The Throwback Special

Finalist, National Book Awards 2016 for Fiction

The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder book cover
ISBN 9780393249460
W. W. Norton & Company
Chris Bachelder

Chris Bachelder is the author of Bear v. Shark, U.S.!, and Abbott Awaits. His fiction and essays have appeared in McSweeney’s, The Believer, and the Paris Review. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Cincinnati, where he teaches at the University of Cincinnati. More about this author >

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Here is the absorbing story of twenty-two men who gather every fall to painstakingly reenact what ESPN called “the most shocking play in NFL history” and the Washington Redskins dubbed the “Throwback Special”: the November 1985 play in which the Redskins’ Joe Theismann had his leg horribly broken by Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants live on Monday Night Football.

With wit and great empathy, Chris Bachelder introduces us to Charles, a psychologist whose expertise is in high demand; George, a garrulous public librarian; Fat Michael, envied and despised by the others for being exquisitely fit; Jeff, a recently divorced man who has become a theorist of marriage; and many more. Over the course of a weekend, the men reveal their secret hopes, fears, and passions as they choose roles, spend a long night of the soul preparing for the play, and finally enact their bizarre ritual for what may be the last time. Along the way, mishaps, misunderstandings, and grievances pile up, and the comforting traditions holding the group together threaten to give way.

The Throwback Special is a moving and comic tale filled with pitch-perfect observations about manhood, marriage, middle age, and the rituals we all enact as part of being alive.

Judges Citation

Every year the 22 men in Chris Bachelder’s quiet, comical masterpiece gather in the same hotel to renew their friendship and reenact one of professional football’s most gruesome moments. With tenderness and compassion, Bachelder perfectly captures the disappointments of middle-age, the solace of play, the bedtime rituals of men far from home (brush teeth, text wives), and the sacred, almost transcendent experience of the team huddle. The Throwback Special offers a heartbreaking and hysterically funny glimpse into the worried soul of the domesticated American male.


Chris Bachelder reads from The Throwback Special, 2016 NBAs Finalists Reading