Posted on November 22, 2018
by Steve Janowick

I’ll never forget.  Next touchdown wins.  

Drawn out precisely with his index finger in the freezing mud, our quarterback whispered the play over the heavy panting of his teammates-the exhale steam hovering thick in our huddle of eight.  An unusually cold and blustery Thanksgiving, we were either blowing what little hot, lung air we could muster into our cupped hands or wiping away the caked snot and dripping tear ducts on our sleeves-all while waiting to hear our assignments.  

I was told to go 10 yards into the endzone and button-hook over the middle.  The other receivers would clear out the secondary, he instructed. Okay, I got this.  No sweat. The kid still has some get up and go in the tank, I thought. I’m going to win this game for us.  I’m going to be the hero this year.

The quarterback yelled “break” and we assumed our positions.  I had been playing the line the whole game up to that point, so I was palpably excited to maybe catch a pass and get some glory.  The guy across from me, the one tasked with covering me, was a fat, semi-retired, ice cream truck driver. But today, at that moment, as we eyed each other to get the intimidation edge, he could have easily been Lester Hayes from the 1980 Raiders-I couldn’t tell the difference.

My heart was racing.

The center snapped the ball and I took off.  Counting off the steps in my head, I executed a perfect plant when I got just past the goal line, turned and torqued my long body with the grace of a three-legged camel, and watched as the ball came at me.  In my periphery to the right, I could see that I had beaten the ice cream man. He was still back at the line of scrimmage lying on the ground, screaming and clutching his hammy.

This was it.  Hero time here I come.  It was a high throw and spiraling fast, so I leaped with perfect timing and with all the force my half-numb, beanpole legs could summon.  It felt like I was hovering in the air for 37 minutes. Time seemed to stop. I was lazar focused. I saw the stripe of the ball rotating inches away.  Actually felt it touching my outstretched fingers. I was clasping down and pulling it in at the same time.

Damn, I was really going to do it.  I was The Gronk. I could see the glory, man!

But what I couldn’t see was the safety on my blind side coming at me shoulder first and head down like a runaway freight train.  My gynecologist brother-in-law hit me square in the thigh region at which point I proceeded to complete a three-quarter revolution in mid-air and land like rock smacking a frozen lake-without the ball in my hands!  In one fell swoop, I went from hero to goat. Potential folklore legend to bona fide neighborhood chump. Hell, we may even lose now because of my miss! But it was getting too dark, so we all agreed to a tie score then drug our battered bodies to the local watering hole to medicate our wounds and relive the laughs that were this year’s game.  

This tradition has played out for over 25 years for a bunch of us.  The Turkey Bowl is time-honored. It’s a day when Larry Lunch Pail, a man whose get up and go got up and went a long time ago, puts down the remote, forgets his fantasy picks and actually plays in football game.  Be damned pot bellies.  Screw you, bad knees and bunioned toes.  For one day, every Thanksgiving, any man can be The Gronk catching the winning touchdown pass from Brady.  

But just look out for your crazy, chop-blocking, illegal hitting, brother-in-law!

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