Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowl Sunday with Chip Hilton

     William "Chip" Hilton felt as though all the scrubs and half the varsity were using him for a pillow. He could scarcely breathe, but in spite of his discomfort, he felt a glow of satisfaction. The football was safely cradled against his ribs.

As a boy, I never read any of the 24 Chip Hilton novels written in the 1940s and 1960s.  Partly because I was too deep into The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew--the king and queen of adolescent series for my generation.  But also because I had no interest in sports, real or fictitious.  Still don't.  That's why on this Super Bowl Sunday, my wife and I will TiVo the Big Game, but will fast-forward through all the plays to watch only the commercials.

Chip Hilton certainly has his fans, and they are as devoted to the books as the mothers and fathers who still pack the high school stands long after their sons and daughters have graduated and gone off to play ball in college.  In the books, Chip was a triple threat--basketball, football, and baseball--and, as his Wikipedia entry notes, he "is often placed in the position of persuading his less-than-perfect teammates to play his way and share his values--with winning championships being the result."  Nancy always caught the ne'er-do-well criminal, Chip always won the game.  We read these books for the joy of the formula.

One devoted Chip fan, Jack McCallum, wrote a long, heartfelt piece for Sports Illustrated back in 1980 on his boyhood love for the Hilton books and then went on to describe how he sought out the 83-year-old author Clair Bee at his home in the Catskills.
Ah, Chip, where have you gone, you and your great natural talent?  And where's Speed Morris, your mercurial sidekick with the beat-up jalopy?  And Soapy Smith, your redheaded, joking-through-thick-and-thin comrade?  And Biggie Cohen, the first baseman with ham hocks for hands?   And where, oh where, is Hank Rockwell, that tough but warmhearted coach of football, basketball, baseball and life's lessons, a man who was equal parts Rockne, Landry, Shula and saint....The time has come to reveal who I am.  I think of myself as the world's greatest expert on Chip Hilton books, which might not get me a tumble in The New York Review of Books or a table at Elaine's, but at least it means something to people my age.  A college friend once challenged my supremacy during a late-night literary discussion that was fueled, as I recall, by a case of Colt .45.  The clincher was this: he could name the "touchdown twins" in Triple Threat Trouble (Book 18), but he didn't know which twin ran to the left (Eddie Aker) and which to the right (Jack Jacobs).  I did.  My title was secure.

You can read the rest of McCallum's excellent article HERE.

       "Who's that guy?  That 44?"
       "That's Hilton!  All-State!  Best quarterback in the country!"
       "You can say that again!  Kicks off, makes the tackle, recovers the fumble, and passes for a touchdown!"
       "And kicks the goal!  He's terrif!"

Enjoy the game.


  1. My older brother had a number of these books. I bought some more titles when growing up and as an adult went to antique stores and finally eBay to finish my collection.

    I loved the stories and I'm now reading them to my young son every night.

    And Chip didn't win every big game, but when he lost it was in an improbable way.

    The Bee estate had one unfinished manuscript that they offered in a finished form five or ten years ago.

    The piece of good news was followed by the estate re-releasing the original books in an up-dated form a number of years ago.

    Sadly, this was similar to "colorization" of black and white movies or New Coke.

    A bad idea.

  2. Oh, man, did I love those books. Still have copies of Strike Three and Touchdown Pass.

  3. Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your further write ups thanks once again.
    Super Bowl 2012

  4. I credit some of the values I have lived by to these books. Concepts like team first, humility and loyalty were seeds planted in my by Claire bee. I will always be grateful for that.