F. Scott Fitzgerald loved football. He played on his prep school football team and in 1911 his first published poem, “Football,” appeared in the school newspaper. The poem stands out primarily for its author’s enthusiastic use of a highly detailed play-by-play structure:
Now they’re ready, now they’re waiting,
Now he’s going to place the ball.
There, you hear the referee’s whistle,
As of old the baton’s fall.
See him crouching. Yes, he’s got it;
Now he’s off around the end.
Will the interference save him?
Will the charging line now bend?
Fitzgerald’s own football career came to an end when he failed to make the team at Princeton, but he referenced the game many times in his later writings. In This Side of Paradise (1920), Fitzgerald dwells on the way the game provides young men with an opportunity to play the hero-warrior:
For those minutes courage flowed like wine out of the November dusk, and he was the eternal hero, one with the sea-rover on the prow of a Norse galley, one with Roland and Horatius, Sir Nigel and Ted Coy, scraped and stripped into trim and then flung by his own will into the breach, beating back the tide, hearing from afar the thunder of cheers….
The passage reads with a certain pathos, for, of course, Fitzgerald’s generation, the generation that fought the Great War, hadn’t had to play at being hero-warriors. The image of the football hero becomes even more complicated in The Great Gatsby, in the figure of Tom Buchanan. As soon as he is introduced into the narrative, Tom is characterized as a former football star:
Her husband, among other physical accomplishments, had been one of the most powerful ends that had ever played football at New Haven – a national figure in a way, one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anticlimax.
Tom’s physicality turns quickly to brutality – whatever qualities may have made him a college football hero, he is a restless, violent, and cruel man.
We had an opportunity to bring football and Fitzgerald together at the Homecoming Game – in a way that adhered to the more lighthearted side of the game and its culture. Before the game, UConn Reads hosted a tent at Spirit Village alongside the Alumni Association, the Women’s Center, the Schools and Colleges, and other university organizations. Since the game took place just a day after the announcement of The Great Gatsby as our focus for UConn Reads 2012-13, Homecoming provided a great opportunity to introduce the book to alumni and the larger UConn community.
Spirit Village is distinguished by its “swag” – my little team of UConn Readers, who energetically manned the tent, came home with armloads of candy, pencils, stickers, erasers, and other prizes.
I had commissioned Robby Tuttle, an Illustration student in the Department of Art and Art History, to draw an original UConn Reads coloring book to hand out. Based loosely on The Great Gatsby and the culture of the 1920s, Robby’s coloring book is drawn in his distinctive, energetic style and was very popular not only with young fans, but parents and grandparents. Feel free to click here and print out a coloring book for your own UConn Readers!
In addition to the works cited above, Fitzgerald published two Saturday Evening Post stories that followed the theme of the football hero: “The Bowl” (1928) and “Basil and Cleopatra” (27 April 1929). For more on these stories, see The University of South Carolina’s F. Scott Fitzgerald website. Both stories are available online at the University of Adelaide’s website.