It's the three F's that make Thanksgiving great.
Family. Food. Football.
And for the second year in a row, I was delighted by the way you guys responded to my request for tales from your traditional Thanksgiving family football games. You know, the ones that seem to break out in every backyard, muddy lot, ice-covered middle school field and body of water (you'll see) this time of year.
Now, do some of these contain wild exaggerations? Absolutely. But as anyone who has ever played in these games would know (my brother, Greg, and I retired at 10-0 thankyouverymuch), that's the best part of the whole thing: the way the tales from the gravy gridiron grow in grandeur from one Thanksgiving to the next.
Anyway, below is a compilation of your very best ruminations and recollections on the grand tradition of the Thanksgiving family football game.
NAME: Reunion Bowl
LOCATION: Syracuse, N.Y.
SUBMITTED BY: Dan M.
Death, taxes and the Reunion Bowl -- the only things that are certain for the crew in Syracuse.
BEST PART OF THIS GAME: Every participant had to bring a handful of canned goods or other nonperishables to be eligible to play. We were able to put together a few bags of goods in the back of my station wagon to deliver to the local food pantry. This year, everyone is bringing a few items of clothing to donate to the Salvation Army in preparation for the cold Syracuse winter. We come from a relatively well-to-do area, but there are a lot of people in our community who really need help during the holidays, and even though we're poor college students we try to help out.
PARTICIPANTS: There are about 16 of us scattered at colleges all over the country in cities like Nashville, Ann Arbor, Columbus, Philly and DC.
PERSPECTIVE: We get together every Thanksgiving break to catch up and potentially injure each other in a game of tackle football. We're all in college, and even in this era of Internet communication, it's hard to keep in touch. We're not a family in the traditional sense, but we're as close as one, and the Reunion Bowl is the most highly anticipated event of the year because we're guaranteed to see each other.
BEST USE, EVER, OF AN ECON TEXTBOOK: The game itself is the subject of an unbelievable amount of trash talk from about September on, and diagramming plays and matchups serves as a fantastic distraction in class during the fall semester, as evidenced by my econ notebook.
KINDA FUNNY INJURY: Luckily, we've managed to avoid any major injuries, although last year our friend Blue was the victim of a late hit in the end zone that resembled the "clothesline" maneuver popularized by the pro wrestlers of our youth. He's always happy to recount his thoughts as he watched his feet go above his head while his body was about five feet off the ground -- namely, that he was going to die.
REALLY FUNNY INJURY: Our friend Mike went on the PUP list last year after rambling the length of the field for a TD. To say that Mike put on the freshman 15 would be a major understatement, and his Tebow-esque rumble left him sucking wind facedown in the end zone for a full five minutes. We have photographic evidence that shows him looking like a poached bear.
Most Valuable Player Dan Blumenthal holds the Manley Cup with pride.
FAMILY TIES: If we need to even out the teams, we turn to my undersized kid brother (now a sophomore in high school). Last year he almost took home the game ball after he somehow slipped through the mob on defense for a full-field touchdown run, complete with an ankle-breaking juke at the goal line.
TROPHY: The Manley Cup. Assembled from some silver duct work from the local hardware store and crowned with a seasonal topper, the Cup is presented to the MVP of the winning team at the end of the game. The Cup resembles a low-budget Stanley Cup, and takes its name from its original topper -- a protective cup spray-painted silver. The Cup is passed from winner to winner each year, and is engraved with the names of the recipients.
NAME: Hangover Bowl
SUBMITTED BY: D.W.
A TRADITION FOR: About 15 years.
BEST LINE: It was often theorized what would have happened had he landed on me.
THE FIELD: It started out as a small open area of about 50 yards with various items marking the lines like backpacks and road cones. Eventually it morphed into a full-blown venue with some of us sneaking out the night before and using a "borrowed" chalk marker to formally line out an 80-yard soccer field.
MYSTERY PLAYER: We had the guy no one knew, whose name escaped all of us, who always appeared at the game and who was eventually labeled "the Tornado" for his whirling dervish style of running. Every year, he would materialize out of the forest, play the game, and then disappear back into the woods. It had a somewhat eerie, "Field of Dreams" feel to it. I don't know if we ever learned his real name.
WHAT, NO MASCOTS?: It started with about six on a side and eventually turned into full 11-on-11 complete with substitutes. We eventually had uniforms and cheerleaders (the players' girlfriends, naturally).
MEMORABLE PLAY NO. 1: First time they let me play the game. I was 12 and about 5-2 and about 100 pounds at the time. The first series, the other team ran to my side three times in a row. All three times, I made the tackle on a much larger runner, after shedding a blocker, in the backfield.
