Looking back at Thanksgiving’s football memories

This article was published 2 year(s) and 10 month(s) ago.

English-Classical. Swampscott-Marblehead. Salem-Beverly. St. Mary’s-Fenwick.

Those are the area Thanksgiving rivalries I covered over the last 35 years. I also had the opportunity to broadcast several Everett-Cambridge and a few Everett-Masco games. And a long, long time ago – 40 years to be exact, I played for Matignon vs. Marian.

Yet, when it comes to memorable Thanksgiving football moments, nothing will ever rival Woburn-Winchester in 1979.  

I grew up in Woburn and started going to Woburn High football games in 1973. The Tanners won a Super Bowl in 1975 under Coach Peter Sullivan and defensive coordinator (and future head coach) Rocky Nelson, two all-time greats. I recall the home games being a big event, replete with a 75-member marching band that kept the crowd in their seats at halftime.

In 1979 – when there were only four divisions and two teams made the Super Bowl – the winner of the Woburn-Winchester game was guaranteed a berth in the Division 1 title game. Playing before a crowd of 20,000 (not a hyperbole), Woburn receiver John O’Brien made a TD catch for the ages to give the Tanners a 22-15 win. “Obie” went on to play at Harvard and died much too young.

In 1980, Matignon was beating Marian by six touchdowns when the Mustangs finally got on the board in the last two minutes. After intense nagging, our coach Arthur Graham, agreed to put me in as one of the deep men on the ensuing kickoff and, yes, I did have visions of taking it to the house. Down by 30, the Marian coach called for an onside kick, which gives you an idea of why he was down by 30. Another dream dashed.

My first Thanksgiving assignment for The Item was in 1985: Salem-Beverly at Bertram Field, seated in the press box next to the late, great Salem News sports editor Bill Kipouras. The Panthers won, 14-6, and I would have no idea that two of my future brothers-in-law, Stephen and Fred Ryan, were playing for Salem.

As Item sports editor from 1988-98, the Classical-English game was my priority, though I recall opting for the Swampscott-Marblehead game one year when the Northeastern Conference title was on the line. The Magicians went into Blocksidge Field and made the Big Blue’s title hopes disappear.

Starting in 2001, I took over as color commentator on the Everett cable TV football broadcasts, working with the ageless John Hoffman, and the only time Everett lost on Thanksgiving was my first year, when Isaiah Dottin scooped up a blocked field goal and ran 60+ yards for a TD to give Cambridge a shocking 13-7 win.

Sadly, the Crimson Tide, for all their dominance, have never had a real rival on Thanksgiving the last 20 years, and didn’t even play on the holiday from 2012-15. That made me a free agent for the local papers and it was a thrill to watch the reaction of the Marblehead crowd in 2013 when Michael Simmons, a senior on the autism spectrum, was sent in for the final few minutes of the 51-13 Magicians’ rout. Interviewing him after the game remains a highlight. 

On the Everett beat, I had a chance to broadcast a game from America’s Most Beloved (Overrated) Ballpark, when the Tide beat Masco in 2017. I will admit the set-up for a football game was better than expected in the relic on Yawkey Way, but the excitement level was manufactured at best.

Other than a few years when games were postponed due to snow (I know 1989 was one), I have been at a high school football game on Thanksgiving Day for the last 47 years. It really will feel strange not heading to a stadium Thursday morning, and I believe that from a sports perspective, losing Thanksgiving football is among the most significant casualties of this pandemic. A rivalry game on Patriots’ Day simply won’t be the same. 

Thankfully, Churchill Downs, Del Mar and the Fairgrounds are racing Thursday so in my world touchdowns and tackles will be replaced by exactas and daily doubles. 

May the horse be with you.



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