Devoted To The Game

Pikesville Senior Grads Uphold A Thanksgiving Tradition Of 40 Years - Gathering On A Field To Play Football And Reconnect With Friends

November 27, 2009|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,nick.madigan@baltsun.com

What's a little fog and drizzle to football players who sometimes play in snow, sleet and driving rain?

When you've been playing the same pickup game on Thanksgiving Day for 40 years, you're not about to let a mere case of nasty weather ruin an honored tradition.

Most of the mud-spattered players, middle-aged and beyond, who were assembled Thursday on a sodden field in northwest Baltimore County graduated from Pikesville Senior High School around 1970 (before it dropped the "Senior"), and they've been playing the turkey-day game ever since - rain, shine or any condition in between. It's often the only one they play all year.

For some of the players, it's a point of pride that they've never missed a game. Well, maybe one or two.

"I figured I had to take my kids to the Thanksgiving parade in New York at least once, so I did, one year," said Michael Fish, 58. "But that was it. They didn't need to go back. And I needed to play here." Fish even broke a couple of ribs in a game three days before his wedding, but that didn't stop him from playing the following weekend.

With all this devotion to football, you might think these guys are first-rate players. No.

"If anybody was really good, they wouldn't put up with this," Howard Schloss, 57, said to a reporter as he watched a teammate take a dive in the mud. Turning to another player, Schloss asked, "Shall I tell him about my catches, or shall I tell the truth?"

As they get older, the jokes about their advancing years, and their creeping inadequacy on the gridiron, become more frequent.

"Oh, I forgot my oxygen tank!" exclaimed Joel Friedman, 57, who played basketball for Pikesville High but whose leanest years appear to be behind him. "We tease each other every year that it seems we're a step slower."

And every year, Friedman composes a poem to summon his mates to the game, which began as a venue for the guys to reconnect as they dispersed to colleges around the country. Because most came home for Thanksgiving, it seemed like the obvious day to play.

"It was good to get together and catch up," he said. "When you're young, you talk about friendships and girlfriends. When you're older, you talk about your kids. Now, a couple of these guys are grandparents."

Friedman's latest ditty is an ode to failing physiques: "Our ankles, legs and knees are all out of whack / Every part of our bodies hurt, including our backs."

Nevertheless, he wrote, it's "time to get off our behind, / For it's Turkey Bowl 2009. / Four decades ago, we played physical - we're tackling, / now it's a social event and we spend more time haggling. / Forty years ago we boast about money, athletics and sex, / we wonder about our problems and ask 'what's next?' "

"I don't compete with E.E. Cummings," Friedman said modestly from the sideline.

The dozen or so players on the field behind Pikesville Middle School represented an assortment of professions - an architect, two greetings-card merchants, a pair of accountants, a seller of components for heavy-duty machinery - and were joined in a few cases by their more nimble sons. A rabbi who usually plays was absent, as was a doctor.

Over the decades, Friedman said, the regular players have gone from performing full tackles (in their robust 20s) to the two-hand touch (in their more cautious 30s), after someone broke his nose and another player, a finger.

"Then, in our 40s, we got more lax," he said. "Now, it's one hand and a prayer."

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