Thanksgiving Day is the one holiday that wraps up the family traditions and sporting activities into a neat, tidy bow. All across America, in small-town USA and most all of the larger cities, high school football games precede the annual carving of the turkey, a family tradition since the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock.
The Naugatuck Valley League has seen its share of games played over the past century that have left their marks on the legacy of high school football in Connecticut. In 1939, the very first holiday football game was played at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury, a game that drew over 9,000 fans to watch the Wilby Wildcats battle the Crosby Bulldogs to a 13-13 draw.
More recently, there have been games on Thanksgiving Day that have changed the momentum of the holiday classics.
In 1987, Torrington outlasted Watertown, 49-43, in a shootout as the Raiders’ Dave Holliday rushed for over 400 yards and six touchdowns, outdueling Watertown quarterback Rico Brogna, who threw for over 400 yards and six touchdowns.
Brogna passed up a full-ride football scholarship at Clemson and went on to play professional baseball for the Tigers, Mets, Phillies, and Red Sox.
The next year, Sacred Heart held on to a 28-27 win over Wilby by stopping a two-point conversion and went on to win the Class SS state championship.
In 2005, Kennedy ended a 43-game losing streak by defeating Crosby, 20-14.
The year after, Mitch Vasquez recovered a fumble in the end zone for the only score of the game in an 8-0 Watertown victory over Torrington.
The Seymour-Woodland rivalry has witnessed a few classics of its own but nothing can compare to the foggy affair at DeBarber Field in 2007. You could barely make out the line judges on the field as a Seymour runner would emerge from the far side of the field in a virtual cloud under the lights.
Seymour went on to win the football game by a foggy, 36-35 margin and then had to play Woodland again in the state playoffs the following week at Municipal Stadium.
On the Naugatuck-Ansonia side of things, there have been more than a few games that are still talked about till this day.
Sandy Osiecki scored the only rushing touchdown of his career in the 1978 game that propelled the Chargers to a slim, 14-7 win over the Hounds to win an NVL title. Osiecki went on to quarterback the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL.
In 1981, the Greyhounds defeated Ansonia, 24-20, ending an unprecedented, 64-game win streak by the Chargers. The Hounds went on to win the state championship and were voted the No. 1 team in New England.
In 1993, Naugatuck went on to win its second state championship after stopping a six-game Thanksgiving Day winning streak by the Chargers by a convincing, 22-0 margin.
The 1994 game went down as one of the games of the century as the Chargers prevailed, 28-21, in a double-overtime thriller. Joe Edmunds took a lateral from Josh Sanford with time running out to score a touchdown with less than a minute to play.
Fans had already left Jarvis Field and had to turn around and come back after Dan Conklin scored the two-point conversion that tied the game. Ansonia prevailed for another NVL championship and the legend of this series grew.
In 2000, the Chargers did it again when Craig Behun booted a 19-yard field goal in the second overtime to pull out a 15-12 win and another NVL title.
The last time Naugatuck defeated Ansonia in this storied rivalry came in 2001 during the Greyhounds’ first season under head coach Rob Plasky, who took over for Craig Peters after his 27 years at the helm.
The 14-13 win over Ansonia sent Naugatuck to the state playoffs after it secured the NVL championship with a perfect, 10-0 record.
Jack Hunt coached his final Thanksgiving Day game in 2005, ending a 19-year career with a convincing, 33-7 victory.
Thanksgiving is filled with football memories and if your plate isn’t full enough, the NFL has added to the festivities by playing three games on the holiday. But I just don’t understand the matchups.
How did the Detroit Lions become the poster child for Thanksgiving Day football? Thanksgiving is a reminder of the Pilgrims and the Indians coming together as one spirit of humanity. Where do Lions come into that picture?
I can understand the Patriots playing the Chiefs or the Redskins playing the Cowboys. There are other teams that warrant being on the agenda: The Bills, 49ers, Vikings, Falcons, Eagles, and maybe the Bears. But in recent years we have witnessed the Dolphins on Turkey Day. What do Dolphins have to do with the first Thanksgiving celebrated in America?
Just asking. Give me, turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and gravy to go along with a good old-fashioned Redskins-Cowboys game on Thanksgiving Day.