Giving thanks for football, family and long bombs

·4 min read

Thanksgiving, for some, conjures up thoughts of a table creaking under the weight of a feast, turkey and stuffing and gravy and cranberry sauce in the shape of a can. Others take pleasure in becoming one with the couch, watching the parade, the dog show and the Detroit Lions with the season’s first glass of egg nog close at hand.

For me, Thanksgiving starts with a go route.

For more than 40 years now, my family has gathered for an annual Turkey Bowl game, generations challenging generations, year after year. And every single game, every single year, I begin the festivities with the same play: Everybody go long.

The Busbee family football game.
The Busbee family football game.

It’s a trick I lifted from Jerry Glanville, the crusty old Falcons coach, who did that exact maneuver to open the Georgia Dome back in 1992. Send everybody deep, throw the ball high, put the defense on their heels from the jump. Sometimes it works; the receiver gets behind his or her defender and it’s an easy touchdown. Sometimes it fails spectacularly; a crafty cornerback, knowing what’s coming, lurks and waits for the duck-like pass to come back to Earth and snags the interception.

Either way, it’s a simple ethos: start big, think big, play big.

There’s something perfect and pure and circular in these Thanksgiving games, for us and hopefully for you as well. We started out in this game as the youngsters, toddling around in the flats and waiting for a generous grownup to throw us the ball.

We grew into teenagers, all elbows and knees, faster than our parents, convinced we could call a better game than our dads and laughing at their dated references to Joe Theismann and Ken Stabler.

We edged into our twenties and welcomed significant others into the huddle, trying to explain the intricacies of fly patterns and family lore, like why that uncle and that nephew had a rivalry dating back a decade.

Soon enough, our own little kids joined the fray, not quite sure why Daddy and Mommy were running around and yelling but loving it all the same.

Our parents, the ones who taught us the game, the ones who drew up plays on our T-shirts and taught us pursuit angles and sharp cuts, are moving to the sidelines now, leaving the game to us and to the next generation.

And now, that next generation is growing up, outrunning us and out-scheming us too, scoffing at our talk of Troy Aikman and Brett Favre while they sidearm it like Patrick Mahomes.

These games have been a constant as my family has grown from three to nearly two dozen. Births, passings, marriages, divorces … we’ve ranged wide, experiencing the world in vastly different ways, but we always find our way back to the football field on the fourth Thursday in November.

It hasn’t always been pure joy. There’s always a stretch — usually when a large segment of the roster is teenagers — when someone gets their feelings hurt or someone takes “two-hand touch” to its forceful extreme. Tears have flowed, tempers have flared, cuss words have flown.

And yet we still come back every year. More than that, we sit down at the same table a few hours later. The turkey has a way of soothing hurt egos and mending rifts between siblings, cousins, friends. A deep breath, a recognition that this is just a game and we’re all family, and everything gets right-side-up again.

We’re not having a Turkey Bowl this year, of course. You may look at 2020 differently, but we’ve decided that skipping one year is the preferable option. I’ll get my kids out in the yard, and I’ll draw on their T-shirts and tell them what routes to run. It won’t be the same — two instruments can’t recreate a symphony, no matter how hard they try — but it’ll keep the tradition flickering until we can bring it back to life in 2021.

I’ve already thought about next year’s Turkey Bowl. Once again, I’ll be throwing that first pass high, and, man, I’ll be happy no matter who comes down with it.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. May all your passes be perfect spirals … and may you always remind the generations above and below you who’s the real boss.


Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at

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