Remembering Bobby Lambert

By Steve O’Connor

On February 14th, Bobby Lambert died in South Deerfield, MA. at the age of 94. Bobby was a lifelong friend of my father, Jim O’Connor. Both, like Jack Kerouac, were born in Lowell, MA in 1922, and Bobby was later to play football with Jack Kerouac at Lowell High School. He was also later to play on the famous 1942 Holy Cross team led by Captain Eddie Murphy of Lowell that upset the previously unbeaten Boston College team 55-12 at Fenway Park. Globe reporter Jerry Nason’s description of that game is worth reading:

It was one of those things you had to see for yourself to really believe. It was the rabbit turning to pursue the wolf. Veterans of the bleak midfield press box, on the lip of the ball park roof, were stunned and at a loss to explain the 1-to-14 long shot turning with a snarl and tearing the favorite limb from limb.

The cohorts of the Crusader, mad with joy, staggered around for hours afterward in a state of mental intoxication, rushed up and down the streets of the city in a delirium of ecstasy over the total of points ever scored in the 40-year series.

And the 55 points were bombed through and over a team that for eight games had led the nation in total defense, as well as offense and topped the Associated Press poll. It was a first-class job of house wrecking.

A sellout crowd of 41,300 saw Holy Cross completely obliterate any chance at all of the Eagles going to the Sugar or any other bowl by scoring in the first five minutes of play, piling up a 20-6 lead at halftime and quickly amend a fourth and fifth touchdown after intermission.

Explain it? A victory by an underdog in a traditional contest is easy enough to explain. There simply ain’t no such animal as an underdog, a 1-to-4 tailender in this sort of series. But 55 points against the nation’s No. 1 defensive football team is something nobody, not even Ank Scanlan, can explain.

Cocoanut Grove

The reporter adds:

Later in the night after Holy Cross’ victory, a fire killed more than 500 people at the nearby Cocoanut Grove nightclub.

Bobby Lambert, in a celebratory mood, had been at the Cocoanut Grove earlier that evening, but left when he was unable to find some friends. His college education was interrupted in 1943, when he joined the 405th Fighter Squadron and was deployed to Europe. His brother Arthur had attended West Point and was a colonel in Patton’s army, while his other brother Johnny served as a staff sergeant whose unit fought its way through France, Belgium and Germany. His sister Marion was a pilot who flew war planes from their place of manufacture to the air bases where they were needed. The Acre produced such a family.

Bobby Lambert in Germany in WWII

I remember Bobby and his brother Johnny as frequent visitors to our home. My father and the Lambert brothers all seemed to be cut from the same cloth. They didn’t drink, smoke, or swear. They were all devout Catholics. Bobby went to Mass every day. My father had been in the Pacific, but none of them talked much about the war. Johnny Lambert once looked at a map of France I had and running his finger along rivers and roads, stopped and pointed to a particular town. “That was a dirty place,” he said. “What do you mean?” I asked. “We lost a lot of guys there.” That sort of comment explained their reticence to me. In spite of what they’d been through, the Great Depression and the war, they did laugh a lot, and enjoyed telling stories of the old days in the Acre. I remember my father telling me about the Lambert boys paddling their red canoe around the flooded neighborhoods in 1936. My father played football after the war with the Walker Warriors. I don’t remember whether the Lamberts played with him, but they all retained a love for football, particularly college football, all their lives. In fact, I think the only trips my father ever took without my mother were trips with Bobby Lambert to see Michigan or Villanova play.

Writer Jay Atkinson interviewed Bobby Lambert on his days with Jack Kerouac on the LHS football team, and he was able to get a lot of great material out of it, more than I ever have. I didn’t even realize that they were not just teammates, but close friends, and that they walked home together every day after practice. Somewhere I do have a team photo in which Bobby has his arm draped around Jack, and Bobby told me that he remembered very well the day it was taken. When I asked him about Jack as a player, he said simply, “Well, he wasn’t the type of back who was going to flatten guys or plow through the line, but if he got just a little bit of room—oh, he could run like a deer!” As a person, he found Jack, “Shy, kind of quiet, a sweet kid, really.” And he added that he ran into him many years later at the Pollard Library. “Hey! Jack! How the hell are you?” he asked.

“I’m good, Bobby.”

“What are you up to these days?”

“I’m writing a book.”

Bobby said that was great.

Thanks to Steve O’Connor for sharing this remembrance and please read the obituary of Robert “Bobby” Lambert, a great Lowellian.