The game was a beat-down of epic proportions. It was actually close at the beginning, both teams knotted at a touchdown, but the wheels of my team soon began to lose their grip from the proverbial axle. I would not say that the wheels “fell off” necessarily. This would imply that they simply came loose and rested in place. They actually flew off at quite an alarming rate and at last sight were still making their way down the street, women and children scattering in their wake.
In case you are wondering, I am not talking about the Carolina-Clemson game. This game was not necessarily a beat-down and was not “of epic proportions.” (Being a Gamecock fan though, I figured I would go ahead and bring it up since we seldom have a chance to celebrate this game as the victor.) I am also not talking about the Gamecocks and the SEC Championship game. Lord knows, I do not intend to revisit that debacle in these pages. We’ll save that for another day. The game I refer to is one of joy and pain, laughter and tears, honor and family betrayal. The game is our annual Turkey Bowl football game played every year at Thanksgiving at our house in Camden. My team lost miserably.
Now, to be sure, this is not your average Thanksgiving football game. Please do not delude yourself with images of the Kennedys tossing the pigskin around on the front lawn in sundresses and nautical-themed pants. We actually change for this game. Oh, we start out with good intentions. We include everyone, young and old, male and female, talented and my brother. (Sorry, that is the sore loser coming out). We try to pretend, at first, that it is all just for fun. We pick teams and make sure everyone gets equal playing time. We pat each other on the back, award close calls to the opposing team, count our “Mississippi’s” with a deliberate, reasoned pace, and generally abide by all rules of conduct and etiquette. This does not last long.
It is an awesome sight to watch 40-plus-year-old men play like they were in high school again. The mind encourages this behavior. Physical competition apparently awakens something in the human brain that says “yes, you can do this!” no matter the age. The body, however, is another story. The body starts as a willing accomplice, but at some point says to the brain: “I’m sorry, you want me to do what?” The brain almost always wins the argument and feels renewed and alive the next day. The body loses and aches for days.
We inevitably have several injuries every year and at times the fourth quarter has ended in the emergency room. Last year was the “face plant” by my 49-year-old cousin. The year before that was the sprained back -- yes another 40-plus-something honoree. Three years ago I had the pleasure of enduring a dislocated finger accompanied by the unsuccessful attempted resetting by my cousin who put his beer down and said with confidence: “I can fix that.” They say my face turned completely white.
Given all of this, we continue to play. The game has turned into quite a tradition and, at this point, we could not stop playing on Thanksgiving if we wanted to. We do not want to stop, actually. Each year after the game, the winners and losers take separate pictures on the front steps with the trophy. (Yes, we actually have a trophy.) We are all sweaty and tired. The pictures have started to become a timeline of the family. It is amazing to look through them and see how much everyone has grown and changed. As I look through the pictures, I also notice something else. I can’t tell who won or lost. Everyone is smiling.
In the end, I guess this is how it should be. I guess this is what family is about: playing hard, enjoying life, celebrating the accomplishments, consoling the failures, sometimes fighting, sometimes arguing, but always, in the end, coming together. So Happy Holidays to you all -- oh, and next year, the other team is definitely going down.