There really isn’t a holiday more synonymous with sports than Thanksgiving, football in particular. It used to be that way for New Year’s Day, too, but thanks to an overwhelming expansion of college football bowls, they all can’t be played in one day, as was tradition. Now they start as early as December and continue well past New Year’s Day. Different times I guess.
In my life as with many others, Thanksgiving does bring about sports memories, whether it was watching football pre or post-feast, spending time with uncles and cousins around televisions far too small for the crowd on hand, or even taking part in your own Turkey Bowl pickup football game. The memories coincide with the holiday itself, especially as I aged, and my career became a part of it as well.
Before they moved the start of the high school football season a few years ago, the goal of having a Thanksgiving Day practice was the measuring stick of a successful season when I played at Tehachapi High. During my time that meant at least a berth into the CIF section quarterfinals, or the second round. It meant an early morning practice with your other family. It meant canceling any out-of-town plans for the holiday considering you knew where you had to be. It seems like Thanksgiving practices have become far too rare for the Warriors of late, especially now since the current schedule means one must be in the section championships to have the privilege, I guess it makes that experience all the more special.
As I mentioned before, there’s always a large contingent of folks who play their own early-morning Thanksgiving football game. I was invited to one several years ago by a coworker who had been playing with the same group of friends since high school. I showed up to Bakersfield’s Silvercreek Park with intentions of playing the same game I knew from a decade or so before.
Needless to say, my light stretching did not suffice for the toll this game among friends had on my body. Thinking I could play linebacker on the first play of the game, I pursued a pass into the flats with fundamental perfection. It was when I started to stop that the legs gave out. I muddled through the rest of the game and had a great time, but naturally paid the physical price in the days to come. Lesson learned; you can never play like you “used to.”
Having spent years working in the sports industry, I feel for the camera crews and production teams they highlight each season during NFL coverage on turkey day. I’ve been that person away from home on the holiday and honestly, it’s overrated.
In 2015, while at Cal State Bakersfield, we played a basketball game the night before Thanksgiving in Laramie, Wyo., and had a flight out the next morning, I was determined to make it back to my in-law’s house before dinner time. As fate would have it, we were greeted with a morning snowstorm but were blessed with a bus driver who could handle the wheel over the mountain passes to get us to the airport in Denver. We landed in Bakersfield and I was picked up at the airport by a relieved wife. It was one of the longest Thanksgivings as I came through the door exhausted but happy to be home with family.
The following year, my last at CSUB, we were playing in a tournament at Wright State in Dayton, Ohio, and I spent what I vowed to be my final holiday on the road working. Although the good folks of Dayton tried to make us feel at home, a restaurant-prepared Thanksgiving meal just doesn’t stack up to the real thing. I knew then as a soon-to-be-father that Daddy was going to be home for the holidays, even if that meant seeking a different career path.
There are plenty of other football and basketball memories that come to mind when this holiday rolls around, memories that I am thankful for, no matter how tough emotionally or physically they might have been. Thanksgiving is a time of reflection and I have plenty of reflect on indeed, and like most others, plenty more to be thankful for.
So, from my house to yours, enjoy the holiday, the food, the company and if you choose to participate, the pickup football. But I urge you to stretch, properly. You’ll be thanking me for that later.
Corey Costelloe has covered NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. A THS graduate, he now resides in Tehachapi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are his own.