THE 62nd Prose Bowl Game was perhaps the most exciting bowl game of all time. More than 100,000 fans of literature and the practical arts turned out on a rainy winter's day to watch the highly favored team of Critics slaughter Novelists and Essayists, 28 to 12. As Marcel Proust was heard to mutter as he dragged from the muddy field, ``It was a day to forget.'' As most noun-and-verb fans know, the Prose Bowl, first played in Pasadena, California, in 1916, has been held annually in early January.
The event was organized by some die-hard teachers of literature to remind American citizens of the importance of clear writing. Unfortunately, during the first decade of the games attendance was quite sparse - probably because of the poor quality of play. The Critics won the first seven games, the Novelists/Essayists took only two, and there was one 10-10 tie (when William Butler Yeats kicked ``Leda and the Swan'' between the goal posts for a three-point field goal in the last six seconds).
It cannot be denied that, during the early years, the teams were badly mismatched. Some sportswriters even accused the Critics of illegal recruiting practices. Such charges have never been substantiated.
From the '30s through the '50s the Prose Bowl games became more exciting (possibly because of the quarterbacking of Hemingway and the grousing of Edmund Wilson). Soon every game was a sellout. It is now impossible to beg, borrow, or steal a good ticket to the Prose Bowl. Box seats are sold decades in advance.
This year, for example, the Casey Stengel Club for the Revival of Spoken English As She Could Be Spoken paid more than $14,000 for seven seats on the 80-yard line, space made famous by an Irwin Shaw short story.
As is well known, the annual Prose Bowl teams consist of the winner of the NFL Championship and an all-star team of best-loved critics.
The NFL (New Found Letters) Champion is the best of six teams: Southern Regional Writers, Western Writers, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Scribes, Novelists/Essayists, Post Modernists, and Mystery/Detective Writers.
The Critics team consists of Deconstructionists, New Critics, Powerhouse Romantics, Marxists, New Journalists and members of the Modern Language Association Sports Contingent, Men's and Women's Divisions, with the all-star players chosen by readers of The New York Review of Books and subscribers to a select list of Little Magazines.
This year's game got off to a fast start when Joan Didion made an on-side kick of ``Moby Dick.''
V.S. Prichett lunged for the novel, touched it, watched it squirm away. Sidney Sheldon, carrying ``The Sands of Time'' under his left arm, picked up the Herman Melville novel and ran 72 yards for a touchdown. He then kicked the copy of Melville's novel between the goal posts for the extra point.
The score stood 7-0 until the middle of the second quarter when John Simon was brought in to quarterback for the Critics. He quickly handed off a copy of Deconstructionists Tract to Sheila Benson (who earlier in the game had intercepted a pass from Neil Simon). Ms. Benson ran 20 yards for a TD.
By the time the game ended, the final score was Critics, 28; Writers, 12.
``The Critics are just too tough,'' some of the Writers complained as their works limped off the field. ``But there's always next year!''