MEMORABLE PLAY NO. 2: Open-field tackle on Big Dave (6-1 and 400 pounds) when he caught an interception. Needless to say, I went low, hitting him at about his ankles and from the side (my patented "speed bump" technique).
INJURIES: When Corbett decided to do his impression of an NFL running back and dive over the pile to score a touchdown, only to be met by Peter doing his own impression of an NFL linebacker intercepting a diving running back diving over the goal line. The result: a broken nose, a concussion, a separated shoulder and likely some teeth loosened.
SAD ENDING: Unfortunately, as happens with most such games, the older guys grew up, got married and moved away. No new blood replaced these departing older guys, and when the younger guys then got married and moved away, the game dwindled away.
NAME: The Frat Bowl
LOCATION: Columbia, Mo.
SUBMITTED BY: Darrien E.
Who needs family when you have your football brethren?
GAME MOTTO: Probably the closest group of non-blood-related people I know.
PLAYERS: Mizzou fraternity alumni versus the current chapter members.
RULES: Usually we play 8-on-8 to 7 TDs.
NOW THAT'S WHAT I CALL HAZING: Even though we alumni are older, fatter and slower than the younger bruhs, we always destroy them!
INJURIES: We play tackle and there are always bumps and bruises but never any serious injuries. Mostly just scrapes from hitting the ground and the bruised egos of the younger, more athletic chapter bruhs.
BEST PART: Even after the thrashing is given/taken, we all get together and go to the Heidelberg and have a frosty beverage and Marty's famous wings before everyone heads down the highway back to their regular lives at home.
NAME: The Mush Bowl
LOCATION: Homer City, Pa.
SUBMITTED BY: Adam M.
A TRADITION SINCE: 1991
"Dude I don't care if we score, let's just pants Mattini."
ALUMNI: Almost 40 different people have played in games over the years, and we've played anywhere from 5-on-5 to 11-on-11.
MOTTO: We love the game, and we're all getting old, but anything to beat on our buddy Mattini once a year.
THE GREAT MATTINI: The game is not so much about football, but about beating on Mattini. Most of the late, dirty, cheap or otherwise overwhelming hits are taken on Mattini. He's the kind of guy who doesn't know when to shut up, or stay on the ground.
THAT SEEMS A TAD HARSH UNTIL YOU REALIZE: Mattini's also a huge Chicago sports fan, so my buddies and I get to hear hours of dissertations on how Rex Grossman is a great "Game Manager" and the annual story of how the Cubs got screwed.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR: Oh, and if you're bored on Nov. 29, we'd love to have you.
NAME: Grandkids Game
LOCATION: Milwaukee, Wis.
SUBMITTED BY: Jake K.
NORMAL LINE THAT SOUNDS OMINOUS: At the last minute a couple of aunts want in on the game.
OMINOUS LINE THAT SOUNDS NORMAL: He and I are blowing up our little cousins.
I LOVES ME SOME ME: My brother is 21, and I'm 24, so we're both basically in our athletic primes at this time, plus we both play semipro ball, so we aren't chumps. The game gets dirty, and he and I are dominating.
STRETCHING LIGAMENTS AND THE TRUTH: My 15-year-old cousin dislocates a finger, but rather than letting him show his nurse mom (who would insist the game end, and he go to the hospital), I grab it, give him a quick two-count, and snap it back into place. The aunt on my team agrees that we should move him inside to the offensive line, since he won't be able to catch much.
THIS IS WHY YOU SHOULD PLAY TACKLE: Final series of the game, fourth down, I pump fake to get my brother to leave his feet, tuck the ball and run for a first down. He starts screaming that he got me. I'm screaming that he didn't. The aunts start screaming for their respective teams. Finally, our high school-aged cousins pull us apart, and we decide to replay the down (even though I obviously had the first down, cleanly).
JOHN FACENDA QUOTE: "He pushes me, so I tackle him into a pine tree."
THE SETUP: In the huddle I turn to my 8-year-old girl cousin, and tell her to run to the first down, because she's getting her first pass of the game. We give a "ready ... KILL!" in the huddle, and line up to make history.
THE BIG FINISH: She makes the catch, secures the first down, and I score two plays later on a scramble.
THE BEST PART (for anyone with a little brother): I taunted my little brother the whole way home. He didn't say a word through the entire turkey dinner, he was so mad. It. Was. Awesome. Sadly, there is no photographic proof, but the tears of my defeated little brother will last forever.
NAME: Holy Turkey Bowl
LOCATION: Seattle, Wash.
SUBMITTED BY: Mitchell
STRANGE RULE: PAT team chooses to go for 1, 2 or 3 depending on distance.
WHAT MAKES THIS GAME UNIQUE: Better clock management than most NFL coaches.
