As I mentioned, I participate in a Turkey Bowl (flag football game) every Thanksgiving morning for the last four years. Normally we play in the back of a school in a big open field, but this year we were able to play on an actual football field. Where we play is in Matteson, IL, about an hour plus away from me without traffic, which is normally the case on Thanksgiving morning. Last year it was rainy and cold, but this year was supposed to be nice and in the 50's. Unfortunately, it was actually in the 40's with a windchill in the 30's. LL was in the stands the whole time as the only fan to weather the cold the entire game. The other fans (sisters, wives, etc) gave up after three quarters and headed to their cars.
A little history of this particular game. This year was the fourth year of the event....at least I think so as it was the fourth year I've played in it. The guys with whom I play, or at least organize it, sit near me at the Bears games and/or are friends/relatives of theirs. The first year we had about 6-8 people per side and the team I was on won by a huge margin led by me at quarterback. The second year, I was a captain for picking teams, had probably 10 people per side and my team lost by a ton as I threw 5 or 6 interceptions. Just awful. So last year, with that game as a recent memory, I was chosen last (or close to it) and quarterbacked our team to a rout where I was named the offensive MVP (by my team's captain, so it's official!).
This year, as every year, there were some new players and a lot of the regulars. The captains were chosen and I was chosen first.....a questionable choice, but probably based on last year's performance. The other team's captain was my good buddy Doug and I was really hoping we could play together like last year, but he lost the coin flip and had the second pick. New to the game this year, unknown to most of the people, was a Robert Morris College football player who runs a 4.4 -40, basically the fastest guy we've seen who is not on TV. He went to the other team and played QB for them, but had a very different style than me. While I prefer to get as many people involved as possible (a holdover mandate from my co-ed football days), he ran the ball himself probably 75% of the time.
That included a play midway through the first quarter where he ran 50 yards for a score, though we stopped the extra point. On our first possession, we drove the ball down the field eating up most of the clock in the first half. It's just what you should do when the other team has an explosive player: be methodical, don't take chances, keep the ball out of his hands. Textbook ball control offense. Unfortunately I threw an interception in the endzone to kill the drive. It wouldn't be my last either. Also along the way, my teammates dropped probably five passes, several of which could have changed the course of events. No excuses though, just foreshadowing.
As the half wound down, their QB threw a pass that was actually completed down to the 3 yard line, but time expired and we went into halftime down 6-0. A couple of more players showed up late, so now we had 8 a side starting the second half and we started with the ball. On the second play, I hit one of the new guys on a stop-and-go down the sideline with a perfect pass that he caught in stride to tie the game at 6-6. Our extra point failed as well, so it was back to defense.
On their next possession, their QB ran the ball down the field and scored quickly, including the extra point where he jumped into the endzone from the 3, to go up 13-6. We marched the ball on our next drive, despite more drops, and had first down around the 10. Twice I made bad throws to wide open receivers in the endzone, two of my worst throws of the day. On third down, I hit my receiver right in the chest on the goal line, and the ball popped up in the air....got tipped by a defender.....into another of my teammates hands for a tying score. The extra point failed again and we were down 13-12.
As the fourth quarter rolled on, we stopped them with an interception and now had the ball in our hands with only about 2 minutes left. We had to drive down the field and score and there wasn't much time. On the second play, I threw a deep ball, into the wind and it was intercepted by....yes, their QB. He ran it all the way back for a touchdown. A pick 6 that's called. Ugh. Fortunately we stopped the extra point conversion, but were down 19-12 and only about 75 seconds left to play.
One of our speedy guys, who had hands of stone, caught the kickoff and ran it back to midfield before being tackled (yes tackled) by the other team. After the 15 yard penalty was marked off, we had the ball around their 40. After hitting a receiver for a short gain in bounds, I twice found a soft spot in their zone on the left side of the field for 15 yard gains. We got the ball down to their ten and I spiked the ball to stop the clock with 16 seconds left. On the next play, I scrambled right, came back left and threw over the middle hitting our team captain right in the chest in the endzone with the ball....and he dropped it. He was crushed, with his head hanging. He's only in his late teens, early 20's at most, so I went over to him and told him to shake it off because we still needed his head in the game. Now there was only 6 seconds left....last play. Again I scrambled right, avoided a three man rush, came back left and there was the team captain open in the exact same spot as the last play. I delivered another strike and this time he caught it for six points. We were down 19-18 and were faced with a decision, do we go for the tie or for the win?
I looked over to the stands to see LL there all alone and looking very cold and told my teammates we were going to man-up, go for two and win the game. The snap came from the 15 yard line and I rolled right before avoiding the rush and going back left again. As I approached the middle of the field, I stopped, planted and delivered a strike to the right side of the endzone to the same guy who caught our first touchdown pass in stride to start the half. He grabbed and the game was over! 20-19 victory and the best Turkey Bowl of the bunch. There were lots of high-fives and chest bumps on our side, drooped heads and shrugging shoulders on the other side. We lined up to shake hands as we do each year and this year there were as many hugs as high fives.
Though I was very happy for our win, I felt bad for the other team's players, other than the QB. As I mentioned, he ran the ball probably 75% of the time which means most of the guys on their team had a chance at one, maybe two passes and that's it. The players on my team, most of them at least, had the ball thrown to them 4-6 times each and probably had a better time even if we hadn't won.
Offensive MVP for the game? Well, their QB had 2 TD runs and an interception return for a TD and threw one pick. I threw 2 picks and 3 TD's. If it were Heisman voting, I don't think I'd stand a chance, but I'm 3-1 in Turkey Bowls!