Turkey Bowl: Old Fashioned Throwbacks Capture Thursday's Best Moment

Chaz MattsonAnalyst INovember 30, 2008

This weekend had incredible rivalry games that held audiences for most of the games. Thursday however was a bit of a dud for the national TV games, so I felt an obligation to share about the best game I saw on Turkey Day.

The autumn leaves came late this year. Maybe it was global warming getting worse or just an extended Indian summer across North America. Halloween came and went in the Rocky Mountains with just a dash of snow at the lower elevations.

It is usually colder, biting, and snowing by that time of year. Shortly after October's end, the leaves finally started to turn into a spectrum of earth colors and fall down to earth.

November progressed while the American and world economy was on hold and in certain turmoil. Leaves crunched underfoot in the heart of the pigskin season. A tradition for many is to wake up early and gear up as if they are playing for all the marbles. Some just play for fun. Some games have tradition and a cast of characters to match.

Some of these annual pigskin matchups have some sort of rivalry, while some have no meaning at all. The vast majority plays without helmets and pads. It is better to understand these games often are physical games of passion like the ones broadcast all season long. The end goal is to have a blast and give it all a person has, and yet there is meaning in recapturing fleeting youth and building friendships with everyone.

Playing in an annual Thanksgiving Day game is personal.  It means to stir the soul while not letting you take oneself or the game too seriously. Competitors compete and hate to lose. Turkey day is no different in any way, shape, or form, but at the end of the day its’ not the Super Bowl and nobody is paid to play. Therein lays the rub, that’s’ where its’ possible to see a person in their passion for the game of football.

In this age of overpaid owners, agents, and professional athletes, it is refreshing to escape the professional side of sports. Whom needs the BCS fodder in a moment where some actually do the talking on the field and can live with the consequence of winning and losing? Everyone walks away knowing it is not about the money, because there is none. It might be about a post game brew and reliving the game in instant reminiscing. 

Some games feature former professionals (though not many of them do), former college players from a myriad of sports, old high school jocks, moms, pre-teens, teens, and anyone else you can think of.

A sudden struck oddity of how the general populous becomes the game with a twinkling of the superstars they always dreamed of being. Players know the speed of the game best suited for them.  This is just one short take on the Turkey Bowl I played in this year.

In high school, I played as a freshman in a program that won a state championship with an undefeated record at the highest state level. In fact, there were zero losses by the varsity, two by the JV squad, and one by the two freshman programs.

At the time our program became the best in the state historically even as a relatively young school. The Mitchell Marauders were the class of Colorado football winning three state titles in seven years and competing for others. 

In fact, it is still a bit surreal, but our freshman class lost an integral part of our group to an injury, but shortly after that, we lost him to cancer. That is hard to take, whether or not you are best friends, you are still teammates and you share an eternal bond. Losing a member of that bond, the brotherhood of the pigskin is always felt.

Going back nearly twenty years ago, I played a lot of intramural type football at the University of Colorado and Metro State. I was putting myself through school and could not afford to walk-on at any school, big or small since I was no shoe-in for a scholarship. I had professional goals and could not afford to lose a step in pursuit of my degree.

Therefore, as much as I have dreamed like all crazies dream of playing at the highest levels, it just was not a realistic opportunity. So maybe those are the keys to keeping a passion for the game. Remembering the past and knowing that life is bigger than the game. That is also something that money and fortune cannot buy or put a price on.

I have played in some intense leagues along the way in my increasing number of years and some leagues and teams that were not so much so. I have usually played for a winner. Since my grade school days, I know I was on one losing team and a handful of .500 teams but do not remember any other team I was on that was known as a loser.

TurkeyBowl only really has one record even though there may be annual trophies handed out. The pre-season, the season, the playoffs, college bowls, and the Super Bowl do not have the pressure of Turkey Bowl. It’s one day, one game, one shot, one sweet year for the winners, one year to say “Oh well, we’ll get ‘em next year.” for the losers of the game.

Therefore, with that in mind, I had to drive about 60-70 miles this year to the site of the game in the early morning hours. 

