How to win the Turkey Bowl, the greatest football game of the year

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(Illustration by Amber Matsumoto / Yahoo Sports)
(Illustration by Amber Matsumoto / Yahoo Sports)

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If you’re in America and you’re reading this, you’re already either on Thanksgiving vacation or pretending to work while your mind’s already on vacation. Congrats! You’ve earned it.

(If you’re not in America, this is a normal Wednesday for you. Lucky you. We haven’t had one of those around here in awhile.)

Aside from all the food-and-family traditions, the brown-and-orange color scheme, and the Christmas-shopping starting gun, one of the finest parts of the Thanksgiving holiday is the family Turkey Bowl, a time when older relatives think they’ve still got the arm that beat Holly Springs High, a time when the youngsters try to show they’re not little kids anymore, a time when everyone comes back in the house slathered in mud, a time when everyone is one play from a catastrophic don’t-tell-your-mother injury.

It’s a Faulkner novel with a five-Mississippi rush count, so hike the ball and let’s get to it.


As you prepare for the mandatory family football game — seriously, this isn’t an optional activity — I have two initial bits of advice for you:

Stretch. For heaven’s sake, stretch. You are not young, or at least not as young as you were last year, and you’re going to rip a hamstring right out of your leg if you don’t get loose first.

Go long. First play from scrimmage, send everybody deep. This is a strategy I stole from legendary football coach Jerry Glanville, who opened the Georgia Dome back in 1992 with this play, and like everything Jerry Glanville ever did, it’s genius masked as madness. The defense is never ready for the offense charging at them like the Avengers in Wakanda in “Infinity War,” and as long as your QB has the arm to sling it, someone’s going to be open. Touchdown, losers walk.

Your receivers should be running like this on the first play.
Your receivers should be running like this on the first play.


When I was a kid, we would looked forward to the Turkey Bowl games against my dad and his friends with a mixture of anticipation and horror. Two-hand touch was the rule, but they treated it more as an unhelpful suggestion. We were faster, yeah, but they were craftier, and unburdened by notions of morality, fair play or even basic human dignity.

One of the dads would charge the line bellowing like a bear with its foot caught in a trap. (Counting Mississippi? Please.) On every play, he’d violate football decorum so thoroughly that even the 1980s Miami Hurricanes would’ve said, “Hey, that’s a bit much.” He’d grab the arm of anyone rushing his quarterback and sling them face-first into the ground. Ain’t no refs in Turkey Bowl, son.

Another dad would delight in absolutely leveling us, then help us up with an apology that sure seemed nice to the bystanders but was a very clear threat to whoever’s bell had just gotten rung. (He was the father of two daughters, and I feel there may have been some messages getting sent there that extended beyond the football field.)

And then there’s my dad, the greatest playmaker this side of Nick Saban. Every year, he draws up the same five plays on the t-shirt of the youngest player on the team. Every year, while he’s in the huddle, he’ll point off in some random direction, and every year, the defense bites on it, thinking that’s the way the play is headed. Every year, we run those same five plays, and every year, they’re money. The man should’ve been an offensive coordinator, not an accountant.


If you’re looking for actual football advice, remember this: misdirection is your friend. You’re not exactly facing Belichick-caliber defenses here. The whole QB-pitches-to-RB, RB-leads-everyone-to-the-right, QB-goes-left-for-a-pass has like a 90-percent success rate in Thanksgiving football.

On defense, speed is the key. Drop your fastest player into the Deion role — roaming free in the secondary — and put that player into soft coverage so you can deke the quarterback into making a floater of a throw. A Turkey Bowl without at least three interceptions is a boring Turkey Bowl, and nobody needs those.

Remember that there are three certainties:

Someone will get injured. It will probably be an adult thinking he (yes, it’s always a “he”) is in better shape than he really is, or a kid who gets run face-first into a tree or mailbox.

Someone will pretend to get injured to get out of washing the dishes later. Hey, all's fair in love and drying duty.

Someone will fake an injury to decoy the defense. This last someone should be you. When trying to deceive a Turkey Bowl defense, ethics do not exist.

Oh, and come up with a quality touchdown celebration. This is required. Our big winner last year was “The Kentucky Derby”: one person uses the football as a bugle, and the others “race” the length of the end zone. Let your mind roam: Wrestling match. Black Friday shopper riot. Presidential debate. Hell, stage a fully choreographed “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies.” The more complex, the better.


One year, I interviewed Jerry Rice a few days before Thanksgiving, and got him to give me a guaranteed go-to move to beat my defender. He did, it worked — of course it worked — and as I ran into the end zone, I shouted, “Jerry RICE taught me that one!” I’ll keep dining out on that story until one of my nephews says, “Who’s Jerry Rice?” (The move: three steps, jab-step with the left foot, jab-step and push off with the right, turn around and enjoy your wide-open spacing.)


The rush is closing in now, so let’s wrap up and sling this. Last tips: Don’t eat dinner before the game. (Trust me.) Mix in at least one ridiculous triple-lateral trick play. Throw one pass to the littlest member of the family and let ‘em take it to the house through the grownups. Call out “Next score wins” when you’re down three touchdowns. And for the love of God, don’t forget to stretch.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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