Editor’s note: This article appears in the Citizen’s News’ special Thanksgiving football section published the week of Nov. 29, 2013.
The Naugatuck-Ansonia Thanksgiving Day football game is more than a game — it’s an event for the two neighboring communities nestled along the banks of the Naugatuck River.
Its storied history began on a late fall morning in 1900 and the series has become the oldest high school football rivalry in the state of Connecticut. Players throughout the generations who played in this game remember the details of their gridiron battles for the rest of their lives.
There were many moments in players’ high school careers — some with as many as 30 to 40 games — that have brought the true meaning to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. But nothing will ever compare to the memories that are cherished from cold Thanksgiving mornings in the Naugatuck-Ansonia rivalry, so the game that has become an event in their lives.
In 1942, Naugatuck senior captain and quarterback Ed Mariano went to battle against the Lavender and came up on the short end of a 26-13 final. Mariano went on to become a legendary umpire, referee, coach and educator for the borough of Naugatuck, but through all his successes he was never able to defeat Ansonia on the gridiron.
The Mariano name has graced the football field throughout the years while proudly wearing the Garnet and Grey. Ed Mariano and his wife, Dorothy, raised four sons and two daughters, who in turn made them proud grandparents of 16 grandchildren.
Their oldest son, Peter, didn’t play football but was very much a part of the Thanksgiving event by playing the national anthem on his trumpet. Chris played in the late ‘70s and was 0-2 against the Chargers before he graduated in 1979. Mark played for the Greyhounds but injured his knee as Naugatuck came away empty against Ansonia before he graduated in 1981.
Alison rooted on the Greyhounds from the sidelines as a cheerleader before graduating in 1986. The only one of Ed’s sons who had success against the Chargers was David. Naugatuck won the Naugatuck Valley League championship with a memorable, 24-20 victory on Thanksgiving Day of his junior year in 1981. The Greyhounds went on to win the Class L state championship and were named the best team in all of New England.
“I see my dad’s NVL championship ring all the time and that motivates me to go out and try and get one,” says Kevin, David’s youngest son who is a senior on this year’s squad. “We may not be playing for the NVL title anymore but we do have a good shot of making the state playoffs.”
As a senior, David had the honor of beating the Chargers again for another NVL championship in a 7-6 nail-biter. That victory put Naugatuck back in the state playoffs before it lost to New Canaan.
“That was probably the best game I will ever remember,” David says. “Ansonia was coached by (Bill) McAllister and he had about 10 Division I players on that team, with five going to UConn and two going to Yale. We had to beat them to get into states — and what a game it was.”
David and his wife, Eileen, have had the pleasure of watching all four of their sons — John, Michael, Daniel and Kevin — proudly wear the Garnet and Grey on the gridiron. John only played two years before focusing on basketball, and he is now an assistant basketball coach at St. Anselm after finishing a four-year collegiate career for the Hawks.
Michael played football and Daniel earned All-State honors as a lineman, but the brothers never enjoyed beating Ansonia on Thanksgiving Day. Kevin was in the stands at Jarvis Stadium with his freshman teammates when Naugatuck last beat the Chargers back in 2010, when the ‘Hounds won the NVL championship with a 38-20 victory.
As a sophomore, Kevin played seven games of varsity at guard only to have Ansonia beat Naugatuck, 49-14, on the last Thanksgiving game to be played on the old Veterans Field grass.
Two games into his junior season, Kevin tore up his knee and missed the rest of the season. He had to watch as Ansonia again won handily over the Greyhounds, 48-27.
In this his senior year, Kevin is the last of a long line of Marianos to wear the Garnet and Grey — for now, at least.
“There was a little bit of pressure coming into this season knowing I’m the last of the Marianos to wear this uniform,” Kevin says. “But we are having a tremendous season and Coach (Craig) Bruno had done an excellent job helping us on and off the field.”
Before the Greyhounds’ first home game on their new artificial turf in September, Naugatuck honored the late Ed Mariano, who passed away in August. The ‘Hounds went on to pull out a thrilling, 42-36 overtime win over Wolcott in one of the most dramatic finishes in Naugatuck football history.
“I’m so glad we won that game after having such an amazing ceremony for my grandfather,” Kevin says. “He must have been watching down on us. He was such an inspiration to not only me but our entire family.”
Thanks to the new uniforms Naugy sports, Kevin gets to proudly wear the Mariano name across his back. It’s one in which he will take special pride Thanksgiving morning, which could be the last game of his career.
“I’m so proud to have that name,” Kevin says. “My grandfather was a legend in this town. I will say a prayer before the game knowing he will be there with us in spirit, but it’s going to be hard knowing he’s not up there in the stands.”
As the players take the field for the Thanksgiving Day game that has become an event, the Mariano clan will be in the stands cheering on Kevin, the Greyhounds and the legacy that Ed Mariano began so many years ago.
“Being in the stands watching your son play on the same field that you did is such a special feeling, I can’t even describe it,” David says. “I just keep remembering the words of my father: ‘Give it 110 percent, leave it all on the field and have no regrets.’”