PLAYERS: High school versus college from my church.
INJURY: I had ankle surgery about three months prior to this game and had done zero running before the game, but wanted to play.
GRAVY FINGERS: The last play of the first half I was open in the end zone, but dropped a perfect easy pass.
JOHN FACENDA QUOTE: "I wasn't going to not play, I needed to redeem myself somehow."
SETUP: We were down 26-21 with the ball and 1:20 left, two timeouts and the whole field to go. On a fourth down with 30 seconds to go, we ran a halfback pass that got to midfield. We stopped the clock with :22 left, no TOs. Three more unsuccessful passes brought up fourth down at midfield with just two seconds left.
QUARTERBACKS, WHAT CAN YOU DO?: I had told him over and over to throw me it in the corner, that I would catch it. But he hadn't yet.
BIG FINISH: Finally, he did on the last play of the game and I slipped by two defenders and caught it in the back of the end zone for the game-winning score! It was amazing!
NAME: The Not-Thanksgiving-Or-Football Bowl
LOCATION: Warsaw, Poland
SUBMITTED BY: Maciej P.
A TRADITION SINCE: 1998
WHAT MAKES THIS GAME SPECIAL: In Poland there's neither Thanksgiving, nor football. The closest thing I can think of is an annual New Year's Day soccer match I play with my high school classmates at our school's pitch.
DADS ARE THE SAME EVERYWHERE: To quote my father: "Wouldn't miss it -- it's like free circus, which comes just once a year. Also, you might need someone to take you to the hospital."
UNDER THE WEATHER: Considering the date, we're all hung over. The snow that usually covers the ground also influences the stability of players, helping in a way by softening the falls. Lack of grip makes the game more physical, getting it closer to the American version, with plenty of unintentional collisions and tackles.
EX-GIRLFRIENDS?: It has become a social event. On the sidelines there are plenty of supporters -- family members, friends, girlfriends, ex-girlfriends.
JOHN FACENDA QUOTE: "Numbers grow each year, as those who witnessed the carnage of this game once feel a definite urge to relive the experience."
AH YES, CAPITALISM: We're actually thinking of selling tickets.
RIGHT BACK ATCHYA: I hope the Thanksgiving games across America will be as fun as our Battle of January the 1st. Happy Holidays!
NAME: The Destroyed Thumb Game
LOCATION: Baldwinsville, N.Y.
SUBMITTED BY: Mike T.
Every week, one lucky reader gets to exchange e-mails with David Fleming.This week, one of the only nine known Cardinals fans states his case.
WILDLY INAPPROPRIATE PERSONAL COMPARISON TO A GREAT PLAYER: Early in the game, we were facing a long third down on our end of the field. I caught a screen pass on the right side and proceeded to juke the defender like Peter Warrick in his college years at Florida State.
I LOVES ME SOME ME: I get the first down and keep running down the sideline, stiff-arming everyone in sight (four or five people) until I reach the end zone on what I believe was about a 70-yard play.
STRANGE FOOD REFERENCE: When I got to the end zone, I noticed my thumb hurt a lot and looked down to see that it was purple and as thick as a bratwurst.
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE: So I asked someone to take me home. Even though I lived close, nobody would drive me since they didn't want to miss any of the game. I respected that and decided to play. We played for another 2-3 hours, I caught a few more TD passes and we ended up winning the game in a blowout.
MY GUESS IS YOUR MOM'S NOT A NURSE: I went home, showed my mom the thumb and she said, "Eh, you probably just jammed it." I asked if we could go to the doctor anyway and she told me to wait a couple days and see how I felt.
JOHN FACENDA QUOTE: "I never complain about pain."
INJURIES: It turned out I had fractured a few bones of my thumb/wrist and separated the tendon in my thumb. I had a full hand/arm cast on my dominant arm so I couldn't play basketball that season or do much of anything useful, for that matter.
IT'S ALL ABOUT GIVING THANKS: I did use it as an excuse not to take notes in school, and over the next 6-8 weeks I abused the privileges that come along with an immobile writing hand.
A FINISH THAT PROBABLY WON'T SHOCK YOU: Like I said before, if only ESPN had highlights of that game.
NAME: NT Turkey Bowl
SUBMITTED BY: Jacob N.
A TRADITION SINCE: Every year since the players graduated from New Trier High School
STRANGE PARENTHETICAL: (No vomiting, sorry.)
NOT SURE ABOUT THE 'AROUND TOWN' IDEA: We have finally stepped it up this year and created personalized "jerseys" that can be worn during the game, or just around town.
ALL JOKING ASIDE, THIS IS WHY THESE GAMES ARE COOL: Some of us might not have seen each other for a year, as we are scattered across the country, but we always make time for this game.
