My family has played a Thanksgiving football game for the past 41 years and called it the Turkey Bowl.
For decades, I thought this name was exclusive to our family, which — probably like your own family — is a mix of creative geniuses, practical thinkers and affable onlookers.
However, I’ve recently discovered that other families have their own Turkey Bowl and even call it such, and I don’t think they got the idea from us.
Also, Wikipedia defines “Turkey Bowl (amateur)” as “nickname for informal backyard American football games held on Thanksgiving or over Thanksgiving weekend.”
So maybe we didn’t invent the Turkey Bowl. Dang it.
But I’d like to think we’ve perfected it.
In fact, this year’s version was so successful that I’m going to share some tips for having a fun and exciting Turkey Bowl.
1. Decorate your field.
OK, so we have a lot of liberal arts majors in our family, or children who will grow up to become liberal arts majors.
So we mark the boundaries of the field and the end zones with white spray paint. We take orange spray paint and coat rolls of toilet paper to create end-zone pylons. Then we take a bunch of other colors and paint a large turkey in the center of the field.
When we’re done, it looks like a real football field. And if you’re playing on a real football field, then you must be a real football player.
2. Don’t pick teams the usual way.
Unless you’re the Manning family, you’ll probably have some folks who don’t want to relive the trauma of getting picked last for a sports team.
This year, my oldest son just told everybody to pick a buddy closest to them in age, and then take the letter A and give your buddy the letter B. All the A’s were on one team, and all the B’s were on the other.
The result was our most evenly matched game ever. Which leads us to the next thing…
3. Let the adults run as few things as possible, especially the ones who run things for a living.
Adults tend to over-complicate things. Kids just want to have fun. So let the kids decide the details.
Which leads us to…
4. Don’t have a referee.
Fathers assumed this duty for many years. The most memorable call was in 1984 when a child scoring the winning touchdown tripped on the plastic tape marking the end zone (we’d run out of spray paint) and was called for goal-line interference. The touchdown was overruled and the other team got the ball. I think several people are still in therapy over that one.
Besides, the presence of a referee encourages kids of all ages to try to get away with stuff, and a ref isn’t going to catch everything. Let the kids police themselves.
5. Make the game friendly for all ages.
Put a few rules in place that keep competitive adults in check and ensure the game is fun for children. We have two: adults can’t guard children, and a child under 11 years old must touch the ball on every first down.
And if you’ve got a bunch of hyper-competitive adult males trying to relive old dreams, make them linemen and let them battle it out in the trenches while the kids do all the running, throwing and catching.
6. Encourage high-scoring games.
In 1996, the final score of the Turkey Bowl was 6-0. Since then, we’ve changed the rush count from “Three Mississippi” to “Five Mississippi” and changed the first down requirement from three completions to two completions. We still say a completion has to be over the line of scrimmage, but this is pretty loosely enforced. (You know, because we don’t have referees anymore.)
This year, the final score was 63-58, and a 9-year-old scored the winning touchdown.
I’d call that success.