BEACHWOOD, Ohio — Henry James said that “It takes an endless amount of history to make even a little tradition.”
Today, I got to be a part of a tradition that has history to spare.
I got up early this Thanksgiving morning and decided to skip watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. After all, I do that every year and it never changes much. What did I miss? Some marching bands? Some vexingly perky balloon rope holders? Some bad lip-synching by Disney pop stars I’ve never heard of because I’m as old as Disco? Let me guess: Santa was bringing up the rear? Gasp!
It’s a charming tradition, but it feels a bit tired and I wanted to witness a different kind of Thanksgiving tradition this year. So I woke up, drove to the east side and watched a bunch of dudes play football in the rain.
They are clearly not the only group of friends in town that gets together to play some football every Thanksgiving morning. And while no one would argue that some groups might play better, it’s safe to say few have been playing longer.
46 years to be exact.
Each Thanksgiving in front of the Fairmount Temple in Beachwood, a gathering of friends take to the gridiron for their yearly matchup. Of course, there has been some turnover. Only a select few have been here for all 46 outings. Most by now have found themselves overwhelmed by logic at some point and taken their leave, at least by the time they became eligible for social security.
Some departing members have been replaced by sons or grandsons. Some who once played now elect to participate in the less exhilarating, but far less hazardous role of supportive spectators.
These are accomplished men, if not on the playing field then in their respective professions. These are lawyers and bank presidents and chairpersons of numerous boards. But here on the field of battle, all are equal and no one is safe from a tumble in the mud, no matter what their social status or credit score.
As good fortune would have it, there are a few doctors and other medical professionals on the field, an advantage to be sure as the game has featured no shortage of both minor and major injuries over the years. One doctor relays to me harrowing tales of treating stoved fingers, broken clavicles and inadvertently gouged eyes in his time. He describes it with the detached demeanor of a Civil War doctor coldly recounting his grisly battlefield surgeries at Antietam.
Was this the best example of football that I would see today? Absolutely not. But I also know it would not be the worst, because the Detroit Lions played at noon.
Everyone has their own Thanksgiving traditions. Some families watch a particular holiday movie, Some people play board games, others get together way too early on a chilly, rainy patch of grass to roll around in the mud for a while, for 46 years in a row.
They’ll face off again next year, same place, same time.
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