Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
As the family sprawled around the living room watching Denver beat Dallas after Thanksgiving dinner, I was thankful.
I was thankful no one called or knocked on the door to tell us the Turkey Bowl was on at Lamb Field that afternoon. I was stuffed to the gills with dressing and ham. My knees hurt, my toes hurt and just keeping my eyes open while watching football on TV was tough. No way could I have participated in another Turkey Bowl.
The Turkey Bowl became somewhat of a Portales football tradition back in the day. Maybe someone has kept it alive, but they didn’t swing through our neighborhood looking for players Thursday.
Rather than watch the one lame excuse for a football game on TV, we took it on ourselves to create our own after-dinner diversion. It was full-contact, no-pads, tackle football. We played tackle football all the time in the Terry and Blue front yards (the yards still have the bare spots to prove it), but the Turkey Bowl was different, it was on a larger scale, often with people we only saw once a year, an opportunity to write your name in the annals of Portales sandlot football fame.
We all knew it would happen sometime during the day, but we never knew exactly when the call would come. When it did, we quickly dressed in our oldest pair of sweat pants (the one’s the knees had already been burned out of), the most stretched out and ratty T-shirt we owned (sweatshirt if it was cold), rubber cleats (if we could find them), dirty sweatbands and either a headband or strip of towel around our forehead. For me, my geeky black glasses strap completed the uniform.
Knee pads or elbow pads were considered pretty sissy-like, if you wore them you had better have an open wound underneath or a mending bone. Anybody who showed up with what looked like too much padding would be targeted for extra punishment.
Ages involved normally ranged from 13 to 30. If you were old enough not to cry when you got knocked down and young enough to keep getting back up — you could be on a team. We would nearly always have six or eight to a team, occassionally we would look up and notice there were more than 11 on a team. Nearly all of them running a pass pattern.
We played across the width of the junior high field and used the 30-yard hash on each side as boundaries.By Thanksgiving it had been nearly a month since the field had been lined, so out-of-bounds was sometimes left up to the imagination and heated debate often followed a sideline play. You could argue for a penalty but it had to be pretty flagrant if anything was going to change the outcome of a play. There were some plays that got debated until the next year’s game.
The main requirements for playing quarterback were the ability to scramble like crazy and come up with, and draw on your palm, outlandish plays and pass patterns. Ability to actually throw the ball a long way, or accurately was secondary. It was all about coming up with that play or, more often, doing something with the ball after that play was busted.
Defenses were mostly man-to-man, which worked out real well until you realized, after your quarterback was sacked a couple of times in a row, that the other team had one more player than you. That extra guy had wandered up and joined their huddle unnoticed somehow.
Dogpiles were frequent, and unmerciful on a running play and so after untangling bodies a few times early in the game, most teams went to the pass. I don’t ever remember any serious career-ending injuries, though everybody came home with raspberrys on their knees and either a bloodied nose or busted lip.
We played in any kind of weather — mostly I remember the cold and windy conditions. But we got our share of blue-bird, Indian-summer games too. The best, though, was the one year it snowed a couple of inches. I think the snow melted during the game but we all had a great time while it lasted. sliding around in it, getting cold, wet and exhausted.
Afterward there was always leftover turkey and dressing. We were happy.
The only thing lacking was Bruce Springsteen on the sidelines singing “Glory Days.” Actually I guess he hadn’t written that song yet. But he no doubt wrote that song after watching a Turkey Bowl somewhere in some hometown.