Saturday, November 24, 2012

Turkey Bowl: Year 60 [ish]

The Turkey Bowl is an O'Connell Thanksgiving tradition that goes way back.

My mother is from an Irish Catholic family. And everything that phrase conjures up is probably true of the O'Connell clan: lots of kids (eight to be exact), a slew of cousins, a love of good beer and Celtic music, Catholic schools and confirmation, and lots of love and laughs to go around.

In an effort to get her husband and children "out from underfoot," my grandma shooed them out of the house Thanksgiving day so she could prep for the Thanksgiving meal. My grandpa gathered up some of his high school buddies from St. Therese and played football all day.

And so began what would become a grand tradition between several Irish families playing the Turkey Bowl every year the day of Thanksgiving. An old raggedy trophy is passed around to the winners. Eventually the two men who began it all, Dave O'Connell and Bill McCarthy became the inevitable team captains, doing more barking orders and jabbing at the other team than anything.

Patriarchs of the Turkey Bowl: Dave O'Connell and Bill McCarthy 

The players all gather at a host family's home (which changes yearly along with the field) for hot chocolate, coffee, and required pregame donuts. Then it's off to a nearby park or school to play while sveral women with kiddos too small yet to play stay behind to chat.  The game is on rain or shine.  And in Detroit in November that really means in the snow, sleet, or blizzard. Part of the uniform is always long johns. The fields can be frozen or muddy, and one year even covered in goose droppings. The O'Connells stop football for nothing.

By the time the brothers and sisters, cousins, their children and now grandchildren, and friends all show up there can easily be over forty people on the field. A rowdy game is played and we often met prospective mates of cousins and uncles this way. Two hand touch often always turns into tackle. One year when I was eight I hollered at my uncle Dennis for rolling my mom during a play. "Don't you know she's PREGNANT!" One of the favorite plays involves getting the ball to some of the littlest players. They usually got pretty far since no one feels ok about stopping a four year old.

It's been awhile since I've been to Detroit to play in the Turkey Bowl. This year, we played in Kansas City for the Midwest Edition with the Weston clan (my parents, Tim and Meg, and our crew). Jackson heard that Nonny is pretty good and she was first pick for his team. I'm proud to report I ran half the length of our backyard for a touchdown.

The dream lives on Grandpa.  You'd be proud.

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