere smoking a pipe, with a button-down sweater, like Bing Crosby serenading a coed in the moonlight." But another part of him bristled at the ridicule he got from friends for wanting to be different from them. The torment drove him to a priest.

The Rev. Armand Morissette recalls the first time he met Kerouac. It was in the same front room of St. Jean Baptiste Rectory in Lowell where Father Spike—as the 79-year-old priest has been called all his adult life—meets visitors today. He still writes a regular column for Le Journal de Lowell, Lowell's French-language newspaper, as he has for 50 years. He still speaks with a thick French accent. And he still takes people curious about Kerouac to the Rainbow Cafe, a bar around the corner, where Kerouac's picture hangs in a place of honor above the bottles.

"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."

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....
—Vanity of Duluoz

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."

His right tibia was broken, but Kerouac hardly cared. "I went to Columbia because I wanted to dig New York and become a big journalist in the big city beat," says Jack Duluoz, the protagonist in Vanity of Duluoz. The broken leg was actually a blessing to someone who still had training-table privileges: "...I enjoyed the leisure, the steaks, the ice cream, the honor, and for the first time in my life at Columbia began to study at my own behest the complete awed wide-eyed world of Thomas Wolfe."

He also took in the New York nightlife and entertained William F. Buckley Jr. and some old friends from Horace Mann, but he stayed involved enough in school to run for—and win—the vice-presidency of his class. As for football, he was bitter that Little had doubted his injury. Still, he was ready to play. A Spectator story that spring quoted Little as predicting his would-be sophomore would "tear up the turf."

"We're planning on using him at wingback, where his speed will tell," said Little. "Can he go to his left on the reverse? I'll say he can!"

But when the 1941 season began, even with his roster depleted by prewar enlistments, Little did not start Kerouac. Years later, Kerouac blamed his benching on the KF-79, a trick play that had made Little's career when he used it to upset Stanford in the 1934 Rose Bowl. Kerouac considered the play—and the coach—a fossil. To Kerouac that bowl win was ancient history. "He hadn't done anything noteworthy since with his team," wrote Kerouac of the fictional coach Lu Libble in Vanity of Duluoz. But apparently the play was still a favorite of Little's in 1941, and Kerouac could not run it.

"I began to see that good old Lu Libble wasn't going to start me," Kerouac wrote in Vanity of Duluoz. "He insulted me in front of everybody again by saying, 'You're not such a hot runner, you cant handle the KT-79 reverse deception.' "

Once again Kerouac felt cheated. At Lowell High, he had kept playing the game. At Columbia, he quit. Kerouac came home that fall and eventually found a job writing sports for the Sun. His only bylined story during the three months he was with the newspaper was an account of a Lowell High basketball game. His name was misspelled as "Jack Korouac":

...the Kirk Streeters poured out on the floor for the second half of the game with renewed gusto. Before a few seconds had elapsed, Tommy Petroules dropped in the tying basket. This was the precursor of a new and vigorous Lowell high attack. The Red and Gray five began to function beautifully, sporting an iron-clad defense, all the while passing and shooting with rare skill. Lawo, Ciszek, and Petroules were splitting the twine from all parts of the floor, while the Lawrence hoopsters were barely able to get near enough for scoring attempts....

The final score read Lowell 32, Lawrence 21, and a grateful ovation was tendered the lads by the victory-minded spectators.

"I really didn't think he was much of a writer," says George McGuane, whose desk was near Kerouac's. McGuane retired a decade ago after 42 years with the Sun. A former AFL official and author of a pictorial history of the New England Patriots, the 75-year-old McGuane operates the clock at all Patriot home games, and he plays golf several times a week. Occasionally, he also holds court for visitors who are curious about Kerouac.

"He wasn't that sociable," McGuane says. "He'd come in, sit down at his desk and start typing, just typing away, typing all the time. He was feverish that way. But I could never figure out what the hell he was writing.

"I knew he'd been a good football player, and I was aware of him as a good-looking Greek—that's what I thought he was. Greek. To me he was this nice-looking kid who came from Lowell. How the hell did I know he'd do all these things later on?"

Kerouac quit the Sun and became a merchant seaman, sailing on a supply ship across the Atlantic. When he returned from that trip in October 1942, a telegram from Little was waiting, inviting him back to Columbia. Kerouac went, but only long enough to sit on the bench against Army. After leaving Columbia for good, he started working on his novel The Town and the City and hooked up with a group that included Ginsberg, who was a Columbia student at the time, and Burroughs, who would later be given the title for his most famous novel, Naked Lunch, by Kerouac.

For the next several years, Kerouac and his friends, along with a shifting cast of visitors, lived the bohemian life, sampling the jazz and drug subcultures of the city. When a grammar school dropout and reform-school veteran from Denver named Neal Cassady dropped in on the group in 1946, Kerouac was spellbound. Here was a man who had hitchhiked cross-country, who was living the wild life. Cassady once thumbed more than 1,000 miles just to see a Notre Dame football game. Kerouac was an actual football star, the kind of athlete Cassady had always wanted to be. The two became fast friends, and in 1949 they undertook the cross-country adventures that would be chronicled in On the Road.

But before Kerouac totally broke away from Lowell, he returned for one more stab at conformity, in 1950, when The Town and the City was published. It was a conventional novel, containing nothing like the fireworks of On the Road. Kerouac played the role of conventional author, coming home to Lowell for a book signing at a department store. This wasn't quite what his friends had expected of him, but at least he was the kind of writer they recognized.

"He looked beautiful," recalls Chiungos. "He had on this green velour jacket, sitting there signing autographs for the book. He looked great, just like a real writer."

Father Spike was there too. "I went and bought a book and was standing in line for the autograph," he says. "And Jack looks up and shouts at me, "Aha! I told you!"

"I says to him afterward, 'Jack, that's a very nice book. Very well written.' "

But critically and commercially The Town and the City hardly caused a ripple. Not until On the Road was published would America take notice—even as Lowell turned away from him.

"His life-style by then was something else," says Chiungos. "And this is what I think is what a lot of people in Lowell held against Jack."

Samaras thinks of the guy who greeted him back in the '60s when he delivered the bottles of Scotch Kerouac ordered over the phone during his last years in Lowell. "The minute I walked in the door, he'd get down like this," says Samaras, dropping into a three-point stance. "He'd say, 'Hit me, Sam, go ahead and hit me!'

"He looked like a bum," says Samaras, shaking his head. "But he wasn't a bum. No way in hell was he a bum."

Father Spike thinks of the funeral at which he performed Mass before Kerouac was buried in Edson cemetery on the south side of town. The service, held in St. Jean Baptiste Church, drew a mostly out-of-town audience. "Maybe 30 people were there from Lowell," says Father Spike. "It's like Christ said—a prophet is not honored in his own village. It's always like that."



During his travels Kerouac never forgot scoring a TD on Thanksgiving Day.



Kerouac (second from left) played his finest and happiest football in Lowell's backfield.



Lowell High, Class of '39.



Despite garnering early campus headlines, Kerouac didn't get along with Little (right) and quit the Columbia team as a sophomore.



[See caption above.]



As a teenager Kerouac confided his aspirations to Father Spike; Chiungos supported the park to honor his former teammate.



By '53 Kerouac was a published novelist, hanging out with Burroughs (below left) and Ginsberg, who took both of these pictures.



Only 44 in this 1966 photo, Kerouac had become a world-renowned author and drunk.

Mike D'Orso is a writer for "The Virginian-Pilot" and "Ledger-Star" in Norfolk, Va.