Football Before the Feast

Article by Ryan Callander with photos taken by Kyle Adams

Thanksgiving is a time of year which is filled with tradition. Over the years, football has found itself more and more intertwined with Thanksgiving tradition. Football has become almost as synonymous with Thanksgiving as turkey, stuffing, and awkward conversations with your relatives. And while only three football games were televised this Thanksgiving, countless more were played across the country. The players who took to the field last Thursday did not have hefty contracts or shoe endorsement deals. Instead, these games were played, simply because they are part of a tradition. The Mechanicville Turkey Bowl, of which I am a participant, is one such game.

Played on a patch of land beside the Mechanicville High School lovingly referred to as “The Pit”, The Mechanicville Turkey Bowl has been played since 1996. Admittedly my participation in the game did not start until a few years ago, but there are many who have taken part in nearly every game and even a few who have seen the field every year since the game’s inception. Most of the players are Mechanicville alumni, many of whom suited up for the Raiders and played on Friday nights years ago.

To the guys who continually show up year after year, this game is a part of their Thanksgiving tradition. Ask around and you’ll hear more than once that playing in The Turkey Bowl is one of the highlights of the year and something people start looking forward to as soon as the leaves begin to change color. While many of the players no longer reside in Mechanicville, great distances have been traveled in order to play, for having Thanksgiving pass by without playing in the Turkey Bowl is a thought unimaginable.

Perhaps going against better judgment, the game is tackle. Surprisingly there have been very few injuries over the years, with a broken collar bone several years ago being the most severe injury sustained at a Turkey Bowl. You might think that would be enough to change things; that next year we would wise up and start playing flag football. But not only were we right back at hitting each other the next Thanksgiving, but the man whose collar bone had been broken, now fully healed, was right in the middle of it all.

This year’s installment of the Turkey Bowl had all the hallmarks of games past. The weather leading up to Thanksgiving Day had many thinking the field would be wet and muddy, however the opposite proved to be the case. The wet ground mixed with the bitter cold temperatures created a playing surface akin to Astroturf. Despite the less than fundamental football being played, there was one strong comparison between the Turkey Bowl and the professional games played that day. Player safety is a big issue in the NFL these days, and that same concern could be seen at The Pit. Where as in years past bodies would have been thrown around the field with reckless abandonment, this may have been the most cautiously played Turkey Bowl yet, with no unnecessary chances being taken. Maybe we’re just getting older. It does take a little longer to get up after a big hit and a lot longer to get out of bed the next day.

The bell which rings throughout Mechanicville every day at noon serves as the unofficial mark of halftime, and it isn’t too long afterwards that the players begin departing. Each man heading off in order to take part in the rest the day’s traditions. When it’s all said and done, there is no box score, no highlight reel, and most couldn’t tell you if their team won or lost. The Mechanicville Turkey Bowl, like all the other pickup games played on Thanksgiving, is not about winning. It is about continuing with a tradition that means more than even the best tasting turkey or stuffing.

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