9 Gambrills families relish a spirited Thanksgiving ritual

Leftovers and turnovers

November 23, 2007|By Patrick Gutierrez | Patrick Gutierrez,Sun Reporter

It's a little after 10 a.m. in the Crofton Valley neighborhood of Gambrills, and 7-year-old Max Werking is bursting with anticipation.

The third-grader is outside, dressed in green shorts and a shirt to match, doing wind sprints up and down his family's long driveway. In a few minutes, he will be joined by others from the neighborhood, including his father, Jim, and they will make their way over to the field adjacent to the Werkings' home.

It's Thanksgiving, which for the Werkings and other Maryland residents means more than just gathering with family members and carving up a turkey. It means doing their part to strengthen community ties by paying homage to a time-honored holiday tradition: The Turkey Bowl.

In just four years, this holiday flag-football game in Gambrills has gone from a couple of families to nine. Participants yesterday ranged in age from 7 to 57.

In an era marked by 50-hour workweeks compounded by lengthy commutes, players say the game in the eight-year-old subdivision in Anne Arundel County offers them an opportunity to bond as neighbors.

"It's a great way for everyone to get together on a holiday," said Chuck Brophy, 50, a mortgage sales manager who played alongside his two sons. "Our lives are so busy we don't have a chance to spend time with our neighbors, so this is a great way to do that. It's become a tradition in the neighborhood."

James Jones Jr., 37, is one of the game's organizers. His son, James III, played alongside him while James Sr., 61, a retiree from Florida, cheered from the sidelines.

"More people come every year, which is pretty exciting for the neighborhood," Jones Jr. said. "Hopefully, next year there will be more people than this."

"Everybody plays `turkey bowls,' so we figured we'd do it, too," added the elder Werking, a U.S. marshal and another of the game's organizers. "What's better on Thanksgiving Day than football?"

As the morning progressed toward kickoff, the tranquil, tree-lined streets became filled with chatter as families left their homes and trekked to the field. It is a perfect patch of grass, undisturbed, almost as if the developer left it that way for days like yesterday. Werking and fellow organizer Jones Jr. had the field painted this year, complete with end zones, sidelines and a turkey at midfield, giving the game a more authentic feel.

The 23 participants looked the part as well, each sporting the colors of his favorite team. Werking, 43, took things a step further, emerging from his house like the second coming of former Redskin great John Riggins, complete with black socks, face paint and a crewcut (not Riggo's famous Mohawk) to go along with his Riggins throwback jersey.

As with "turkey bowls" everywhere, bragging rights were on the line in Gambrills, but another, more coveted prize awaited the winners. A wooden trophy - described as a turkey but more realistically a depiction of an outstretched hand that is bleeding from the thumb - serves as the neighborhood's Lombardi Trophy, and it is passed around from one winner's house to another until it is up for grabs again the next year.

After choosing up sides, the two newly formed teams discussed game strategy before kickoff. With the wives and younger children looking on, the game began. Within minutes, the first request for Motrin was made, not surprisingly by one of the more "seasoned" players on the field.

Laughter rang out on the field as trick plays were attempted, often with disastrous results. During the first half of play, there were so many turnovers that it began to feel like a Ravens game. On the plus side, the sun came out and the balmy weather was an improvement over last year.

As for the game itself, it took overtime for a victor to emerge. Unfortunately for Jones and his team, they wound up on the short end, meaning they would not take home the trophy this year. In keeping with tradition, they gathered at midfield to pose for the traditional losers' team picture, with each member holding up a thumb and forefinger to mark the dreaded "L" on their foreheads.

But none of those gathered seemed particularly focused on the final score, 18-12.

"I think it's pretty cool that they all get together and do this," said Roxane Jones-Pariseau, Jones Jr.'s sister, who was also visiting from Florida for the holiday. "This is like one big family out here, which is nice to see because you don't see that all over the place."

patrick.gutierrez@baltsun.com

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