We're boys now -- middle-aged, hip-hurting, gray-templed boys -- but once we were teenaged men trespassing on an athletic field to play our inaugural Turkey Bowl.
We won't be playing this Thursday on account we haven't played since 1977 and we've scattered since high school. But every Thanksgiving I think about our Turkey Bowls and one memory, in particular, survives.
"Do you remember when you horse-collared me?" Paul asks me when we have our Turkey Bowl conference call. He's in Texas; I'm in Maryland; we always feel like we're in the same room.
Why yes I do, Paul. Was it a personal foul? Very much so.
On the morning of Thanksgiving, our gang would gather on a muddy athletic field in our neighborhood. Usually, it was five against five. No flags. No pads. No half-time. No game clock. Hardly any rules. We played until we cried uncle. Sure, sometimes a broken toe or sprained ankle or a suspected concussion halted play. But generally we played until one team secured a bloody victory.
The playwright Tennessee Williams, who never played sandlot football to my knowledge, wrote that "memory is dim and poetic". My memory of our Turkey Bowls is surely dim and poetic. Then again, I took a pounding.
As for The Play, Paul and I disagree on the dim details. We both agree it was a cheap shot, but he started it.
I was not gazelle-like when running the ball. Imagine the slowest, book-reading nerd attempting to break tackles amid a jungle of alpha males pretending to be Deacon Jones and Dick Butkus. But in the Turkey Bowl of '76, I found myself the recipient of a hand-off. Paul, on the opposing team and sensing my hesitation to run forth with a football, slapped at my arms. The slapping caused me to fumble.
I did not like the slapping. I did not like the fumbling.
Paul, the slapper, picked up my fumble and raced toward the makeshift end zone. I felt a responsibility to make Paul pay dearly. With a burst of speed I can only attribute to steroid-laced Gatorade, I caught my fleet-footed friend. And to think he thought he had an easy touchdown.
A horse-collar tackle is when a player grabs the back-inside of an opponent's shoulder pads, dragging him down and quite possibly tearing his knee ligaments or snapping his leg like a wishbone. The NFL banned the tackle in 2005 -- about 30 years after The Play.
Paul maintains I horse-collared him. I remember it more fondly as a "brutal clubbing to the head." Since we were not wearing shoulder pads (I barely had shoulders) it technically could not have been a horse-collar tackle.
"You rang my bell," he says.
Fair enough, but it was not a horse-collar tackle. I fumbled the ball, I was upset, and I rang his bell.
So, what's the moral of this story? At all costs stop your friend from scoring a touchdown off your fumble.
Also, enjoy manhood when you can. Because today we boys run on soft treadmills, take scenic bike rides and fuss around on golf courses. But then we were men, playing in Turkey Bowls, horse collaring our friends but never losing them.