Jack Kerouac Played Football Here!

Jack Kerouac in Columbia Football uniform as a reserve player, 1942

Jack Kerouac came to Columbia in 1940 on a football scholarship. Unfortunately, the all-Massachusetts State player in high school suffered a broken leg in only his second game of his freshman year. In a memoir by C. Ogden Beresford (CC 1943) available at the University Archives, there is a first-person account of Kerouac after the tragic accident. Oggie, as he was known, recalled the freshman who shared a connecting room in Livingston Hall (now Wallach Hall) with his friend Jimmy Crump:

“Jack was supposed to be some hotshot football player from some Academy in Massachusetts, and about two weeks into the fall Freshman football season, Jack broke his leg. Well, that finished Mr. Kerouac. He bemoaned his fate, lay on his back in his sack all day, wouldn’t attend classes, and just stared at the ceiling. Jim and I and several other guys all tried to pull this kid out of it, but he would turn on his side, close his eyes, and refuse to talk. [Football Coach] Lou Little paid several visits, and finally took Jim and me aside, and said for Christ’s sake, and for Columbia’s sake, help this kid get over his pout, he’s going to flunk out and there goes a good football player. So we did. We asked him to eat with us, go to the movies with us, — nothing. Lou Little would come in, shut the door, and the walls would tremble – nothing. I don’t know what he lived on, but he wouldn’t take his finals at the end of the first term, and although he came back to start the second term, he dropped out after a couple of weeks, and that was the end of Jack Kerouac. It was a downer for everyone.”

“Pink Sheet” from October 18, 1940  game vs. St. Benedict’s when Kerouac played and injured his leg.

After his freshman year, Kerouac did not come  back to Columbia for what would have been his first varsity season. Instead, Kerouac took a job in a New England war plant that fall. In fall 1942, Kerouac was back in school, he joined Coach Lou Little’s varsity squad as a part of Columbia’s reserve backfield, but he did not play in any games. Kerouac was around a little longer than Oggie recalled. But then again, Oggie was busy: he starred in three Varsity Show productions and played the trumpet with campus swing band the Blue Lions, where he met a “serious and great musician named Sid Caesar from Julliard.”  In addition to the memoir, Oggie donated to the University Archives a CD with audio recorded in 1940-1941 of the Blue Lions playing their theme song and the popular hits of the day. The exhibition “Roar, Lion, Roar: A Celebration of Columbia Football” is now on view at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

-Columbia University Archives Staff