Coach: Time-honored Turkey Bowls are one of America's great traditions

  • As kids get older, they take it a little easier on the adults so nobody suffers any debilitating predinner injuries.

      As kids get older, they take it a little easier on the adults so nobody suffers any debilitating predinner injuries. Rick West | Staff Photographer, November 2003

  • Kids vs. adults, family vs. family and neighbors vs. neighbors -- there are all sorts of rivalries when it comes to Thanksgiving Turkey Bowl football games.

    Kids vs. adults, family vs. family and neighbors vs. neighbors -- there are all sorts of rivalries when it comes to Thanksgiving Turkey Bowl football games. Daily Herald file photo

  • Jon Cohn

    Jon Cohn

Posted11/24/2021 8:00 AM

Forget about baseball, hot dogs and apple pie.

The best American tradition going just might be tomorrow's (assuming you are reading this on Wednesday) Turkey Bowl football games.


A great American tradition that can be seen in full panoramic view just by roaming around and observing some of the many games going on in our Glenview and Northbrook parks.

You will see all types of games. Some are huge gatherings, with many more than the normal 11 on each side. I have seen "Thanksgiving morning quarterbacks" drop back to pass and attempt the impossibility of trying to locate a receiver among the 16 people going out for a pass, which is made even tougher by the fact that few are wearing the same jerseys. So, first, you have to figure out who is actually on your team before trying to throw to them.

Other games are smaller, traditional outings with similar teammates locking horns every year. Maybe it is one side of the street vs. the other. It might be family vs. family, or maybe even the kids against the adults (more on that in just a bit).

Some of the games have been going on for years, passed on through generations. Some are fairly new, with the millennials and Gen X picking up the baton and starting their own traditions.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service

I have even witnessed, in shocked horror, some of these newer, younger games breaking long-standing tradition and playing soccer instead of football on Thanksgiving morning. Oh, the agony!

But whatever the case, and whatever the size of the game, or how long it has been going on, Turkey Bowl football is a wonderful tradition. One that makes this, for many folks, their favorite holiday of all.

And again, there is nothing more Americana than these annual Thanksgiving morning extravaganzas. After all, Thanksgiving is the ultimate American holiday -- exclusive only to us, with football truly America's game now, not baseball.

Case in point, I guarantee you that "turkey bowl football" is not real big in Spain, Italy, Australia, or Africa. Odds are extremely strong that you can travel the parks and fields of Vancouver, B.C., Canada; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the Bahamas; or St. Petersburg, Russia, and you won't find families, friends and neighbors engaged in a spirited game of touch (or maybe flag) football.


Nope. Only in America. And only on this special day.

For me, personally, the tradition of the games runs deep. In our 20s and early 30s -- before kids and having families -- our group of friends would go out and play every Thanksgiving morning, bright and early. Well, early at least, as the "bright" part was a bit of a struggle.

Back then, just showing up in the morning, by itself, was a gargantuan accomplishment because, as many are aware, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is maybe the biggest party night of the year for the young and the restless, which we definitely were at the time.

So, after an extremely late night out, including a downtown excursion that required the dire need of a designated driver, just waking up the next morning and getting yourself to the 9 a.m. game time was a monumental task.

But we did. En masse. Every year, Same time, same field, same people, same game, and no matter what the conditions. Those that have partaken in this Turkey Bowl football morning tradition know that the weather this time of year can range from ice storm and snow and cold all the way down to bring your T-shirt high sixties with sun shining-and just about everything else in between.

But the true Turkey Bowl enthusiasts play regardless of the wet, the mud, or the snow. Time marches on, and so do the proud recreational warriors of this football tradition.

Interestingly for our group of gridiron grunts, the advent of marriage, families and kids quickly changed the tradition. Soon, we would bring the little kids out, and the games would include the kids, playing alongside the adults. It became a wonderful tradition with the moms and dads helping the little ones and getting them involved in the game, followed by a halftime break of some delicious hot chocolate, coffee, doughnuts and more.

The kids loved it, as did the adults.

But here is the thing, and it kind of, without getting to philosophical here, refers to the wonderful "cycle of life." As luck would have it, every year the adults got a bit older, and the kids got a bit bigger. Shockingly, this trend continued until, fast forward maybe just short of a decade later, when the game changed in both personality and style.

Now it was the kids -- turned teens -- having to take it easy on us, the older adults.

The very same "little ones" who we assisted and helped a few years back, were now, in a classic case of role reversal taking it at least somewhat easy on us the adults. Making sure no moms or dads suffered any predinner debilitating injuries.

Note, I said "somewhat," because in the years we started playing the kids vs adults, their concerns for our injuries and our overexerting, definitely took a distant second to making sure they beat us and beat us good. It was almost as if the youngsters were taking out on their many years of frustrations over bedtimes, curfews, and other household induced teenage restrictions.

This spirited parents vs. kids rivalry also produced more than a few heated arguments which, fortunately, were well tempered by those aforementioned hot chocolate and mini-powdered doughnuts at halftime.

(Writer's note: for a few years the dads and moms put up a good fight vs. the now-grown kids. Postscript? Those years are over).

I know many of you reading this now can relate to your own Thanksgiving morning turkey bowl traditions. The good times, the bad, and just about everything else in between. The stories and fun memories can literally last a lifetime.

So please, enjoy today, the best holiday of them all. Eat well, revel in all the family gatherings, and stay safe if you happen to be one of those early morning maniacs running around a slippery pylon lined football field.

Even more importantly, if you see any of the "younger generation" out there this early morning, and they are playing soccer? Please stop and tell them just for today -- it is football only.

Our American tradition says so.

• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and prep sports fan. To contact him with comments or story ideas, email

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.