“Back For the Big Game” (E31)

  • Originally printed: DAC News, November 1928
  • First reprinted in: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; Or David Copperfield
  • Original Byline: Robert C. Benchley (with drawings by Gluyas Williams)


Benchley’s addressee in this anti-nostalgic excursion (“Weekins, 1914”) never makes it anywhere near the big Harvard/Yale game. A lifelong fan of the contest himself, RCB examines the role of the national media in helping to preserve the solidaristic totems of America’s collegiate stratum. As is so often the case with Benchley, the author both buys into and bitterly questions America’s accepted pieties – and during the late 1920s, you weren’t likely to find any piety further up there in the sky than the Ivy League’s autumnal ascendancy.

By no means born to the Crimson, RCB found his way to the Yard through a series of unlikely events kicked off by the death of his beloved older brother Edmund in the Spanish-American War. Reeling from this terrible misfortune, Edmund’s wealthy fiancée Lillian determined to stake the younger Benchley (only 9 at the time) to every advantage that she could, as a feat of Emersonian compensation. (She may also have half-wanted to groom the boy to take his sibling’s place in her romantic plans, although this is strictly a matter of conjecture among his baffled biographers.)

Knowing that he’d reached Harvard – and the incredible social network (I’m not talking about Facebook) it gave him an entrée to – on a tragedy-tainted fluke goes a long way toward explaining the author’s inimitably affable absurdism. Coming of age amongst America’s most favoured citizens – and coming to understand them in their utter ordinariness as human beings – helped to demystify the country’s repressed class arrangements, gifting Benchley with the power to burlesque the bourgeois without resorting to the stridently moralistic critiques offered up by many of his contemporaries. It may also have made him a little too comfortable with the system, or, at any rate, a little too dubious of any possibility of changing it.

What does all of this have to do with three well-to-do old sports page partisans who make tracks back to New England in search of lost homecomings and find themselves ejected from a frat house festooned with irrational numbers? Not much perhaps, except: the fourth estate is a lot more solicitous of its valued customers’ feelings than the fourth dimension is.

Favourite Moment:
“You go to the fraternity house (another concession on my part to my Middle West readers) and announce yourself as “Weekins, 1914.” (My class was 1912, as a matter of fact. I am giving myself a slight break and trying to be mysterious about the whole thing.) … The old place looks about the same, except that an odd-looking banner on the wall says “1930,” there being no such year.”

Reprint Notes:

  • Reprinted under the title “Back to the Game” in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; Or David Copperfield
  • Only one change to the text in the reprint, with slight softening of the language:
  • “I remember you,” says Feemer, “you certainly were an awful ass.” (original text)
  • “I remember you,” says Feemer, “you were an awful pratt.” (reprint)

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