Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for American football on Thanksgiving. I knew when I Googled this search old Wikipedia would not let me down.
Peter Paul Markin, Class of 1964, comment:
Scene: Around and inside the old high school gym entrance on the Hamilton Street side the night before the big Thanksgiving Day football game against our cross town arch-rival, Adamsville High School, in 1963. (Yes, that above-mentioned street for the forgetful is the one that had the Merit gas station, now Hess, on the corner. The place where every self-respecting be-bop high school guy “filled up,” his “boss” car, or his father’s on Friday or Saturday night, cheaply, so that he had enough dough to “spurge” at the end of that “hot date” night for burgers, fries and tonic, you remember soda, at Adventure Car Hop down on the Southern Artery.)
This ancient 1963 time, for the younger reader, was a time before they built what is apparently an addition, including a newer gym and cafeteria, modeled on the office buildings across the street from the school behind the MBTA stop and a tribute to “high” concrete construction, and lowest bidder imagination. But this could have been a scene from any one of a number of years in those days. And I am willing to bet six-two-and-even with cold hard cash gathered from my local ATM against all takers that this story “speaks,” except for the names, to what is up today at Thanksgiving football rally time as well:
Sure the air was cold, you could see your breath making curls before your eyes no problem, and the night felt cold, cold as one would expect from a late November New England night. It was also starless, as the weather report had projected rain for the big game. Damn, not, damn, because I was worried about, or cared about a little rain. I’ve seen and done many things in a late November New England winter rain, and December and January rains too, for that matter. No, this damn, is for the possibility that the muddy Veterans Stadium field would slow up our vaunted offensive attack. And good as it is a little rain, and a little mud, could prove to be a great equalizer.
This after all was class struggle. No, not the kind that you might have heard old Karl Marx and his boys talk about, although now that I think of it there might be something to that here as well. I’ll have to check that out sometime but right then I was worried, worried to perdition, about the battle of the titans on the gridiron, rain-soaked granite grey day or not. See, this particular class struggle was Class A Adamsville against Class B North Adamsville and we needed every advantage against this bigger school. (Yes, I know for those younger readers that today’s Massachusetts high schools are gathered in a bewildering number of divisions and sub-divisions for some purpose that escapes me but when football was played for keeps and honor simpler alphabetic designations worked just find.)
Do I have to describe the physical aspects of the gym? Come on now this thing was (is) any high school gym, any public high school gym, anywhere. Foldaway bleachers, foldaway divider (to separate boys for girls in gym class back in the day, if you can believe that), waxed and polished floors made of sturdy wood, don’t ask me what kind (oak, I guess) with various sets of lines for its other uses as a basketball or volleyball court. But enough of paid by the word stuff to add color to this sketch. The important thing was that guys and gals, old and young, students and alumni and just plan townies were milling about waiting for the annual gathering of the Red Raider clan, those who have bled, bleed or want to bleed Raider red and even those oddballs that don't. This one stirs the blood of even the most detached denizen of the old town.
This night of nights, moreover, every unattached red-blooded boy student, in addition to his heavy dose of school patriotism and wishful wishing that he had been just a little stronger, faster or agile to have made the team, was looking around, and looking around frantically in some cases, to see if that certain she has come for the festivities. And every unattached red-blooded girl student was searching for that certain he (and maybe wishing that just that moment the one she was interested in has been just a little stronger, faster or agile so she could bask in his reflected glory). Don’t tell me, boy or girl, agile or not, you didn’t take a peek, or at least a stealthy glance.
Among this throng of peekers, half-peekers and wannabe peekers were a couple of fervent not fast enough, strong enough, agile enough quasi-jock male students, one of them is writing this entry, the other the great long distance track man, Josh Breslin, was busy getting in his glances. Both were (are) members of the Class of 1964 who with a vested interest in seeing their football-playing fellow classmates pummel the cross town rival, and also, in the interest of full disclosure, are deeply emerged in the hunt for those elusive shes. I do not see the certain she that I am looking for but, as was my style then, I have taken a couple of stealthy glances at some alternate prospects. (This led, on more than one occasion, including one “oh, damn” occasion, to have a very special she accuse me of perfidy, although she did not use that word, and dismissed me, words she did use, out of hand).
