Glory days, courtesy of Rabbit and the Boss

Is there a more distinctively American expression of the pitiable state of a man not quite confronting mortality than nostalgia for his days as high school sports star? Bruce Springsteen struck that chord in the closer of his Superbowl halftime mini-concert, adapting the baseball image from the first lines of his old hit “Glory Days” for the game at hand:

“I had a friend was a big football player back in high school
He could throw that Hail Mary, make you look like a fool…
Saw him the other night at this roadside bar
I was walking in, he was walking out,
We went back inside, sat down had a few drinks
But all he kept talking about was
Glory days…”

Even better, there’s the moment at the start of John Updike’s novel Rabbit, Run, when Rabbit Angstrom, former high school basketball hero, now just another young man in suit, comes upon a group of teenagers throwing hoops. Their stray ball bounces to him, and he has one of those glory-days moments:

“Then the ball seems to ride up the right lapel of his coat and comes off his shoulder as his knees dip down, and it appears the ball will miss because though he shot from an angle the ball is not going toward the backboard. It was not aimed there. It drops into the circle of the rim, whipping the net with a ladylike whisper.”

Naturally he removes his coat and joins the game. But the magic of that first shot is fleeting—a mockery really—and his next throw falls short, as it must, although Angstrom “for a second wonders if it went through the hoop without riffling the net.” That’s when it all hits home for a guy.

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