Thanksgiving without high school football just not the same

It feels different, doesn't it?


There was just a little something missing this Thanksgiving. No high school football meant there was a sizable void in your holiday slate.


There are some who will try to tell you that Thanksgiving football is not as special as it used to be, anyway. The crowds may be a little smaller in some places, but that, we feel, goes along with a larger overall trend of lower attendance for high school football here.


No, we don't feel like Thanksgiving is any less important. As long as these games are around, they'll have a special meaning. It's a way of life in Massachusetts, and we feel it always will be.


The high school I attended did not have Thanksgiving football, but every year, my dad and I would scout the newspapers to try to find a game to go to.


I remember one year, in 1994, we decided to go see Brookline at Newton North. My memory of the game itself is not perfect, but I swear I can still feel the utter freezing temperatures of that morning. It was so cold that I remember wondering how any of the players could perform their duties.


But it was fun. Thanksgiving football is always fun. The elevated levels of passion in that game never disappoint.


It's a unique experience. Every state has rivalry games, but Massachusetts gets many of its most heated showdowns on Thanksgiving. If you wanted to show someone from another state what makes high school football so special here, you would be smart to take him to a Thanksgiving game. It's just the way it is.


Every game is special in its own way. Some stick out more than others. Unlike that 1994 game, the weather was mild in 2003. That year, I covered the Xaverian at St. John's Prep game for The Daily News Transcript. The winner of that game — as was the case for many years — took the Catholic Conference crown and a berth in the postseason.


Xaverian jumped out to an early lead, but the Prep rallied in the second half. The hosts took a 22-21 lead in the fourth quarter following a touchdown and two-point conversion.


But Xaverian got the ball back and put together a nice, two-minute drive to get into Prep territory. Rather than keep throwing to possibly score a touchdown, Xaverian set itself up for a manageable field goal. It was not a chip shot, but it wasn't too far, either.


As it turns out, it didn't matter how far the field goal was. The Prep's Andrew Long crashed in from the edge and blocked the kick. It preserved the 22-21 win, and one of the classics from a rivalry that has seen many for the ages over the years.


A Thanksgiving game does not always need great stakes to be memorable. At its base, it just has to be a showdown with a rival to carry its weight. Bragging rights can be all that are at stake, and the Thanksgiving game will be doing its part.


In 2015, I was covering Attleboro at North Attleboro for the Boston Herald. I had recently moved to North Attleboro a little less than a year before, and had attended several Red Rocketeers games at Community Field over the years. I'd always liked the atmosphere there, and admired the town's devotion to its team.


On this day, though, Attleboro earned its revenge from a loss earlier in the season with a 34-21 win.


Just listening to some of the things that were said by the visiting Attleboro fans nearby told you just how much this game still meant. Sure, the teams had already played that season, and the teams had already participated in a playoff that many considered a drain on the passion of Thanksgiving football.


None of that mattered that day. The people at that game were all heavily invested, and you could not tell those Attleboro seniors that beating North Attleboro on Thanksgiving did not mean as much.


It's those seniors today who you feel the most for. For so many, that last Thanksgiving game of their career is the last time they strap on pads and lay it all on the line for their school. It's a day they'll never forget.


You want every high school football player in Massachusetts to have that experience. It's a true loss that leaves you with an empty feeling.


It's one of the reasons why we shake our head for those that say Thanksgiving football does not mean as much. People will blame the current playoff system or any other reason they see fit.


Tell that to the senior whose last shot at Thanksgiving glory was taken away this year. That player whose last organized football experience withered away.


Thanksgiving football in this state is simply a special undertaking, and nothing can diminish that, in our eyes.


Going forward, it is important to remember that. Thanksgiving football is always going to be a valuable part of our way of life here, and even in its absence, that point can never be more obvious.

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