Tag Archives: football

Turkey Bowls Cement Link Between Football & Thanksgiving

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?


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No More Pretending

I came out of the closet last week.  At least in Pittsburgh fashion.  I’m not a Steeler’s fan, I don’t bleed Black & Gold and I wouldn’t put a mini Polamalu jersey on my Labradoodle or Yorkie – if I had one or the other, or any other pet for that matter.  I’ve lived this lie for the 21 years my wife and I have lived here.  I fake my Sundays between August and January and it has to stop. My wife grew up with Big 10 Football and went to a Big 10 school for undergrad, she’s an honest fan.  So’s my daughter who was born here and has only known the Steelers, that’s her choice.  I won’t pretend anymore though.  Rest assured, it’s not about the Steelers or some other team; it’s about Baseball.

Photo of Met's pitcher Tom Seaver

Poetry in Motion

I grew up on Long Island, about 45 minutes from midtown on the LIRR (Long Island Railroad) and 15 minutes from Shea Stadium by the same train.  When I was born, there wasn’t National League baseball in NY – it had gone west a year earlier.  (The three most evil people in the world? – Hitler, Stalin, Walter Alston.)  My parents were both from Brooklyn and the Dodger strain ran deep.  I grew up with the Mets and by extension their National League opponents.  If there were must see games back then, it was the Giants and/or Dodgers for sentimental love/hate reasons (and always to see Willie Mays,) the Cubs because it was Chicago – the second city, and the Bucs because man for man they were usually the most talented team that came to town.  The Yankees?  They were the humorless also-rans from the Bronx.  If Pittsburgh looks north with disdain to Cleveland, so too do the Children of Kings (County) look up the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway) and the Bruckner to the borough that serves as a gateway to Upstate.

Why now? That’s easy.  DID YOU watch any of the World Series?  It was poetry; it was Agatha Christie without a solution until it happened.  It was unadulterated fun to not see the usual suspects; no Yankees or Red Sox, no Atlanta or Philly.  It was mostly well-played, well executed baseball until Texas’ pitching collapsed in Game 7.  More than that, it was just fun to watch or even listen too.  It reminded me – some 20 years and 2 kids later – why we chose Pittsburgh over other cities.  The tie-breaker between here and some other places (including Baltimore) became “Does it have major league baseball?”  Pittsburgh won because it had National League vs. Baltimore’s American League with its flawed Designated Hitter accommodation.  It may have been something subliminal too; who did the Miracle Mets soundly thrash in 1969?  The same Orioles the Bucs whupped in both 1971 and 1979.

Just remember: Pitchers and Catchers report in 104 days (not counting today.)  In the meantime . . .  to tide you over until then.

The best game ever : Pirates vs. Yankees : October 13, 1960 / Jim Reisler – How can you not include the game in the Series with the most dramatic conclusion in baseball.

“Whoever was up at the time was the team you thought was going to win.”

Ball Four : the final pitch / Jim BoutonThe first and best baseball tell-all.  It makes the game and the players real. Their sins? – nothing like steroids and shaved bats.

“The word on Tim McCarver of the Cards was that Sandy Koufax struck him out on letter-high fastballs. Which is great advice if you can throw letter-high fastballs like Koufax could.”

Men at work : the craft of baseball / George F. Will – Will gets the experts of the day to expound on how mastering the fundamentals takes more than just physical prowess.  Among the interviewees, Tony La Russa of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.”

Can’t anybody here play this game? / Jimmy Breslin – Breslin, an irascible writer if there ever was one, recounts the first miserable season  of the awful, incomparable and unabashedly loved 1962 NY Mets.

 “So the Mets started with the worst pitching, backed by the most deplorable infield and outfield, ever         assembled on a single diamond.”

Willie’s time : a memoir / by Charles EinsteinMy personal favorite. A well written overview of the grandest period in baseball with Mays as the constant, against 25 years of contemporary American history and current events.

“Branca, taking the mound, threw a called strike past Thompson.  Sitting there without premonition,       I watched Thompson swing at the next pitch, and out it tracked toward the left-field stands.

The Last icon: Tom Seaver and his times / Stephen Travers (Ebook only) – Overall a good, fast read.  What I truly enjoyed here were the recounting of games, especially during the 1969 and 1973 seasons that I distinctly remember listening to, watching, or attending. Travers gets a little lost in the book, elevating Tom Terrific a little too high, even for my tastes, and bringing in extraneous or marginal baseball issues instead of staying on topic.

“Swoboda rolled, displayed the glove to the umpire who made the out call, and in one motion came up throwing home to try to nab Frank Robinson.”

