It’s a cold, brisk fall day. The sun is out but the sky is still rather gray. You, a parent or two, and your siblings head over to the field. The orange leaves are still on the ground but fall is fading. You watch in awe as the high school plays against Norwell in front of a huge crowd. You fool around with friends on the grass, and you try to emulate the kids out on the field. You see your neighbors and you see people who have moved away back in town for this special event. You leave happy no matter the result, ready for an awaiting feast.
Those are the memories I have of the annual Thanksgiving football game. Thanksgiving football games are a unique tradition. Almost every school in Massachusetts plays a rival school on Thanksgiving morning. The tradition extends, in some form, to the rest of New England. Connecticut has at least 48 Thanksgiving games. Rhode Island is similar to Massachusetts in that every town has a rival. Maine only has one. Missouri has one, California has two and New Jersey has a fair amount. New York and Pennsylvania have a couple. It’s an event for two communities that brings back alumni and former town member. The two schools create the biggest crowd some teams will play before all year. The atmosphere is very upbeat and supportive.
For the teams, it might be the biggest game all year. It’s the rivalry game, and it’s a game participants remember all their lives. Everyone wants to win the Thanksgiving game, and for most teams, it’s their seniors’ last game and eternal bragging rights are on the line. In Hanover and lot of other schools, it is the only time they play this rival all year and since most varsity careers are only 2-3 years, it’s a rare opportunity to play in a game of such magnitude. Some schools have bitter rivalries and Thanksgiving is their chance to leave it all on the field.
The Hanover/Norwell rivalry isn’t all that bitter, though both sides want to win more than anything on that given Thursday. This year, Hanover goes to Norwell while on a 6 game win streak, and a lot of those wins came at Norwell, 4 out of 6 to be exact. That being said, both teams had solid regular seasons. Hanover made the playoffs but has lost 5 games in a row. Norwell played well this year, but did not make the playoffs. Hanover should be the favorite going in but Norwell will be a challenge for them as always. Seamus Boutin of Hanover and Dan Hilson of Norwell are the offensive weapons to watch in this game.
Recently, the aura surrounding Thanksgiving football has changed a little bit. Due to the new playoff system with the games occurring well before Thanksgiving, things have changed. Thanksgiving games don’t determine playoff spots anymore whereas in the past there was always a spot or two riding on the result of the game. There are also a couple more teams who now know they have a game after Thanksgiving and strategically do not play their best players, which takes away the spirit from the game.
Also, because of the new system, for some teams the Thanksgiving game is no longer a once a year affair. For example, Cohasset and Hull will face each other for the second time this year on Turkey Day. They had to play a regular season game against each other in the South Shore Small Division and they could have played again if Hull made the playoffs. Central Catholic and Andover will face each other three times now in one season. First in league play, second in the opening round of the playoffs, and finally on Thanksgiving. The familiarity definitely takes away a little bit of excitement from the game for everyone involved. However, those are minors kinks that can maybe be worked out in the future. The system was implemented on a two year trial basis and will be up for review. Although the the likely decision will be to keep the system the same, it would be a good opportunity to address some of those issues.
Either way, Hanover and Norwell’s tradition looks to be going strong. The game will be at Norwell High School’s new field (which marks another end of an era for a lot of people who usually go, as both teams now have new turf fields) around 10 or 10:30 a.m. on Turkey Day.