I don't intend to overeat and I don't intend to over-indulge on football. Both are easy to do on Thanksgiving Day.
The traditional Thanksgiving meal is a feast, and so is the football menu. My extensive research for this piece -- that was maybe five minutes -- shows that football has been played on this day since the Pilgrims arrived ... well, since the start of college football more than 100 years ago.
If I recall correctly, Texas vs. Texas A&M was a Thanksgiving Day tradition. Now, of course, they no longer play each other (for the time being). But Texas still wants to play at home on Thanksgiving, and so tonight Texas Tech is the opponent, and next year LSU will be at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving.
Of course, we more closely identify Thanksgiving football with the NFL. Today will be the 74th time that Detroit will be the host for the early game (the tradition began in 1934). The Cowboys have played the afternoon game since 1966 (with the exception of 1975 and 1977, when the then-St. Louis Cardinals were the attraction).
In 2006, a third Thanksgiving game -- at night -- was added. Geez, did we really need that?
But -- and this is mostly for my old friends from Shreveport -- when I first identified with football on Thanksgiving Day, it meant Byrd vs. Fair Park.
For about 30 years, it was Yellow Jackets vs. Indians on Thanksgiving afternoon at State Fair Stadium. It was our "Game of the Year" every year; it drew the biggest crowds of the year (probably 25,000 to 30,000), and almost always determined which team was going to the state playoffs.
I know that Minden vs. Springhill and Homer vs. Haynesville were Thanksgiving Day regulars through the 1930s, '40s, '50s and into the '60s, and there probably were other traditional rivalries on that day throughout the state ... and the nation.
For instance, I know the two oldest public high schools in Jacksonville, Fla. -- where I worked for several years -- played on Thanksgiving Day. Lee vs. Jackson was the big attraction at the Gator Bowl Stadium, the one where the men and boys wore suits; the women dressed fancily and wore corsages; and each team talked and thought about beating the other every day of the year.
Same with Byrd and Fair Park.
It was purple and gold, The City of Byrd, vs. yellow and black, the Tribe from The Reservation.
|Lee Hedges, Fair Park's star running back in 1947, playing against|
Byrd on Thanksgiving Day (photo from Ernie Roberson's
timeline collectionon Facebook; he got it from a Fair Park site)
"We never talked about championships at Fair Park," Coach Hedges said. "We talked about beating Byrd on Thanksgiving Day. That was the main goal. Anything beyond that I don't remember them talking about that very much.
My Woodlawn friends will swear that our rivalry with Byrd in the 1960s was unmatched. And it was an intense rivalry. But I'd be hard-pressed to call it a bigger rivalry than Byrd-Fair Park over all those years.
Those schools came into being almost together -- Byrd opened in the fall of 1926, Fair Park in 1928. It was, and maybe this is a cliche', a cultural clash.
Byrd was just a couple of miles from downtown with an upscale enrollment, sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers, oil and gas execs, one-time debutantes turned Junior Leaguers, and the city's politicians, movers and shakers. It was a school known for academic achievement -- and its leaders didn't mind bragging about it.
Fair Park was the school out west of town -- right across from the State Fairgrounds and State Fair Stadium, with hard-scrabble kids whose parents were blue-collar workers, and some of the kids actually had to come into the city limits to go to school.
Woodlawn, which opened in 1960 as the third white public high school in town, was much more like Fair Park than Byrd.
But let's tone this down, and be realistic. Byrd had its less-fortunate kids; Fair Park had its well-to-do kids. Still, the feeling was Fair Park (and later Woodlawn) was "the other side of the tracks."
So feelings, and maybe jealousy, ran deep.
I came into the rivalry late; I had never seen a high school game in any sport until my ninth-grade year (fall 1961). I had read about Byrd and Fair Park in the newspaper and two of the older kids who lived across the street had gone to Fair Park, but I knew little about the depth of the rivalry.
As the Thanksgiving Day game approached, Byrd always had "Go West Day" when its students dressed up as cowboys. Fair Park had "Beat Byrd Day" when its kids dressed as Indians and teepees were built on the front lawn in front of the school.
And so, I saw one Byrd-Fair Park football game on Thanksgiving Day ... the last one, in 1962. Byrd clinched the district championship with a resounding 28-0 victory and got the only playoff spot from District 1-AAA (only the champions advanced), leaving -- yes -- Woodlawn in second place.
(That day, in 1962, also was one of the most memorable Detroit Lions' Thanksgiving Day games. From 1951 to 1963, the Lions' opponent for that game each year was the Green Bay Packers. In 1962, the Packers were the defending NFL champs and came in 10-0. But the Lions sacked Bart Starr 11 times -- beat him up, really -- and beat the Pack 26-14. How notable was it? It was the only game Green Bay lost all season.)
A vivid memory of that Byrd-Fair Park game in '62: Some Fair Park students boldly crossed over to the Byrd side of the stadium -- Fair Park always was on the stadium's East side, closest to the school across the street -- and stole the papier mache Jack the Jacket mascot.
They damn near got it to the top of the stadium and were going to send Jack flying to the ground before a Byrd posse got there and saved Jack's crown. It wasn't that funny. But Byrd did get the last laugh on the football field.
Starting in 1963, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association state football playoffs expanded, with the second-place team in each district also advancing. That meant starting the playoffs earlier, and so Thanksgiving Day was too late for a regular-season game.
Byrd vs. Fair Park became just another final regular-season night game.
Here, though, is one endearing memory from the Byrd-Fair Park rivalry. This was a Byrd student section special.
Because in the early '60s, Byrd regularly beat Fair Park in football and because Byrd also had Fair Park's number in basketball -- at one point Byrd won 21 of 22 in the series (even in the 1962-63 season when Fair Park won the state title, Byrd won four of the teams' five meetings) -- the Byrd student section during those heated basketball games regularly taunted Fair Park with this chant, "Same Way Turkey Day! ... Same Way Turkey Day!"
Well, it's no longer same way Turkey Day, is it?
But the memories of a great time, a great regular event, in Shreveport athletics carries on with those of us who remember. Even those of us from Woodlawn could appreciate the historic schools, Byrd and Fair Park.