Summer of ’49 / David HalberstamBaseball has finally returned to some post-war, post integration normalcy, and “the” rivalry is about to emerge, personified by the respective excellence of Joe Dimaggio for the Yankees and Ted WIlliams of the Red Sox in one of the greatest pennant races of any era.

“The crowd of 35,000 rose as one to give the star outfielder of the hated Yankees a standing ovation.”

Baseball [videorecording] / a film by Ken Burns – A fantastic 10 DVD set that reintroduces you to everything about baseball, from the beginning.  The original release concluded in the mid 90s when we still (naively) thought Bonds, Sosa and McGwire had cleanly reinvigorated the game.  Since then, additional content brings the viewer through the 2009 season (Yankees beating Phillies in 6.)

“It is played everywhere .  .  . by small boys and old men.”
– Richard


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Football Season: A Guide For The Unconvinced

Last night the Steelers played (and won) their final preseason game.  The 2010 season officially begins next Thursday night in New Orleans (home of last year’s Super Bowl winners), and the Steelers play their first game on Sunday, September 12.

If you live in Pittsburgh, you probably already knew that, whether you love football or hate it.  I used to hate it myself, although I doubt any of my current friends would believe me.  And while I still wholly respect people who try the sport and just can’t get excited, I do feel all Pittsburghers owe it to themselves to try.   If nothing else, it’s great for having small-talk at the ready, and will usually be relevant anywhere Yinzers congregate.

But I think this town’s love of its team goes deeper than that, and inspires a lot of real community goodwill.  Roll your eyes all you want, but there’s something special about being a citizen of Steeler Nation.  I have seen the most incongruous assortment of strangers striking up football-related conversations in the grocery store, on public transportation, and even at the doctor’s office.  And you really haven’t lived until you’ve joined a Super Bowl celebration in the streets of your neighborhood.  They are the strangest of riots, where everyone is overjoyed, (almost) nothing is vandalized, and the only traffic specifically came out to be disrupted.  It’s actually kind of awe-inspiring.  If you’re intrigued enough to find out what all the fuss is about, come down to the library, and we’ll show you around.

Don’t know the first thing?  Grab the latest edition of The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Understanding Football.  If you like a little humor with your learning, try The Armchair Quarterback Playbook: The Ultimate Guide to Watching Football.  And if you’re interested in the business aspects of the game, we also have Football Fortunes: The Business, Organization, and Strategy of the NFL.

Catch up on team lore with Abby Mendelson’s Official Team History. Delve into more obscure stories with Last Team Standing: How the Steelers and the Eagles– “The Steagles”– Saved Pro Football During World War II.  And if you’ve already heard that one, try Screamer: The Forgotten Voice of the Pittsburgh Steelers, described as “Joe Tucker’s broadcast history, adapted from his notes by his son Murray Tucker.”

For more about us crazy fans, check out Steeler Nation: A Pittsburgh Team, An American Phenomenon by Jim Wexell.  And if you’re only able to stomach so much black and gold, and want a broader and more rounded understanding of the local culture, try The Paris of Appalachia: Pittsburgh in the Twenty-First Century by local author Brian O’Neill.

If you’re ready to become one of those fans, we can help you out.  First, select some novelty music to impress your guests.  Start with the classic Super Steelers Fight Song (which is based on the Pennsylvania Polka).  Then familiarize yourself with all Ten Years of Here We Go: The Steelers Fight Song.  Once you’ve got those under control, you can mix things up with We’re Number One: The Super Steeler Disco.  Later in the year, you can add Christmas Carols for Pittsburgh Fans, by the Rabid Fans.

Then go for that authentic game-day flavor, with The Super Steeler Cookbook (which, incidentally, was produced by the Allegheny District Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in 1982) and The NFL Gameday Cookbook: 150 Recipes to Feed the Hungriest Fan From Preseason to the Super Bowl.

Of course, you’ll need something to keep you entertained the rest of the week.  Let me introduce you to the Pittsburgh Football Fan Sudoku Puzzle Book.   That’s right, we own a copy, but if you want to actually solve them you’ll have to get your own.  We’re keeping this one for the ages, in our non-circulating local history collection.

And if you still need proof you don’t have to understand the game to have fun, there’s even a picture book – Here We Go, Steelers! Here We Go! (See, there is literally something Steelers-related for everyone.)

OK, so maybe you’ve tried, but you still don’t care about football.   Good news!  A non-football-watching friend of mine tells me you still have a reason to get excited – one afternoon a week for roughly five months, the city is your playground!  There are no lines anywhere!  Just make sure you know when this week’s game will be played, and plan accordingly.  Imagine shopping in a practically empty store, or coming to the library and having your pick of parking spaces.  That’s an excellent reason to appreciate the Steelers, even if you never watch them play.



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