TD Stands for Touchdown….and Turkey Day

Thanksgiving Day, one of the great American holidays, means turkey, stuffing and the Macy’s parade…and football. Not necessarily in that order.

For years  Iona Prep, would play arch-rival New Rochelle on Thanksgiving morning. The game, called the Turkey Bowl, was televised in metropolitan New York on WPIX Channel 11, with the legendary announcer Marty Glickman  calling play-by-play.

Unfortunately, Iona and New Rochelle no longer meet on the gridiron. New York state playoff schedules have forced a sad end to this rivalry, which in years past often drew crowds of 10,000 or more.

Another Westchester County T-Day match-up, Stepinac vs. White Plains, continues to this day, although the game has been moved from the Highlands to the WPHS campus.

Thanksgiving high school football remains a strong tradition in many parts of the country. Fitchburg vs. Leominster is one of the many Turkey Day rivalries staged each year in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

These twin city rivals have played since 1894 and have met 125 times, including 103 times on Thanksgiving. Fitchburg leads the overalls series 59-57 with 9 ties

College Football on Thanksgiving
On the college scene, perhaps the greatest Thanksgiving Day game of all time occurred in 1971, when No. 1 Nebraska defeated No. 2 Oklahoma, 35-31, The signature moment of that game was provided by the Huskers Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers, below right surrounded by Sooners, who fielded a punt and raced 72 yards through the OU defense for the first score of the game.

The Sporting News named that 1971 Cornhusker team the greatest team of the Twentieth Century in 1988. ESPN.com called the 1971 Nebraska Cornhusker team the greatest team of all time.

The best lead written about this Game of the Century came from noted columnist Dave Kindred, who at that time was writing for the Louisville Courier-Journal. He wrote, “They can quit playing now, they have played the perfect game.”

The longest-running college tradition is the Turkey Day Classic, a game between Alabama State University and Tuskegee University, which has been played on Thanksgiving Day annually since 1924. It is also the oldest black college football classic, since the two colleges first played in 1901.

This year on Thanksgiving, undefeated and third-ranked Texas will face long-time rival Texas A&M in College Station in the Lone Star Showdown.

Turkey Day Pros
Pre-dating the NFL, semi-pro organizations in Pennsylvania and Ohio played football on Thanksgiving as early as 1902.

In the NFL, the first owner of the Lions, G.A. Richards, started the tradition of the Thanksgiving Day game in 1934 as a gimmick. The Lions played the Chicago Bears each year on Thanksgiving through 1939, and faced the Green Bay Packers each season from 1951 through 1963.

Several other NFL teams played regularly on Thanksgiving in the past, including the Chicago Bears and Chicago Cardinals, the Frankford Yellow Jackets, and the New York Giants, who visited crosstown rivals like the Staten Island Stapletons or Brooklyn Dodgers between 1929 and 1938.

n 1939 and 1940, during the Franksgiving controversy when President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to move the holiday for economic reasons, the only two teams to play on Thanksgiving were the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles.

Beginning in 1964, the NFL began rotating Thanksgiving Day match-ups for the Lions. Four years later, the Dallas Cowboys kicked off their inaugural and annual Thanksgiving Day game by beating the Washington Redskins, 29-20.

The NFL added a third Thanksgiving game, this one a night contest, in 2006, when the Kansas City Chiefs hosted the Denver Broncos. This year on Thanksgiving the Broncos will entertain the Giants.

Among the many memorable NFL Thanksgiving Day games were the 1962 contest, when the Lions handed Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers their only loss, 26-14, and the 1974 Cowboys-Redskins game in which unknown Cowboys backup quarterback Clint Longley took over for an injured Roger Staubach with the team down 16-3 and rallied them to an improbable 24-23 victory on two long passes.

And then there was the infamous Leon Lett It Be game in 1993, when Cowboys defense lineman touched a blocked field goal, giving the Dolphins a second chance and an improbable 16-14 win on a Pete Stoyanovich field goal at the gun.

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4 Comments on “TD Stands for Touchdown….and Turkey Day”

  1. Jim Guercio says:

    Hey Rick,

    Happy Holiday season to you!!

    Nice to see you remembered my high school rivalry and it is one of the oldest in the nation. My oldest son Steve broke the Gardner High record for most passing yardage this season and now has one more season to add to his most passing yards of all time which he also owns. Hope you and family are well.

    Take care,

    Jimmy G.

    • sportslifer says:

      Jimmy, good to hear from you and Happy Holidays to you and the family. So your son is lighting up the scoreboard for the Gardner Wildcats….both sons actually. That’s great. I did see where Leominster beat Fitchburg 21-6.

  2. almadenmike says:

    Our children’s high school, Lincoln in San Jose (a performing arts magnet), is at this moment leading 41-20 at the half of their 71st annual Turkey Day “Big Bone Game” with rival San Jose High School … while I’m at home getting dinner ready. This rivalry’s had better days on the field, but it’s a fun (and lucrative to the schools) Homecoming-like tradition for these schools, which usually don’t get into the post-season. (One year a decade or so ago, Lincoln declined a playoff spot to keep the Big Bone continuity intact.)


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