Nobody plays baseball on Thanksgiving morning. Seriously, I really believe that one of the ways American football usurped baseball as America’s pastime sport ties directly into the thousands of “Turkey Bowls” held on Thanksgiving morning around the country. The phenomenon has taken root in the American consciousness, even creeping into children’s poetry, as seen in Jack Prelutsky’s excellent collection, It’s Thanksgiving. In this book of twelve poems for my favorite holiday Mr. Prelutsky includes one entitled “Daddy’s Football Game.” Phil Bidner’s Turkey Bowl provides another excellent look at Thanksgiving day football from a nine year old boy’s perspective.
As a teenager, and even in my early 20’s, I played in my share of Turkey Bowl games. Ours occurred at Transverse Park in the Mt. Oliver section of Pittsburgh. Jay Price conjures these sort of nostalgic images with his book, Thanksgiving 1959 : When One Corner Of New York City Was Still Part Of Small-Town America, And High School Football Was The Last Thing Guys Did For Love. While the title is really long, Mr. Price’s nifty little book manages to get at the heart of what Turkey Bowl football games really mean. Sometimes they involve neighborhood friends getting together, but often whole families play in these games, which by the end of November can be cold and muddy affairs, making older Pittsburgh homes and their basement “mill showers” ideal for dealing with a dirty crew of Turkey Bowl veterans.
No one can deny the power of television to change minds and shape public opinion. That’s why the National Football League’s decision to hold and later broadcast two Thanksgiving day games every year turned into marketing genius. You can find the history of all of the NFL’s “Turkey Bowl” tilts here. The Detroit Lions became regular Thanksgiving hosts starting in 1950, and the Dallas Cowboys joined them as regular hosts starting in 1966. Of course, now the NFL has added a third regular Turkey Day game, this time with a rotating host team. You can find further insights into NFL history in The NFL Century : The Complete Story Of The National Football League, 1920-2000.
Like soccer, one of the magical things about American football is that you really only need a ball, an expanse of grass, and a few willing participants to hold a game. No fancy equipment needed. In my halcyon days we played murderous games of tackle football with no protective equipment. People are smarter now, and many Turkey Bowls have become strictly touch football affairs–no tackling. After all, who wants to eat Thanksgiving dinner with a broken drumstick?