Reporters and Editors Share Their Favorite Thanksgiving Football Memories

These games have little to do with winning and everything to do with Boston holiday tradition.

On Thursday morning, while most of us are watching the Snoopy balloon float across our flat screens, sportswriters will be freezing their asses off in open-air press boxes across Massachusetts. Because high school football is a local Thanksgiving tradition—Wellesley-Needham, the region’s oldest holiday rivalry game, dates back to 1882—the local hacks are on duty.

The weather is cold, the concession stand coffee is weak, and there’s never enough parking, but trust me, Thanksgiving football is totally worth the trouble. Channel 5 sports anchor Mike Lynch said it best: “It’s kind of a culmination, and I think it really galvanizes a town for about three hours. Unfortunately most things that galvanize a town are usually sad things. You can feel the energy in the stadium when you walk in on Thanksgiving Day. That’s what makes it special.”

My problem was that when I worked at The Eagle-Tribune up in Lawrence, I was assigned to a bunch of blowouts. Then, in 2008, my last year with the paper, I got lucky. That Thanksgiving, I watched Methuen upset Dracut, a playoff team. The game was played in about a foot of mud, and even though there was nothing really on the line for either team, it was a classic. (At least in my head.) Afterward, I caught a massive lineman from Methuen crying his eyes out. High school sports are far, far from pure. But that kid’s display of emotion was.

So today, I’ve decided to turn things over to some local reporters and editors. I asked them to send over a few memories from the best Thanksgiving games they’ve ever covered. Here’s what they came up with.

Hector Longo, Eagle-Tribune:

“The 1989 Central Catholic-Andover game remains one that goes unmatched in Merrimack Valley history. It’s the Thanksgiving game that wasn’t on Thanksgiving, held till Saturday because of Turkey Day snow. All the pieces were in place for a classic, Central seeking its first ever league title and Andover looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 1975.

Colgate-bound Chris Lane, an Andover kid, QB’d the Raiders. He was matched against Pat Finn in a classic. Because it was Saturday, it attracted fans from everywhere—the only game in town—to Veterans Memorial Stadium. Estimates had the crowd between 8-9,000. Like Ted Williams’ final game, everyone who talks about that game—and everyone still does—was there. And I think all were jammed directly under the left upright in the North end zone. Whenever someone brings up this game, that person had the perfect angle to see if Glen Lacroix’s game-changing field goal inched inside that goal post from 30 yards out with 1:01 left.

Colleague Mike Muldoon has a cousin’s uncle’s brother-in-law that caught the football and swears it was three feet wide. My wife, an Andover High cheerleader at the time with the worst view in the house, clearly saw it wide. Again, they were both from Andover.

From where I (Central ’83) stood, the kick was perfect. Of course, I was with my buddies at the opposite end of the stadium stands. To this day, I remember little about the game, just the atmosphere, the amazing crowd, which was into every snap, and the kick. And to this day all three are still amazing.”

Editor’s note: The field goal was called good and Central Catholic won.

Danny Ventura, Boston Herald:

“I think you have to go with the 1997 game between Xaverian and St. John’s Prep, more so for the buildup and excitement surrounding the game. Those were clearly the two best teams around, and the buildup began in August and continued throughout the season. Both teams entered the game undefeated and the fanfare was incredible for two Catholic schools. More than 8,000 people attended the game and fans began lining up for tickets at 6:30 that morning.

Trailing 14-7 with 9:41 left, the Eagles inched closer on a 44-yard touchdown run by [future NFL quarterback] Brian St. Pierre. St. John’s Prep coach Jim O’Leary opted to go for two and inserted linemen Wayne Lucier and Zach Magliaro into the backfield to block for Brian Lentz, who plowed into the end zone for the winning points.”

Art Davidson, MetroWest Daily News:

“It’s not as a reporter. I’ve covered a lot of Thanksgiving games, but none in the last few years since becoming sports editor and running things that day. My favorite memory was actually my sophomore year at Framingham North in 1968. We had lost to Framingham South, 12-6, in the sixth game of the season when both teams were undefeated before 5,000 fans at Bowditch Field. We later lost another game to Norwood. South lost to Walpole later in the season.

On Thanksgiving, we smoked a previously undefeated Walpole team by three touchdowns. Framingham South defeated Natick, 40-0, in Natick. Because South’s game was over first, its bus raced back to Bowditch Field in Framingham. They got there with a couple of minutes left in North’s game. The players ran onto the sideline to thank the North players for beating Walpole and giving South a share of then-named Bay State League title. The News had a great photo the next day of the two Framingham coaches with their arms around each other. The schools merged back into one high school I think in 1992.”

Carmine Frongillo, Lowell Sun:

“Best game I can think of that I covered on Thanksgiving took place in 2007 when Littleton beat Ayer (now called Ayer-Shirley), 24-21, in overtime.

Mike Rentschler kicked the winning 24-yard field goal in OT that not only lifted Littleton past Ayer, but secured the first-ever Central Mass. postseason berth in school football history.”

Bob Holmes, Boston Globe:

“This is my 25th year doing high school sports in Boston and I’ve never been to a Thanksgiving game. I plan, organize, layout, etc., everything Thanksgiving-related, but from office. I’ve never been to a game. I get into the office around 8 or 9 a.m. and I leave around 1 a.m. the next morning. I don’t have the luxury of focusing on any one game. I’ve got 100 that day. Maybe someday…if the damn lottery picks my number.”

Brendan Hall, ESPN Boston:

“Best game I’ve covered in my time was Fitchburg-Leominster in 2007, at Crocker Field (Fitchburg), one of the last articles I did in my very brief stint at the Sentinel & Enterprise. Leominster won, 14-13, after sacking Fitchburg quarterback Jeremy Kimber on a two-point pass attempt after scoring with a minute left. Leominster then ran out the clock, and the fans stormed the field. Every year this game comes down to the wire, and that adds to what I feel is already the best Thanksgiving rivalry in New England. Other than the jam-packed stadium (must have been 8-10,000), and how much the two fan sections hate each other, the two things I remember most about the post-game are A) Leominster’s running back, Alex Medina, getting mobbed by his girlfriend amidst the fans storming the field (they were wielding a Puerto Rico flag too), and B) Leominster’s captain and middle linebacker, Alex Alcala, crying after the game. I don’t know where the heck either kid is now—they certainly weren’t kids with college careers—but they’re going to remember this game 50 years from now. One of those kinds of things.

I think more than anything, that’s what these games are about—emotions, border wars, and bragging rights. The hot topic right now around here is the supposed diminishing of the Thanksgiving traditions with the new playoff system set to take hold next fall, but tell me the last time Needham-Wellesley had direct playoff implications. And yet, it is still the game that draws the most media attention, year in and year out. Tradition is tradition. Leominster is going to absolutely demolish Fitchburg this year, yet there’s still going to be 8-10,000 at the game. Why? A multitude of reasons, none of which have anything to do with playoff implications.”