MEMORIES: Toll Gate's Doug Johnson hurdled two Hendricken players on his way to a touchdown in the 2008 Thanksgiving Eve game. This year's match-up is the 40th meeting between the schools.
I’ve always liked Thanksgiving traditions. As a child, I remember freaking out one year when I learned my uncle and aunt couldn’t make it to our annual feast.
When I moved to Rhode Island, I was a little concerned about losing more tradition. I would have to work on Thanksgiving so I couldn’t go home. My parents were coming up but we’d be having dinner in my tiny apartment.
It didn’t seem ideal. We weren’t reaching 5-year-old freak-out levels, but we were close.
Little did I know.
I like my new traditions even more.
Thanksgiving football doesn’t exist everywhere. In Kentucky, the big thing for high-school teams is to be practicing on Thanksgiving. If you’re doing that, it means you’re in the state semifinals.
I always thought that was kind of cool – teams would practice in the morning and then head out to be with family. It was festive.
With six years of Thanksgiving football under my belt, I feel comfortable saying that was nothing. They’re missing out down there.
Thanksgiving football is about as good as it gets.
My first one was on a snowy day at Cranston Stadium, East vs. West in front of a huge crowd. It was a perfect introduction.
Suddenly, I didn’t mind working on Thanksgiving.
It didn’t even feel like work.
Over the years, I’ve covered some great ones. There was Pilgrim’s upset of Vets in 2007, the biggest upset in series history. There was the Dougie Johnson game, when the Toll Gate star hurdled two defenders and almost single-handedly snapped Hendricken’s winning streak. There was last year’s East-West game, which many called the best in series history.
It’s no coincidence that a lot of the games have been great – the stakes are higher, the crowd is bigger, the intensity is way up.
It’s something special.
We’re lucky around here to have some great rivalries. East-West and Vets-Pilgrim are among the best in the state. Hendricken-Toll Gate has turned the lopsided but there’s still a lot of tradition there. This year marks the 40th meeting.
Every year, the rivalries are just as strong, the games just as big. For some in the big crowds, it’s tradition. For others, it’s something new. But I think everybody agrees that it’s perfect. We have two freelance photographers. They aren’t huge sports fans, but they both always volunteer to shoot Thanksgiving games. They love it.
Thanksgiving football catches you.
Every once in a while, I hear grumbling about it. It’s too close to the playoffs, people say, and it’s a meaningless game. For some teams, there isn’t the tradition, and I can understand why they might be worried about other things.
But even for them, I’ll say this: when you’re stuffing your turkey, go ahead and stuff that talk too.
All those years, I think I was looking for the perfect Thanksgiving tradition, and I’m happy to say I found it.
Thanksgiving football shouldn’t change one bit.
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.