Thanksgiving Day football isn’t just about select NFL and NCAA markets, you know. In fact, it’s much more about grassroots football, with families throwing the pigskin and, in some areas of the country, the biggest rivalry games of the year kicking off well before noon so everyone can make it home for a nice turkey dinner.
In total, there are dozens of prep football games that take place across 10 U.S. states on Thanksgiving Day. Here’s how the biggest and most notable shake out:
The State Line Game: Easton (Pa.) vs. Phillipsburg (N.J.) — It’s impossible to reference high school football on Thanksgiving Day without discussing Easton and Phillipsburg. The schools sit on opposite sides of the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border, and the game is played at a neutral site at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. The game has often been a sellout or near sellout and has even received national TV treatment from ESPN in years past. Given that the contest has been played since 1905, and on Thanksgiving since 1916, there’s plenty of heritage and history here (and some fantastic snowy highlights to boot), not to mention heated passions fighting for the Forks of Delaware Trophy, named in honor of the Delaware River, which (along with a bridge) is all that separates the towns.
This year will be particularly interesting because it follows a remarkable turn in the rivalry: It wasn’t played on Thanksgiving in 2014. That has nothing to do with Easton or Phillipsburg, and everything to do with Mother Nature; a huge snowstorm on Thanksgiving Day last November forced the game to be delayed until Saturday, when Phillipsburg emerged with a 19-15 win. Luckily the team’s return to a Thursday morning kickoff for the 109th iteration in 2015.
Ye Olde Ball Game: Norwich Free Academy (Conn.) vs. New London (Conn.) — No, it’s not called that, but perhaps it should be. Believed by some to be the longest running annual football game in America — the Northeastern Connecticut towns have played each year since 1875 — this annual matchup has made Turkey Day its own for decades. The teams have faced off more than once in some years, 42 to be exact, which makes the 2015 edition the 154th game between the rivals.
Old Firm Friends: Winchester (Mass.) vs. Woburn (Mass.) — Like many Massachusetts rivals, Winchester and Woburn have faced each other annually since the 1890s. The rivalry has rolled on uninterrupted since 1893, and there’s no risk of that abating any time soon. The problem is one of too much familiarity, with the two teams now facing off in the playoffs before the annual Thanksgiving Day game. Since Thanksgiving Day 2012, the teams have played five times before Thursday’s game. Most recently, Woburn knocked off Winchester in the MIAA Division 3 Northwest tournament in 2014, then returned to play on Thanksgiving, just like always.
And if there was any question that the rivalry is a collegial one, just check out the gesture from the 2014 edition of the Woburn team below.
Maryland’s Holy War: Loyola Blakefield vs. Calvert Hall College — This game between two Catholic prep schools goes back 94 years and is said to be the longest running Catholic prep school rivalry in America. Loyola has an 11-win edge on Calvert Hall entering 2015, and local fans can catch the game on Baltimore ABC affiliate WMAR. Want to be there in person? Show up bright and early, 10 a.m., at the Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium, as per usual. Stuffing not required.
Thanksgiving Football Where Dreams Are Made: Xavier Prep (N.Y) vs. Fordham Prep (N.Y.) — How long have Xavier Prep and Fordham Prep been playing football before eating turkey? So long that the first game was called due to darkness while still a tie because the field had no lights. The game is considered the oldest sports rivalry in New York City, with official results tracked since 1906. The game was initially hosted at the legendary Polo Grounds until the stadium was demolished, and now alternates between Fordham University in the Bronx and Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.
Show-Me the Turkey: Kirkwood vs. Webster Groves — There’s only one Thanksgiving Day game in the state of Missouri, and it’s contested between two suburban St. Louis rivals. There was a three-year spell from 2010-12 in which only junior varsity squads competed in the rivalry because of a playoff scheduling conflict, but the tradition has continued. The winner earns the Frisco Bell, which was donated by the Frisco Railroad Company in the 1950s.
Way out West: San Jose (Calif.) vs. Abraham Lincoln (Calif.) — This is the best-named Thanksgiving Day game by far: The San Jose Big Bone Game. It’s been contested since 1943, with a preceding “Little Bone Game” between the schools’ junior varsity teams a week earlier. As for the big bone in question? It’s a rather large cow femur used to record results from the game, not a giant wishbone from a gobbler.
WHEN TURKEY IS FOR CHAMPIONS:
Live Free for Pride: The Manchester city Turkey Bowl — A relatively recent addition to the Thanksgiving Day lineup, the Manchester city Turkey Bowl is a yearly contest for bragging rights in New Hampshire’s largest city. It’s also the only Thanksgiving Day game in the Granite State. The game has been contested between Central and Trinity more than any other teams, with Central earning the most Turkey Day berths with a spot in 28 of the 35 contests heading into Thursday’s game … between Central and Trinity (don’t look so surprised!)
Battle for the Capitol: The District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association Turkey Bowl — The annual title game for members of Washington D.C.’s governing body for high school sports, the D.C. Turkey Bowl may have received the most attention when it featured female head coach Natalie Randolph, who led Coolidge High to the title game in just her second year at the helm. H.D. Woodson faces Ballou in the 46th edition this year, and you can read all about it from our D.C. area Gannett partners at WUSA.
Turkey by the Bay: The San Francisco Turkey Bowl — Glorious Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park is the site of San Francisco’s annual high school football championship, which dates back to 1924. In case you’re curious, Galileo High has won the most San Fran Turkey Bowls, with 16 titles.