As we were ushering our children and their grandparents into cars to go to the 39th Annual Turkey Bowl – a tradition my husband has been a part of since the early 1990s – Jeff spied me slipping a notebook into my parka. “Oooohhhh!” he exclaimed, shaking his head. “I thought your zeal for my participation was somewhat atypical.”
When we first dated, I encouraged my husband to play in this Thanksgiving Day touch football game with a group of fellows he once lived with in a place called Club Dong. I would even join the men and their girlfriends and wives for drinks the night before at Maloney’s Pub, owned by a pair of brothers who are also participants.
However, after our twins were born and we had our third child, my enthusiasm for this Thanksgiving game and its accompanying drinking fest began to wane. Part of that was because the men, as they entered middle age, kept injuring themselves. I didn’t want a strained calf, pulled hamstring or sprained ankle to render Jeff unable to chase after our kids. Furthermore, let me go on the record as saying that I was not the only woman throughout the history of this event to fish their male counterpart out of Roache and O’Brien’s at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, to help entertain the relatives and carve the turkey.
But this year, I realized that not only would the Turkey Bowl make a pleasant outing for our extended family, but it would also offer supple blog material. I was right on both counts.
Thanksgiving Day in the Philadelphia area rippled with sunshine and rose to an unseasonable high of 56 degrees. Our children enjoyed running around the playground at The Haverford School where the game takes place – and where they “prepare boys for life,” including many of those now grown and knocking themselves about on its fields. Furthermore, on the drive to this historic football match, I got my husband to recount many of its past glories and traditions.
This particular Turkey Bowl, which started nearly four decades ago in someone’s backyard, boasts a strict set of rules. Someone is always in charge of buying the worst case of beer they can find at their local distributor. This year, one of the organizers brought a case of Piels, which, he boasted, cost a mere $11. (This fellow also bragged that the “maize” football knickers – which he stole from Michigan’s equipment room circa 1983 – still fit him.) And I noted that a former participant, sidelined several years ago by a knee injury, sat on his cooler watching the game and sipping “Natty Bo,” or National Bohemian beer. I neglected to ask how much that case cost.
Another tradition is that the first six players to make a field goal comprise one team, with the missers making up the opposition. I heard that one of the Maloney brothers tendered a series of bets at his bar this Thanksgiving eve that he would finally make a field goal, for the first time ever. He drilled two successful practice kicks and then botched his first – and second – real attempts to much fanfare.
And then there are the nicknames, such as “Wolf Boy,” “Funky Kent,” “Real Deal” and “Schwanteezee.” Not only am I uncertain how to spell that last moniker, but it also brings me to another, salient point about the Turkey Bowl. Starting in 2000 – and I know the date exactly because my husband had the dishonor of winning it that year – the victorious team began making the worst player of the game, the “Schwantago,” take home a pink toilet seat to display on his mantel until the following Thanksgiving. Jeff has been the “Schwantago” three times, which is another reason why I’ve been reluctant for him to play.
One year, Jeff kept joking at Maloney’s that he’d brought his own “Schwantago” – his visiting brother – who proceeded, the next morning, to make two, miraculous, one-handed catches. My husband came home with the toilet seat. And at Jeff’s first ever Turkey Bowl in 1993 – as the new kid at Club Dong – a roommate's friend's dog crapped all over the house. The canine may have been confused since Club Dong probably smelled like a litter box. At any rate, Jeff swilled beers, boasted about his limited career as a high school quarterback, and neglected to wear cleats to the game. First play, the visiting dog owner ran a long pass; my husband slipped and missed it. Voted worst player his first year, Jeff retired to Club Dong to clean up the poop.
Thankfully, my husband redeemed himself slightly this year by leading his team to four, second-half touchdowns. And even though his side still lost 8-5, I think Jeff did fairly well considering that not only were his children and wife watching but also all of his parents.
“Unbelievable!” Jeff’s dad cried when the game commenced. “Guys with beer bellies and cleats.” Later, Bob actually seemed proud of his son. “He threw a strike there that time!”
But then a pass slipped through Jeff’s hands to be intercepted by another player. “If you think we’re going to come all the way across the country to see a performance like that, you’re sorely mistaken,” my father told Jeff, who took a swig of Piels.
At least my husband wasn’t voted the “Schwantago” this year. That award went to “Wolf Boy,” the man in the throw-back Peterboro Lakers’ jersey he wears every year. I personally thought that either Funky Kent or the guy in the Kelly green, leather Eagles' helmet – which barely fit atop his head and which he bought, years ago, at a dollar store – should’ve won the pink toilet seat. But even though I disputed the winners’ voting, I did enjoy the story I heard after the game about how the 12-year-old son of one of the players, who got to run around with the old men, became the center of a brouhaha. Apparently, the lad tagged the opposing quarterback, who didn’t feel his tap. “Where’d you touch him?” Real Deal demanded. “Show us on the doll where you touched him!”
Most of us got our fill of laughs – and some our fill of beer – from this year’s Turkey Bowl. Frankly, I was just relieved that my 43-year-old husband remained intact, aside from a spell of post-game pouting.
“How are you feeling?” his mother asked when we got home.
“Ok,” Jeff said. “My groin hurts a little bit.”
“Next year will be the 40th anniversary,” his dad noted.
“Next year, you can go to Roache and O’Brien’s,” I said.
“What’s Roache and O’Brien’s?” our 5-year-old daughter asked.
“It’s a bar where we go afterward and sit around talking about the game,” Jeff said. “I actually enjoy that part more than the game itself.”
Talk about pushing your luck – and being a sore loser.