This is the second consecutive year I decided to play with my brother and his friends who live a little bit south from my location. I got a little lost on my way to the park on a slightly misty morning at the base of mountains in Colorado Springs. It was however worth it. I wound up in a nearby neighborhood where two large bucks (deer) crossed my path. It was a perfect atmospheric enhancer for Thanksgiving morning.    

I had a choice of playing Turkey Bowl where I used to coach in Denver, or with some college students who were putting a game together, or go south and play with my brother and his friends. The guys all know how to play ball, some better than others, but they understand the game very well and are not afraid to get physical even in a flag game.  Therefore, that is the real reason I chose to play down there.

It’s designated a flag game to keep the old guys like me in one piece so they can provide for their families. Keep in mind I am now two days removed from playing and I’m still in pain and sort of loving it. I’ve taken the ibuprophen and many fluids, but the old dog is still sore. There’s something to be said for losing one’s youth and still having the heart to pursue it.

Last year’s game was a brutal dogfight, not unlike this year’s game. The game started out Canadian style with 12 on 12 and both teams opened up with early scoring after faltered drives. The game was back and forth all game long until a controversial block was called for clipping on an interception return that resulted in a touchdown being called back.

The game is self-regulated, but anything deemed flagrant is called and penalized. It really sucks if you’re the one called for clipping and you don’t agree with the call. 

In 2007 there were a number of penalties that rubbed our team wrong and eventually cost us the game, we lost 6-4 (42-28). The other team had two quarterbacks, one of whom used to play as a D-lineman in the NFL. Sadly, though, we learned just a month or two after last year’s game that he died of leukemia.

He gave that game everything he had and you would never know he was dying.  He was certainly missed at this year’s game. The game ended in controversy, but when you consider the eventual real loss, it just doesn’t matter. 

This year’s game was in essence broken down into the same two teams, the young guys and the old guys. I was with the young guys, but was the oldest of the young guys, and possibly one of the oldest of the old guys. Somewhere in there, there is a Late Night Top Ten List about old guys and football.

Maybe that is why Brett Favre is such an important figure to the national landscape now.  He’s an icon for the aging much in the same way Elway, Montana; among others were at the end of their careers.  I’m older than Brett Favre is and still can’t believe it but was just as happy to have my moment in the early morning mist. Turkey Bowl is about hanging on to whatever youth there is left and making the most of it.

The game kicked off and much like the 2007 game was Canadian style only on steroids. In fact, I think it was closer to the origins of football when players used to kick an animal bladder from village to the next and the score was always 1-0. Our field had a mass of guys that showed up for our game. 

There were also a couple co-ed family games going on and one other competitive game in the area. There were 14 players on each side for starters. We could have broken it down into four teams, but we liked the physical game and knew some people would have to leave early, so we let it ride.

Without jerseys and only flag colors to tell the difference between 28 guys, it was an early defensive slugfest. The opposing QB wore our color orange to create a greater sense of confusion between his team who wore a vastly different color, red. This game started with faltered drives and two early scores to even it up at one a piece (7-7). I primarily played defensive line, linebacker, center, and had one stint as QB later in the game.

The passion in this game was high with some of the wide-outs on the other team making some big plays in between the big plays from the defense.  The play in the trenches was tough and physical. Our team had trouble reaching the passer in part, because his line out-weighed our guys easily by an average of 50 lbs per man.

When we did break through it was because of our speed and unpredictability to help stop their short passing game, which was becoming a staple.   

The game was tight in what probably would normally be middle of the third quarter with the score: Old Guys 3 and the Young Guys 2 (21-14). In the Turkey Bowl, halftime and quarters are optional, so we just play straight through probably to the enjoyment of the few fans that turned out.

It was at this time I thought I gave the game away with a bad snap that sailed over the quarterbacks head it just so happens that QB is my brother. We fought hard to get back in it and here I am giving the ball away on a potentially game tying drive.

Did I mention we actually had an official spotter from the sidelines?  He was awesome and did a great job keeping us on the spot.    

This brings up another point Turkey Bowl usually has the quarterback position in constant rotation. It’s both good and bad. There might be a QB controversy but it’s short lived, you have to love that aspect of the game. In fact if you’re playing you love the game and aren’t afraid of getting hurt, even though it’s a possibility. Every old guy knows that he could take up to a week to recover.

