January 29, 2023
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ColumnsThe Hot Stove

The Hot Stove: Turkey-day football bigger than NFL

Like turkey or pumpkin pie, football is a key staple when it comes to Thanksgiving. But football isn’t just limited to the NFL’s annual turkey-day games featuring the Detroit Lions or Dallas Cowboys, but two other important types as well.

In my home state of Massachusetts, high school football has been a tradition on Thanksgiving for more than a century. Every year, rival teams throughout the Bay State will face each other, and, like every rivalry game, you can usually throw out the record books.

As I mentioned in my column last week, I never won a game as a player on Thanksgiving, but it’s a great time to catch up with former classmates and alumni from both competing schools. The game is technically an exhibition now, since it has no effect on the playoffs, and even with just bragging rights on the line, it’s still nice to be home.

But it’s the day after Thanksgiving when my favorite kind of football happens. For the past three years, some of my closest friends have gone back to the high school turf field, split up into teams and just continued to play. Sometimes other groups of people would join us, which would prolong the game.

At one point last year, we had almost 30 people playing at the same time and switching in and out. In total, we played for more than three hours, taking in the moments with some of my closest hometown friends. All we needed was a ball and a field.

I know I’m not alone in this tradition, as sophomore Shane Connor, my teammate on the cross-country and track and field teams, said he plays touch football with his friends every Thanksgiving. One of the many reasons we enjoy playing is because it’s a change-up from just running, which we do almost every day of the year.

The biggest difference with this kind of pickup football is that the scores don’t matter, and I know none of us remembers who won, who lost or how many touchdowns we scored. However, I do remember the smell of the turf on a cold fall day, debating plays to call in the huddle and feeling physically sore a few days afterward. Most importantly, I remember sharing plenty of laughs with my best friends.

That’s the biggest takeaway from Thanksgiving break — the memories, not the results. That’s why it’s people and not the sport itself that make these moments special. If these people weren’t around during break, there would be no reason to come back and play.

It’s nice to see your hometown win on Thanksgiving, even if it hasn’t happened for my town in eight years. But pickup football is a true reminder of what sports are in their purest form — a game that’s played simply for fun with no concern of result or outcome.

So, even if you have plans to watch the NFL games on Thanksgiving, just know that there are other games going on that, believe it or not, have more meaning and don’t have a loser or a winner.