Thanksgiving not just about turkey anymore

By JeffGraveline

The food might headline Thanksgiving Day celebrations across the United States, but backyard football could be considered the opening act to turkey day festivities.

Across the United States, families and friends are gathering hours before the bird hits the table to hit each other in “Turkey Bowl” games.

“Ever since I’ve had my [driver’s] license until about college started, it was always play football with my buddies in the morning, get home and watch a little football,” said Adam Mazur, a 26-year-old medical student at Loyola University. “I think Detroit is the first game, and then — eat dinner with the family.”

Football has been a Thanksgiving Day staple since the Detroit Lions played the Chicago Bears during the 1934 National Football League season, in what has become a regularly-scheduled game for the Lions, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Web site.

Although the Bears won the game 19-16, the Lions owner saw the attraction a game on Thanksgiving had for his franchise.

G.A. Richards, owner of the Lions during the 1934 season, set about to continue the new Thanksgiving Day tradition and the Lions have played every Turkey Day since, except from 1939 to 1944, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Web site.

For some, though, watching wasn’t enough. As people took to their backyards, streets and neighborhood parks, the Turkey Bowl was born.

“Football is the most popular sport[during Thanksgiving],” Mazur said. “In terms of backyard football, I love playing the game, building up some appetite, then going home and eating. It makes the turkey taste that much better.”

Since everyone is already together for the feast, some view the Thanksgiving game as a  way to reconnect with those they have lost touch with over the past year.

“It’s a chance for [friends] to get together,” said Keith Cucio, a 34-year-old school teacher. “Sometimes, especially now that we’re older, everybody has got their own job or got their own family, it’s hard for us to hang out as friends …  it’s a chance for us to get together and play catch-up.”

While people like Cucio are OK with just seeing friends and getting reacquainted with those they’ve lost touch with, others take the games a bit more seriously.

“We’ve played against Brett Basanez in our tournament, we’ve played against the Barrington [High School] team that went on to win state one year,” said David Krieter, a 24-year-old metal fabricator from Rolling Meadows, Ill. “It’s pretty competitive.”

Townships and churches have begun organizing Turkey Bowl tournaments, pitting neighbors against one another in Thanksgiving Day gridiron clashes that are talked about throughout the year.

“The one year we did win [a Turkey Bowl tournament], we played against people we knew,” Krieter said. “We had the trophy and we brought it over to their house once, just to remind them.”

Whether it’s about bragging rights, neighborhood pride or just seeing friends that haven’t been seen in a while, Thanksgiving Day football has become part of the holiday’s tradition.

A Turkey Bowl adds a layer to an already all-American tradition and lets the young and the young at heart relive some of their fondest childhood memories.

“As we get older, life gets in the way, and [playing Thanksgiving Day football] is a chance for us to spend some time with old friends,” Cucio said. “People we haven’t seen in years or people we haven’t seen in a couple of days …  it makes us feel young again.”