Everything I ever wanted to tell you about Thanksgiving.
(Ha! But maybe only a little bit.)
Suggestion for Strib columnist Patrick Reusse regarding the selection process for his annual “Turkey of the Year.” Choose a media person. Hint: It’s “low hanging fruit.”
My most memorable Thanksgiving Day sports event was the 1963 Golden Gophers football game at Memorial Stadium when Minnesota defeated Wisconsin 14-0 while earning some payback from a controversially officiated defeat in Madison the year before. The game on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, had been moved from the previous Saturday because President John Kennedy was assassinated November 22, and the nation was in turmoil and mourning.
Gopher 1962 All-American tackle Bobby Bell recalled meeting President Kennedy in the Murray Warmath book, The Autumn Warrior. The president knew of Minnesota’s frustrating fourth quarter 14-9 loss to the Badgers in 1962 and said to him later in the fall: “Bobby Bell! You’re the one who got that really bad roughing call against you a couple of weeks ago in that big game against Wisconsin, right?”
Warmath, the Gophers coach who probably would have won his second Big Ten title in three years if not for the 1962 officiating in Madison, had an eye for talent and a sense of humor: “No mule ever won the Kentucky Derby,” Warmath liked to say.
BTW I am starting a new tradition in advance of Saturday’s Minnesota-Wisconsin game in Minneapolis. Gopher fans are asked to wear lumberjack shirts (no red) this week to ensure good fortune that Paul Bunyan’s Axe remains in Dinkytown for a third consecutive year.
While the Gophers are practically strangers to Thanksgiving football, the Vikings are not, having played nine times on the holiday. Last year the Vikings defeated the Patriots 33-26 in their only home Thanksgiving Day game ever when Kene Nwangwu worked up an appetite with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
All-time on turkey day the Vikes are 3-2 against the Lions, 3-0 against the Cowboys and 1-0 with the Patriots for a 7-2 record. A favorite is the 1998 game in Texas when rookie wide receiver Randy Moss took revenge on the Cowboys who bypassed him in the NFL Draft after reportedly first indicating they would select him. Moss caught three passes in the game for 163 yards and all the receptions resulted in touchdowns during Minnesota’s 46-26 win.
No matter when you eat on Thanksgiving the NFL will be right there with you. The lineup Thursday: Packers at Lions, 11:30 a.m., Commanders at Cowboys; 2:30 p.m., 49ers at Seahawks, 8:20 p.m.
Football and food? The facts are these: it takes something like 15 hours to prepare the Thanksgiving feast and about 15 minutes (the length of halftime) to consume much of it.
And woe to those who don’t show appreciation and lend a hand to the preparers of the extravaganza. Without gratitude and willingness to help, there might be no TV football for you and dirty looks at the table could bring on a bad case of indigestion.
My worst and unexpected Thanksgiving drama? Being part of a pro rasslin’ promotion to raise funds for charity and hearing a cascade of boos rein down from the rafters of the old St. Paul Auditorium. Go figure.
Nobody on TV had more fun with football and Thanksgiving than the late John Madden, the Austin, Minnesota native. See what kind of look you get from a butcher if you ask for a Madden favorite, the six-legged turkey! I know we won’t have to count turkey legs beyond two on our bird.
At our house we spend considerable time talking about where to buy, what size and how to cook the turkey. How many pounds will feed how many people for how many days? Do we cover the bird with tin foil to enhance moisture? Maybe we’re influenced this year by a TV talking head who boasted about finding a Butterball at 99 cents per pound.
Temptation has crept into the process this year. We’ve seen wild turkeys in the yard lately, and I’ve pondered securing one for the Thanksgiving table. I am adept at throwing golf clubs and thought that might be a quiet way to knock off a gobbler. Restraint won out when I thought of cleaning the fowl.
Turkey is not for everyone, though. Vikings offensive guard Dalton Risner grew up on a ranch in Colorado and the family was a fan of another bird. “The fried chicken was just more crunchy, more juicy, just better,” he told Sports Headliners.
One year, Risner and his sibs were each tasked with making various parts of the holiday meal. “Yeah, of course we bombed out. I think mom and dad said it was all good, but you know we did something wrong.”
Risner’s mom made her version of Mississippi Mud Pie for dessert—brownies, layered with marshmallow cream and covered in chocolate frosting. A visitor suggested last week that sounded mouth-watering. “I got a sweet tooth, too, man,” Risner said. “Pumpkin bars, pecan pie. It’s going to be a good week, next week.”
Talk Thanksgiving with Viking defensive back Cam Bynum, and along with the importance of spending time with family comes a memory from Black Friday. He recalls his “sneaker head days” in California when he used to collect shoes. “In high school I’d go camp out (at a store with family) and wait in line for shoes, standing there for 12-plus hours, and that was a lot of fun for me.”
At our table we’ll have family from out of town and nearby. We’ll eat until everyone is high on sugar and then play games. I like the ones for ages 4 to 10.
Part of the emphasis in the Gophers football program is serving and giving to the community. Not just Thanksgiving week but other parts of the year, too. So, I asked Gophers’ football coach P.J. Fleck about gratitude yesterday.
He made the point that there are people who only want to be grateful for the good things in their lives. “A lot of things that you’re grateful for are the hardest things you’ve been through in your life because they teach you the biggest lessons—some of the most tragic, some of the hardest things you get through,” he said. “You do as you get older…find the gratitude in that and find out what it teaches you.”
Thank you for reading this space today and throughout the year!