Thanksgiving weekend is almost here, and so is a four-day football feast that will serve up unlimited helpings of America’s favorite sport. While the Patriots will garner the media spotlight as they take on the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving afternoon, nearly 100,000 fans will pack the bleachers and stand two or three deep behind roped-off end zones of high school football fields in the chill of Thanksgiving morning to watch timeless rivalries that are as much of a communal experience around Boston as the postgame family meal. It will be a fantastic pigskin doubleheader for die-hard Boston sports fans.
One of the most storied Turkey Day matchups takes place at Harvard Stadium when Boston Latin and Boston English take the field. These two high schools have such a rich history that Boston English, which was founded in 1821, is really a newcomer when it is compared to Boston Latin, America’s oldest school, founded in 1635. The two schools first butted heads on November 25, 1887, on Boston Common, and they haven’t stopped since, making the annual battle the longest uninterrupted high school football rivalry in the country. Latin took that first game, and it has dominated English in recent years. The game no longer draws twenty thousand fans as it did decades ago, but it is still part of the fabric of the city’s history.
Another fierce rivalry is the Thanksgiving tilt between Needham and Wellesley. The Rockets and the Raiders first played in 1882, and the matchup is the oldest public high school rivalry in the country. The early years of the rivalry were a bit colorful. The 1887 battle was declared a scoreless tie when spectators stormed the field and brought down runners heading toward the end zone. The contest the following year didn’t go much better. Wellesley withdrew in protest because Needham’s lineup included college and semiprofessional players, including a father of a Needham student. The 1896 tilt got off to an inauspicious start when the opening kickoff landed in the crowd, and the ball vanished. The game was delayed for nearly an hour before another ball could be found.
Thanksgiving matchups between Malden and Medford, Beverly and Salem, Amesbury and Newburyport, Durfee and New Bedford, Fitchburg and Leominster, Newton North and Brookline, and Falmouth versus Barnstable all date back to the 1800s. (Other traditional prep school rivalries, such as Phillips Andover-Phillips Exeter, that date back to the nineteenth century are played earlier in November.) Football fans have plenty of other enticing rivalries to choose from for their Thanksgiving viewing pleasure including East Boston-South Boston, Framingham-Natick, Brockton-Waltham, Lynn Classical-Lynn English, and Everett-Cambridge.
And for some real Thanksgiving flavor, take in the game between Plymouth North and Plymouth South. Football wasn’t on the menu at the first Thanksgiving feast in Plymouth Colony, but surely even those dour Pilgrims wouldn’t begrudge honoring another New England tradition.
High school teams in eastern Massachusetts that capture their league crowns and win an opening playoff game earn a slot in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Super Bowls. Since 2007, all Super Bowl games (except for one of the lower divisions) have been played at Gillette Stadium. The games are played on the second Saturday after Thanksgiving, with the slate of games starting at 9 AM. Tickets cost $13 for adults and $10 for children, students, and seniors. Tickets are good for all six games, but re-entry is not allowed. Parking is free, but no tailgating is allowed. The concession stands in the stadium are open, but alcohol is not served.
You can find more sports tips and history from Christopher Klein in his book, The Die-Hard Sports Fan’s Guide to Boston. Happy Turkey Day sports fans!