Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Unforgettable Johnny Chung

This is my response to an article about a  hoax played in 1941 on the New York Times and other newspapers  concerning a fictional college football team and its star player.


 I read with great interest your story on Johnny Chung and his exploits while at Plainfield Teacher's College. I had the privilege of knowing Mr. Chung in his later years. He rarely spoke of his college  football days and his only memento was a small plaque setting forth his accomplishments as a 1941 All American, the 1236 yards gained, the 22 touchdowns.

Mr. Chung was far too modest to reveal this information to me, but I discovered that in the last game of that unforgettable season, Johnny Chung was in serious pain from an injury suffered on the second play. Despite his distress, he ran for 314 yards and 5 touchdowns. It was later revealed that he had shattered the record for most rushing yards in one game while playing with a severely fractured tibia. Out of this almost mythic tale, came the saying repeated millions of time since: "break a leg".

Mr. Chung became a teacher at Plainfield High, never leaving the community that had welcomed him with such open arms. He taught English and was most remembered for his inspiring lectures on the great American fiction writers of the 20th century.

When he retired from teaching in 1991, he was honored by the town for his many unbelievable accomplishments. But being the ever reluctant hero, he refused to take the stage when his name was called. It took 10 minutes and the pleading of a young disabled girl who Johnny visited each week, before he finally appeared. At that moment, she yelled out "Here's Johnny". The rest, as we all know, is history.

He was a man of great warmth and humor. He once told me he had gone to Plainfield to put the team on the map but that nobody could ever find it, as though he, and it, didn't even exist.

When he died in 2007 at the age of 86, he left behind a legacy that bordered on fairy tale, a great sports star, educator, inventor of the fantasy football league and devoted fan of everything Walter Mitty. 

In the annals of sports, there are those revered who are far from deserving, and those long forgotten who should be forever etched into our minds. One couldn't have imagined someone more worthy of our worship than the phantom of Plainfield.

I am so glad that your paper has reintroduced the legend of Johnny Chung into our collective consciousness. Long may he live in our hearts and our heads. He was almost too good to be true.

1 comment:

Michael Gansl said...

You actually had me going with this story!
well done!!