Because of the ball sticking in my hand and subsequently causing, a fumble that was lost our team was now facing a drive near our end zone. The Old Guys wound up scoring on a fourth down play that started to their left and went back right as their quarterback hit a late breaking receiver for the touchdown. Time was now really against us and we had to make a move down 4-2 (28-14). 

Call it chipping away, luck of the Irish, or old fashioned determination. We came back and scored with a sweet play down the left side by one of our speedy wide-outs. Then the Young Guys went off on defense. Our blitzes started to work as their guys got tired and I was able to make a key sack.

They finally were forced into punting for the first time in the game. The teams had somehow dwindled down to about 11 or 10 on each side and our team was going back on offense down 4-3 (28-21). 

We primarily had three QB’s rotating in, my brother, the bald guy, and the shorter guy. You see, you might already know these guys in your local Turkey Bowl. They play all out, most can’t read a defense, maybe had a stint in high school, but they give it everything they have. That’s the beauty of the game on Thanksgiving, anyone can play, and anyone can play anywhere.

Somehow, we benefited as a team from a busted coverage after getting the ball back on an interception. The short guy stepped up and led a crucial drive for the tying touchdown. The game was now knotted at fours and I was starting to feel like I might just get off the hook. Someone please tell Denny Green I’m sorry but getting off the hook is one of the best feelings in the world.

Sometimes when you wake a sleeping dragon, they get a little responsive. That’s exactly what happened on their next possession. They chipped, chipped, and finally hit a big gainer down to our five with one of their top-flight receivers. He was a sleek, strong, bald guy with wheels wearing a hoodie with speed to burn.

The next two series of plays changed the entire complexion of the game. On a key third down play, the Old Guys quarterback rolled slowly to the right with some pressure. He then threw a jump ball to the middle of the end zone when he was picked off by one of our guys who managed to get the ball out to only the two or three. 

That’s when I told the guys, I wanted a go at QB. I stepped into the shotgun knowing a full blitz was coming and after a blooping snap, I took a step or two left and gunned the ball out to one of our faster scat backs who gained about five yards. On second down I saw the middle wide open, I saw a short fast receiver known as D running the cross I floated the ball over the defender who dropped back. The ball was caught by D for about a 10-yard gain. We now had some breathing room.I told D after the game I thought he was the player of the game with his two big touchdown receptions.  I had a lot of yards after those catches to end up scoring.

On third down, I got a good snap, saw the heat coming from the right, started to roll left and saw two orange-flagged receivers breaking open deep.  I threw about a 35 yard strike to one receiver in Pittsburgh Steelers gear who out leaped the safety. 

He came down with the ball on the left side of the field then raced across the field to the right corner pylon for the go ahead touchdown.  The comeback was starting to become solidified and our team was starting to hit its’ stride.

On the next series, one of their three quarterbacks over threw the intended receiver and I wound up with an easy pick taking us down inside the 30-yard line. From there I went back to playing center, we worked hard and found a way to score two more touchdowns, and the come from behind victory was complete. It was a great feeling to get off the hook after I thought I might have cost us the game. 

During the game I had one and a half sacks with a few pressures, one interception, caused one fumble we frustratingly could not recover, had a fortunate touchdown drive of three plays and one costly bad snap that almost cost us the game.  That is what a Turkey Bowl is supposed to be.  Just getting out there and mixing it up and having fun doing just that.

So we all kicked it after the game with some ice-cold beers that matched the air temperature. We were all just glad to play knowing that our calves were tightening up with every chilling moment and we would be hurting for days after. By the time we finished we made a small bet and thought the Titans must be killing the Lions by 28 when our game was over. The score was actually 28-3, so we were off a bit.

The final score of our game was 7-4 (49-28), redemption for the Young Guys over the Old Guys.  In the words of Boomer Berman “…and that’s why... they play the game!" Really, that’s why we just say cheers to your groups who keep the Turkey Bowl tradition rolling year after year. 

I think it was the best Thanksgiving game of the day that I was witness to, but somehow I think there were as good and even greater Turkey Bowls taking place all over our great country.  That was contentment enough to keep smiling throughout the day and enjoy a turkey dinner with family, talk a little about the game, and enjoy the greater meaning in life with family and friends.  

Happy Holidays.


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