THIS WORKS, TOO: The game provides a great excuse for not helping out with the dinner preparations.
WEATHER: We gather early in the day, and whether it's 50 degrees or minus-20, we play all-out tackle no-pads football for a few hours until we can barely make it to the car to drive home.
INJURIES: Worst injury happened last year. It took four of us to bring down our biggest friend and he landed headfirst on the one part of the field that had no grass.
JOHN FACENDA QUOTE: "Needless to say he was done for the game."
BIG FINISH: NT Turkey Bowl 2008 is sure to be the greatest one yet.
NAME: Cold Turkey Bowl
SUBMITTED BY: Joey W.
LOCATION: Shores of Chesapeake Bay
BEST LINE: My dad immediately ran inside and took a hot shower.
SCENE SETTER: It was three years ago or so when the Dallas Cowboys were playing the Denver Broncos on Thanksgiving Day. It also happened to be my dad's birthday. I am a Cowboys fan, my dad, well, he's a Broncos fan. So from the moment the day began there was a lot of "friendly" jawing between father and son. Every year we end up playing football outside. It's usually a three-on-three game and my dad and I are always on opposite teams.
FIELD SPECS: The field we play on is about 40 yards long and about 20 yards wide. The boundaries are a fence and on the other side, the Chesapeake Bay (you may see where this story is going).
JOHN FACENDA QUOTE: "On a play towards the end of the game, I took the ball on an end-around and sprinted along the water's edge towards the end zone. There was only one person who could stop me from scoring a touchdown: my dad."
WILDLY INAPPROPRIATE PERSONAL COMPARISON TO A GREAT PLAYER: As he was closing in on me I wondered what I could do: let him tag me, run faster or something else. Making a beeline for me, my dad was about to intersect me 5 yards before the end zone. I pulled a LaDainian Tomlinson and came to a complete stop letting my dad overpursue and run right by me.
BIG COLD FINISH: As I entered the end zone I heard a splash and knew my dad had gone right into the freezing Bay waters at the end of a frigid November.
REVENGE, LIKE TURKEY LEFTOVERS, IS BEST SERVED COLD: Dad got the last laugh, though, as my Cowboys lost in overtime to the Broncos.
NICE FINISH: Happy birthday, Dad.
NAME: Queen City Turkey Bowl
SUBMITTED BY: Jason S.
LOCATION: Sometimes we play in the backyard, sometimes we would sneak onto the high school practice field, but we play.
JOHN FACENDA QUOTE: "And every year, someone was hurt. Bloody lips, ears half cut off, broken collarbones, you name it."
OUR GAME IS UNIQUE BECAUSE: A few years ago, my dad and I got an idea: Since we were all getting hurt, let's buy helmets and pads. It'll probably be safer. So we did. My dad, a few uncles, cousins and family friends all purchased genuine helmets, shoulder pads, cleats and all the gear.
BIG FINISH: My family and I have played classic tackle, backyard football for years. What started with three people taking turns tackling each other has now evolved into 7-on-7 tackle football. It's great!
NAME: McNicholas High Turkey Bowl
SUBMITTED BY: Jim C.
LOCATION: Immaculate Heart of Mary grade school field, Cincinnati, Ohio.
YEAR STARTED: 2000
FAMOUS ALUMNI JIM C. SWEARS PLAYED IN THE GAMES: Bryan Cupito -- University of Minnesota QB 2002-2006; Kevin Huber -- current University of Cincinnati punter and Ray Guy runner-up; Tommy Linz --"Amazing Race: Family Edition" $1,000,000 winner.
Anna, Caylee and Mara McCormick
Sometimes it's all about looking good.
RULES: This year's game will feature players from the ages of 22- to 35. You have to have three offensive linemen at all times, QB can't run, you must have had a "good night" the night before to play in the game.
CLASSIC JOHN FACENDA QUOTE: "We play rain, snow or shine and it's full go, this is not a family turkey bowl."
NOT SO CLASSIC JOHN FACENDA QUOTE: A particular point that we like to emphasize is "looking good is half the battle." It is not out of the ordinary for players to wear eye black, Under Armour, cut-off jerseys to show bicep size, knee-high socks, bandanas, wristbands, taped cleats or all of the above.
BIG FINISH: We all went to the same high school where we have grown to become best friends -- on or off the football field. We understand that Thanksgiving is a time to spend with your family; however, we are family, a band of brothers who will never let our football memories fade. This is more than just a game we play on Thanksgiving morning, it's tradition.
David Fleming is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and the author of the memoir "Noah's Rainbow" and "Breaker Boys: The NFL's Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship," which has been optioned as a movie. The Flem File will run each Wednesday during the NFL season.