Turkey Day is best as a home game

MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. We have so much to be thankful for.

Those of us who are truly blessed have a big day planned with the family today, right? Waiting for that big bird to be served up so it can put us into a coma along with everything else we consume takes time. So, unless you are preparing the Thanksgiving meal, you’re trying to stay out of the way in the kitchen, or preparing for tomorrow’s big day of shopping or watching the annual home games for the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys.

What’s Thanksgiving if not Thanksgiving at home, you know? But it wasn’t always like that around here; at least not in Cumberland and in Frostburg.

So thank goodness for the MPSSAA state football playoffs, because from 1936 through 1973, Allegany and Fort Hill, with the exception of 1944-46, met once a season and that was on Thanksgiving in the annual Turkey Day Game — likewise in Frostburg when Beall annually hosted LaSalle, then Bishop Walsh for their Turkey Day Game.

Though you would think (if you were not there) that making the switch from football games on Thanksgiving after over two weeks of waiting for them to a straight 10-game, 10-week regular season (before the recent playoffs expansion) with opportunities for state championships to follow would have been an easy, everybody’s-in, agreeable snap. But if you would think that, you haven’t been paying attention here in Allegany County, for in the words of our late, great Tavern Mensa chapter head, Bill Zapf, “We’re against everything.”

When the announcement was made that the Turkey Day games would be a thing of the past beginning in 1974, you’d have thought the world was going to end, even though it would afford us the opportunity to celebrate nothing but Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving day.

Now there’s a concept.

“But this will ruin the (Allegany-Fort Hill, Beall-Bishop Walsh) Turkey Day games,” went the howling. “This will kill tradition. It will never be the same; it will be terrible; it will be horrible; it will die; whatever shall we do?!”

Please. As long as the big rivalry game around here is played as the last regular-season game, who cares? And on this we must never waver.

Last I checked, there were 38 Turkey Day games and now there have been 48 Homecoming games. Yet the world has not come to an end (at least not because of this), and our own November community holiday through the past 49 years has become stronger and better than ever — better than even the Turkey Day games were. There, I said it: Better than even the Turkey Day games were.

Plus, the Homecoming game is a helluva lot more fun because we don’t have to spend the rest of the day with our families. We get to spend it fighting with our friends, and what could be better than that? And on top of that, we also get to fully enjoy Thanksgiving (depending on how much we eat) because neither side of town is going to lose a football game today.

Don’t get me wrong, the Turkey Day games were wonderful — if your school won the game. If your school lost, though, not only was Thanksgiving dinner ruined, your entire season was ruined as well as that last game carried the weight until the following Thanksgiving when the teams played again.

In 1971, for instance, Allegany defeated Fort Hill, 18-14, in the Turkey Day Game — a.k.a. The Snow Game — to complete a 10-0 season under first-year head coach George Stimmel. As for the Sentinels, they finished an otherwise fine 8-2 season, or so you might have believed.

Not the case at all as the story goes, as the Fort Hill coach at the time, Charlie Lattimer, made painfully clear to Cumberland Evening Times sports editor J. Suter Kegg, who reported in his sidebar story the following day, “Fort Hill, although finishing with an 8-2 record, ‘lost everything’ in the holiday defeat, according to Lattimer.”

“We had nine scrimmages and worked so hard for this one game,” Lattimer told Kegg, “then we let it go down the drain. We didn’t win anything.”

To Suter’s credit, he always tried to shed a positive light on things, no matter how dire the circumstances may have been, and he prodded Lattimer into reconsidering his assessment.

Weren’t there some bright spots that shone through the gloom, Kegg asked?

“Nope,” Lattimer said. “At this point I can’t think of a single thing.”

If you were there or if you knew Coach Lattimer, you can hear those words in your sleep. Mark Manges was there and he heard them first-hand as he was Fort Hill’s sophomore quarterback that season.

“I remember that game very well,” Manges once told me, “because, obviously, we lost. And what struck me about reading the paper the next day was Coach Lattimer’s attitude afterward in his interview with Suter Kegg. That’s what it was all about. It always was and we had to live with it.”

But just until basketball season, right?

“The way it was with the Turkey Day Game,” Manges said, “if you lose, you’re nothing and we understood that. That was your season. It was everything and it’s the game that follows you your whole life.”

Seriously, there are still some of you out there who wish we still did this? Nah.

Trust me, Thanksgiving is far more enjoyable at home.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT