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Days of Turkey Bowls past

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I've always been a fan of Thanksgiving, perhaps even secretly thinking of it as my favorite, though putting it ahead of Christmas might be considered blasphemous in a country where stores put wreaths up in late September. Part of my love of the day has always been the relatively low-stress nature of this particular celebration. No lists of presents to buy, no wrapping, no crowded stores - and best of all, no Thanksgiving music.

My friend (and fellow Edge columnist) Jeff Solari summed it up well when he said, 'How can you not love a holiday built around food and football?' No question that these are two of my favorite things and the combination is absolutely unbeatable.

On the food side, I love the preparation of the feast, from planning the menu to plotting the precise time to pop that bird in the oven and even the day or two of advance baking. If there's anything that smells better and takes you back to your childhood faster than the aroma of Thanksgiving dinner, I don't know what it would be.

As far as the football goes, it's been a rare day when either of the teams I follow closest (Giants and Pats) has been on the holiday schedule, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I don't know about you, but the tryptophan's welcome arrival isn't always conducive to a laser-like focus on the game. No, the glow of the television and the sound of the broadcast is more like a big ol' blanket of comfort warming my feet as I slip in and out of my bird-based food coma.

The one thing I miss about the day is actually playing football. Don't misunderstand me, I was never a good football player, but I came of age in a time where kids played sports because they were fun, not because your parents signed you up for the travel team or because you might get that college scholarship one day. Try to picture this: We didn't even have adults around. We just showed up and played! For more years than I can remember, the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Bowl was the capstone, often our final game of the season and a holiday tradition that trumped just about everything else about those November Thursdays.

Our group in Bangor was far from the only bunch that got together for Turkey Day battles, but few had the longevity and none had the audacity of our gatherings at Cameron Stadium and later Bangor High School. The game that began when I was a teenager continued for me until I was nearly 40 and, as far as I know, continued to live on for at least a few years after my 'retirement.' While there were other games on other fields in other towns, ours was likely one of the few that generated local television coverage. It certainly helped that people like Tim Throckmorton and myself were playing and were able to exert influence over our co-workers at Channel 5 who ran the cameras, but there were years when all three local stations, not wanting to be beaten by a competitor on one of the few 'stories' of the day, would swing by for a few moments of video 'highlights.'

Like it does with most good things, television nearly ruined our game. Guys we didn't even know began coming out of the woodwork on Thanksgiving to play on TV, some a bit too dim to understand that the video the stations would show was predicated on the inherent silliness of men in their 30s playing tackle football in the cold and muck, not designed as a potential recruiting tape for the Fighting Irish.

Those days are gone now, but a Thanksgiving morning never goes by without me waking up and thinking about getting ready for the game. I miss the camaraderie of seeing friends, many of whom had moved away but returned for the holiday and, of course, the game. The sight of one of the guys eating a raw onion while jogging around the field to warm up is a sad absence from my holiday festivities. Hopefully, young (and not so young) people still gather to tote the pigskin across the cold November mud purely for the love of the game. Wherever they are, I'm with them in spirit - but I'm also ahead of them in line for the first spoonful of mashed potatoes. Ah, Thanksgiving!

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