It's Homecoming weekend at Midwestern University, the weekend which will culminate with the big game between Midwestern and Michigan. Homecoming marks the return for the first time in six years of alumnus All-American Joe Ferguson, whose world is all about football and especially his place in it. Mild-mannered English Professor Tommy Turner is able to handle the thought of Joe's return to campus as the ex-boyfriend of Tommy's wife of six years, Ellen Turner née Stanley, who is temperamentally more like Joe than him. Tommy knows that Ellen loves him, the reason he doesn't mind the thought of Joe. The weekend starts off well enough for Tommy in that he believes he is being promoted from associate to full professor, which if be the case would be much earlier than he or Ellen had expected. However, it comes to his attention that Michael Barnes, an idealistic student of his who is also the editor of the campus' literary magazine, has written an editorial for the upcoming edition of the magazine denouncing what he considers the fascist policies of the Ed Keller led Board of Trustees, who have gone on a Communist witch hunt among the faculty, and praising who he considers principled Tommy, as Tommy is planning on reading to his English Composition class a letter written by anarchist Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Tommy admits the fact that Michael has written is true, he regularly reading what he considers documents of good writing by non-professional writers, regardless of content or the author, as he is also planning to read to his class a document written by Abraham Lincoln. Frederick Damon, the Dean of the English Department, wants to stay out of the fray and what he knows will be the wrath of the powerful Keller about the editorial and Tommy's intended actions. Tommy has to decide what to do, he reading the letter which would jeopardize his life at Midwestern. Through the weekend, he also sees what he thinks is more clearly Ellen's kinship to both him and Joe, she who would be better off with his competitor than him. What Tommy decides to do may not only affect his position and his marriage, but also the life of Ellen's younger sister Patricia Stanley as two men vie for her affections: Michael and the team's star fullback, the dimwitted Wally Myers.
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