This was the final football game of our final football-watching season, as students anyway, as well so we had brought extra energy to the night’s performance. We were on the prowl and ready to do everything in our power to bring home victory…, well, almost everything except donning a football uniform to face the monstrous goliaths of the gridiron. We fancied ourselves built for more "refined" pursuits like those just mentioned stealthy glances, perfidious or not, and the like.
Finally, after much hubbub (and more coy and meaningful looks all around the place than one could reasonably shake a stick at) the rally began, at first somewhat subdued due to the then very recent trauma of the Kennedy assassination, the dastardly murder of one of our own, for the many green-tinged Irish partisans among the crowd, as well as the president. But everyone, seemingly, had tacitly agreed for this little window of time that the outside world and its horrors would not intrude. A few obligatory (and forgettable) speeches by somber and lackluster school administrators, headed by Principal Kelley, and their lackeys in student government and among the faculty stressing good sportsmanship and that old chestnut about it not mattering about victory but how you play the game drone away.
Of course, no self-respecting “true” Red Raider had (has) anything but thoughts of mayhem and casting the cross-town rivals to the gates of hell in his or her heart so this speechifying was so much wasted wind. This “bummer,” obligatory or not, was followed with a little of this and that, mainly side show antics. People, amateurishly, twirling red and black things in the air, and the like. Boosters or Tri-Hi-Yi types, somebody’s girlfriend or some important alum’s daughter for all I knew. Certainly not in a league with the majorettes, who I will not hear a word against, and who certainly know how to twirl the right way. See, I was saving one of my sly, coy and not perfidious glances for one of them right then.
What every red-blooded senior boy, moreover, and probably others as well, was looking forward to get things moving though was the cheer-leading, led by the senior girls like the vivacious Roxanne Murphy ( who, if you can believe this, dismissed me out of hand, although not for perfidiousness( ouch), the spunky Josie McCarthy, and the plucky Linda Kelly. And when they hit center court they did not fail us with their flips, dips, and rah-rahs. Strangely, the band and its bevy of majorettes when it is their turn, with one noted exception, did not inspire that same kind of devotion, although no one can deny that some of those girls can twirl.
But this entire spectacle was so much, too much, introduction. For what was wanted, what was demanded of the situation, up close and personal, was a view of the Goliaths that will run over the cross town arch-rival the next day. A chance to yell ourselves silly. The season had been excellent, marred only by a bitter lost to a bigger area team on their home field, and our team was highly regarded by lukewarm fans and sports nuts alike. Naturally, in the spirit, if not the letter of high school athletic ethos, the back-ups and non-seniors were introduced by Coach Leahy. Then came the drum roll of the senior starters, some of whom have been playing for an eternity it seems. Names like Tom Kiley, Walt Simmons, Lee Munson, Paul Duchamp, Joe Zona, Don McNally, Jim Fallon, Charlie McDonald, Stevie Chase, "Woj" (Jesus, don’t forget to include him. I don't need that kind of madness coming down on my face, even now.) and on and on.
Oh, yes and “Bullwinkle”, Bill Curran, a behemoth of a run-over fullback, even by today’s standards. Yes, let him loose on that arch-rival's defense. Whoa. But something was missing. A sullen collective pout filled the room. After the intros were over the restless crowd needed an oral reassurance from their warriors that the enemy was done for. And as he ambled up to the microphone and said just a couple of words we get just that reassurance from “Bullwinkle” himself. That is all we need. Boys and girls, this one is in the bag. And as we head for the exits to dream our second-hand dreams of glory the band plays the school fight song to the tune of On Wisconsin. Yes, those were the days when boys and girls, young and old, wise or ignorance bled raider red in the old town. Do they still do so today? And do they still make those furtive glances? I hope so.