Jason Miller’s That Championship Season was regarded as one of the more important plays of its time. In addition to reflecting the emptiness of America’s emphasis on winning and other suspect values, the play was also regarded as the kind of quintessential American drama Broadway should have been producing, but was not. That Championship Season made its debut off-Broadway at the Estelle Newman/Public Theatre on May 2, 1972, where it ran for 144 performances. The production was then moved to the Booth Theatre on Broadway, where it ran for an additional 844 performances. The play ran for a total of 988 performances before it closed on April 21, 1974.
That Championship Season was only the second full-length play Miller had written, and it was by far his most successful. Miller was primarily an actor, who wrote plays on the side. For this play, which lifted him out of obscurity, Miller won numerous awards, including the New York Drama Critics Award for Best Play, Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Playwright, and Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Playwriting Award, all in 1972. Miller also won the Antoinette Perry Award (the Tony) for best play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1973. In the early 1980s, he later adapted the play into a movie, which he directed.
From its earliest productions, That Championship Season was widely praised by critics, though a few dissenters had problems with certain aspects of the play. Those who like the play compliment its humor, dialogue, and characters. Reviewing the Broadway production, Clive Barnes of the New York Times writes, ‘‘Mr. Miller has a perfect ear and instinct for the rough and tumble profanity of locker- room humor. The coarsely elegant gibes go along with Mr. Miller’s indictment of a society, which opens with an ironic playing of the National Anthem and then lacerates the sickness of small-town America full of bigotry, double-dealing, racism and hate.’’