(Editor’s Note: The recent passing of another Thanksgiving holiday stirred some memories… of another Thanksgiving, 34 years ago, when not playing a backyard football game signified that the would-be participants had completely crossed through the portal from adolescence to adulthood. Thanks to Xerox and someone’s old box of mementos, it resurfaced this year. Hopefully, it has relevance to all of us who reluctantly come to the conclusion that we can’t stay young forever.)



First Published Saturday, Nov. 30, 1985

November 28, 1985 – a day that will live in semi-infamy. A Thanksgiving that bears red numbers on the calendar, but now also on my lifeline.

Yesterday, for the first time in about 15 years, our gang of man-boys failed to play a football game on Thanksgiving. Bang the drum slowly, folks, there was no Turkey Bowl.

The fateful telephone call came to my house at about 2 p.m. Thursday. “It doesn’t look good for the Turkey Bowl,” replied 23-year-old John Morrow from the other end. “Nobody’s too fired to play.” Pete Wilson, age 30, said okay and hung up.

But it didn’t seem okay.

The “Boys” have been engaging in the frivolity of a touch-football game on Thanksgiving afternoon since we were naïve, fuzzy-cheeked high schoolers.

Recognizing the collective talent of our circle, we divided into squads called Army and Navy. Back in the early 70s, these teams were always bad and their annual game on the tube was always blown out of proportion. We thought ourselves an appropriate analogy.

But it didn’t matter.

While the world will little note or long remember our games and our players, it was important stuff to us. Even after college and then vocational pursuits drew us all far apart, we could look forward to our annual gridiron reunion on Thanksgiving. No appointments or advance contacts were necessary – did you have to schedule Christmas?

We played for fun, camaraderie and bragging rights. And we played to prove we didn’t get old – or at least as old as that fellow on the other side of the line.

The bottom line was that we played because we wanted to – this annual game which we laughingly described as trivial was frankly important to us.

But no more.

The force of our tradition, of course, did not evaporate in a puff of smoke in 1985. I guess it’s been slowly coming for several years. But this was the year the aging combatants threw the game aside as they would dirty, old shoes.

* Dan Morrow, age 30, bluntly said he would not play in the rain. Five years ago, he would have been ostracized for such a remark.

* Dan Dobbins, age 28, who is allegedly in love, seconded Morrow’s motion. And this was the same friendly carrot-top who left his right knee (torn ligaments) at the Franklin School field in the 1980 game, but who cursed himself through his pain for not being able to continue playing.

* Ival Shields, age 27, another love-smitten gridder, gave his tacit consent by saying nothing. And this was the same lad who placed more importance on his past Turkey Bowl exploits than the two interceptions he had against Art Schlichter in high school.

* We didn’t even have a contact from Newt Grillo, age 28, an effervescent Max Klinger type who was the guiding spirit and embodiment of the Turkey Bowl tradition. But Grillo fell in love several years ago and is now a lawyer in the West Virginia hills somewhere. Apparently, he had more important things to do.

* And we didn’t hear from Marc (Duke) Trimble, age 28, either. An outstanding lineman for the Jackson Ironmen, he was a charter Turkey Bowl player. Wisely, Navy converted the muscular 200-pounder to safety and punt returner. I remember that Army was always afraid to put the two-hand touch on him once he got up his head of steam. But Trimble is now a three-piece suit type who counts money now for the Jackson City Schools. Apparently, his holiday football was confined to the howlings of a John Madden.

* To his credit, the only person who spoke up for playing the game was the boisterous John Savey, who is age 26 going on 16. But nobody followed Savey’s lead. The passing years – maturity, some people call it – had changed our attitude toward the game.

So, on Thanksgiving Day, 1985, there was no football game.

On first blush, the game may seem foolishly insignificant when weighted against such real-world matters as wives, girl friends, gas bills, world peace and the Cleveland Browns. But you’ll never convince me of that.

I’m 30 years old now, but in my heart I’m still 18 and as long as I played that silly game in the Thanksgiving muck, I would stay forever young and boyish.

Today, I can still run three miles without having a heart attack. I’m still “carded” occasionally when I purchase beer. I remain naïve and I still have fuzzy cheeks.

But what didn’t happen on this past Thanksgiving Day is a rite of passage, almost as important as a first kiss, getting a high school or college diploma, a wedding, a first job, a first child or that first gray hair.

On November 28, 1985, it became official – we stopped being boys and started being full-time grown-ups.

But I’m reluctant to take that step – not now, not ever.

Let me say this for the record: Guys, we should have played that game.