The Five Stages of The Middle-Aged Turkey Bowl

Is it halftime yet?

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Thanksgiving weekend in America in 2016 is about many things—rage-yelling political things at family members, tasty deals on 4K TVs, gravy intoxication—but it’s mainly about giving thanks for football. And watching NFL football. And for many of us, playing football in our yearly Turkey Bowl game.

There are different versions of the Turkey Bowl, of course. Lots are held at the Thanksgiving gathering itself, usually played among kinfolk with a Nerf ball and little regard for the outcome. Others are played Thanksgiving morning or Friday or Saturday, and they have been for decades. These are more strenuous affairs, usually involving neighbors and friends and friends-of-friends and usually some random ex-Division III linebacker who nobody really knows, but who’s there anyway (wearing eye-black and ankle tape). Some Turkey Bowls involve tackle football, but not the smart ones; after all, there are tradition-rich, long-standing Turkey Bowls and there are tackle Turkey Bowls, but there are not both.

For my friends and our group, our Turkey Bowl consists of flag-football on Thanksgiving morning, at 10:00-ish, before the holiday chaos—but instead of flags we use socks. We set up a field for ourselves and a field for our kids and a hot cider-and-whisky stand in between. It’s been done this way for I-don’t-know-how-many years now. The long-term plan has always been to play until we physically can’t or until one of us sustains a fatal groin injury … and then we’ll simply set up only the kids’ field and the whisky stand and ease into the “Turkey Bowl Spectators” phase of our lives. Pass the ruptured ligaments and so forth on to the next generation. That time will come sooner rather than later, I fear. But not before next Thursday.

No, we will play for now—grave physical risks be damned. The fun still outweighs the very real possibility of death, but just barely. We will play our brand of unsightly, unwieldy, old-man football (“THREE YARDS AND A PUDDLE OF LACTIC ACID”) and we will require hot whisky and chiropractic care to make us right again. I’ve seen this movie before. I’ve seen it too many times, really. Below are the inevitable stages of how our Turkey Bowl—and yours, probably—will unfold, because we are complete idiots.

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STAGE 1: THE WARMUP

Oh man, this is the absolute best! Everything is perfect: the cool, crisp air … the giddy anticipation of playing football again for the first time in 364 days … functioning lungs. Everyone’s healthy and laughing and running deep routes under arching spirals, forgetting that we’re not 19 years old—but still remembering to stretch occasionally. In our minds’ eye, we’re an L.L. Bean ad featuring a group of athletic guys in earth-toned cable-knit sweaters galloping atop fallen leaves and expertly hurling footballs. (In reality, we’re a meandering blob of arthritis and hangovers wearing 1997 Vancouver Grizzlies sweatpants—but so what?) It’s the pinnacle of the Turkey Bowl, really. The high-water mark. Wise men would stop right after The Warmup, of course. We are not that.

Energy level: Red-lined giddiness. Like we all snorted bath salts and Red Bull.

Physical health: Fantastic!! Nary a herniated disc to be found!

Football acumen: WE ARE GRIDIRON GODS.

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STAGE 2: THE FIRST SIX (?) TOUCHDOWNS

Still riding the endorphin wave of The Warmup, we’ll manage to piece together something vaguely resembling respectable football. (For fat 40-something-year-olds, I mean.) There will be five or six nice completions, two pick-6s, and an argument about if the runner stepped out-of-bounds or not. Someone will undoubtedly drop a critical, WIDE-OPEN pass and everyone will make fun of him until June. Someone else will have their shirt ripped. After three or four or five touchdowns, the group as a whole will determine that halftime will commence after the next touchdown. Also: nobody is exactly sure what the score is.

Energy level: Reasonably elevated.

Physical health: Aside from the occasional inability to breathe after running, not bad!

Football acumen: Surprisingly okay given that nobody’s played football or sprinted in a year.

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STAGE 3: HALFTIME

We’ll fill our cups and sit down and rest/have a drink/make fun of whoever had the worst play of the first half. Also during this timeframe: a thousand cubic yards of lactic acid begin coursing through our veins. We can hear our hamstrings solidifying. We’ll debate the idea of just sitting there and watching the kids’ game and drinking our hot cider-and-whisky, but we never do for some reason.

Energy level: Dropping quickly.

Physical health: Worrisome (due to non-functioning joints).

Football acumen: Nobody is warming up for the second half if that’s what you’re asking.

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STAGE 4: THE DEATH MARCH TO THE END

If I could go back and chart the injuries sustained by the group over the years, I am confident that 96,000,000,000 percent of them happened in the first four minutes of the second half. People start dropping like there’s sniper fire. More touchdowns will be scored, but nobody will be winning. Everyone will be losing. The game will quickly cease to resemble anything other than Electric Football; nothing but slow, random movements that only end when someone manages to bump into someone else. Someone will sound the NEXT-TOUCHDOWN-WINS siren and nobody will disagree. That is how the winner is determined most years, naturally. Not by cumulative score, but by scoring the last touchdown.

Energy level: Minus-872.

Physical health: Praying for the sweet, sweet release of death.

Football acumen: Curtis-Painter-y mixed with vertigo.

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STAGE 5: THE POSTMORTEM

We will survive the Turkey Bowl to some extent, but we will not prosper. We will soothe our psyches and separated shoulders over booze while watching the kids play, and it will help for a bit. It will help until the soreness creeps in—typically at around 6:28 that evening. Unyielding, unmerciful, crippling soreness that will truly and genuinely impact day-to-day living for a fortnight. It is not an inexpensive price to pay. But it is one we will pay gladly. Until we can’t. Because we are complete idiots.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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