‘The Throwback Special’ by Chris Bachelder – The Joe Theismann Classic


‘The Throwback Special’ by Chris Bachelder    (2016) – 218 pages



One of the names occasionally mentioned as a potential United States Nobel Prize winner in Literature instead of Bob Dylan was Michael Chabon, and I would have had fewer problems with him being named rather than some of the other names mentioned.  Chabon is sort of the godfather for a bunch of young fiction writers like Ben Fountain, Lauren Groff, and Dave Eggers who are trying new techniques with the novel to make it fresh and new.  Add Chris Bachelder to this list of innovative fiction writers as ‘The Throwback Special’ is certainly original, exciting, and different.  It has been named a finalist for the National Book Award.

‘The Throwback Special’ is a group portrait of twenty-two men who get together in November every year to re-enact one pro football play. That play is a quite famous one; it is the play where Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann had his leg horribly broken by New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor on November 18, 1985.  I doubt a group of guys would be doing this reenactment of only one play every year for thirty years, but it does provide an colorful excuse why these men do get together.

You don’t have to be a football fan to appreciate this novel as very little of it takes place on the football field.  Most of the story takes place at the hotel where the guys are staying.  The guys have names like Jeff and Andy and George and Derek, and you never do find out enough about them to really tell them apart.  That is not a problem, since the story is more about the guys interacting rather than individual biographies.  One of the innovative features of this story is that it is a group portrait of these men rather than their detailed life stories.  As such the novel is more about what these men share and have in common rather than their differences.

Sometimes the men at the hotel discuss their problems from back at home with each other.

“The only thing marriage can give you is the sense that your life is witnessed by another person.  A kind of validation, Jeff said.”  

They try to reassure each other.

“There is nothing wrong with you except the normal stuff.”      

Look at ‘The Throwback Special’ as an experiment.  If you were to see a group of penguins from outside, the similarities between the penguins would be more apparent than their differences. Perhaps the same is true of a bunch of guys staying at a hotel.

Since ‘The Throwback Special’ sustained my interest throughout, I would say Bachelder’s experiment was successful.


Grade:     A-   


4 responses to this post.

  1. Perhaps re-enacting a football match is the American equivalent of the Brits re-enacting historical battles: modern warfare is a battle of technologies, but prior to the invention of mechanised warfare, battles were a test of individual strength, one man against another.



    • Hi Lisa,
      I suspect that the men of Australia are as sports-obsessed as U.S. men, even though I don’t even know what the major sport is there. I suppose you are correct that sports is a place for individual heroics while war battles today are mainly technological.
      ‘The Throwback Special’ most reminds me of ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Half-time Walk’ which is coming out as a movie soon. Both novels have a football backdrop but are really about something else.



  2. Tony, high praise! My husband has read some of the National Book Award finalists and did like this one. I am behind on new books, as always.:)



    • Hi Kat,
      I suppose ‘The Throwback Special’ is more popular with the guys than the gals. The novel I found closest to it in spirit was ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk’ by Ben Fountain which was my book of the year in 2013.



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