WASHINGTON (WUSA9) –“I remember it like it was yesterday,” said Mike Anderson looking around the empty football stadium at Howard University.
It’s the first time he has been back on the field at Willie Greene Stadium since the 1993 Turkey Bowl.
“We knew we were just destined to be here on Thanksgiving Day again that was just Anacostia tradition,” said Anderson.
It was a tradition of domination. In a 10-year stretch between 1988 and 1997, the Indians played in nine city championships. 1993 began like so many others, with the focus on football, but it would quickly become like none other.
“My gunshot wound was so close to my heart as you can see it was only 5 inches from my heart so it would’ve blown my whole heart out,” said Robert Smith.
Smith was one of three Anacostia football players shot before the season even began.
“I was walking home with a group of friends and someone just started shooting,” remembers Smith.
His arm was broken but he survived, as did his teammates. The Indians were shaken but they pressed on believing the worst was behind them.
They were wrong.
More bad news came a few weeks later, moments before the team’s second game.
“Coach Stewart didn’t tell us until right before kickoff,” said Anderson.
A fourth player, Albert Leshon Preston had been shot, only Preston didn’t make it.
“Man that shook us,” said Anderson.
“I remember it, and it was a very trying time,” said Smith.
Anacostia lost that day to Pulaski County (Va.) 49-12. The Indians, at the time were coached by Willie Stewart.
“Alot of my players lived in public housing,” said Stewart. “With drugs being prevalent and homicides going on they had a lot to face.”
Stewart was the right man to lead Anacostia through rough waters, instead of the team collapsing, they rose. Smith, a talented tight end, made a miraculous return.
“My arm was still broke when I was playing they padded it up for me,” remembers Smith. “The wound from the gunshot was still seeping.”
Over the next eight weeks opponent after opponent fell until H.D. Woodson beat them in a thrilling regular season finale 24-22. It was a gut-wrenching loss.
“But we knew we would see them again,” Anderson said smiling.
A week later, the Indians defeated Wilson High in the first round of the playoffs to set up the rematch with H.D.Woodson. Back then Turkey Bowl games were played at Howard University and that morning Willie Greene stadium was electric.
“On our side it was people from Southeast D.C, and on their side it was filled up with people from Northeast D.C.,” said Smith.
It was a heavyweight fight between the city’s two best teams. The game spilled into overtime, and the Indians took a six point lead. H.D. Woodson, however, responded.
“They got their possession, they scored and they got the two point conversion,” said Anderson.
Elation for H.D. Woodson, heartbreak for Anacostia who’s whirlwind season came to an end. Still, it was an incredible run for the Indians, considering what they had to overcome. Four players shot, one killed.
This season marks the 20-year anniversary of that game and that season, and the memories are still vibrant.
“Reading those articles, and seeing those pictures, it takes you back,” said Anderson.
It takes him back to a season of grief and grit.