The 32nd edition of the Brighton Turkey Bowl, Thanksgiving 2019 at Reifsteck Field, Brighton High School [Photo: David Kramer]
Alas, due to the pandemic, this year Brighton High School will not host the annual Turkey Bowls played at Reifsteck Field and adjacent practice fields. The Turkey Bowl tradition in which friends gather on Thanksgiving Day for passes, fumbles, laughs, and bragging rights has a long history in Monroe County.
In Maplewood Park, the “Wood Bowl” (a variant of the Turkey Bowl) was first played in 1966 by Aquinas Institute students. According to a 2004 Democrat and Chronicle the tradition was still going strong 38 years later. The Turkey Bowl at Indian Landing School in Brighton was first played in 1968 by members of Boy Scout 37. The “Bill Seccombe Turkey Bowl” was first played at the Florence Brasser School field (Gates Chili) in 1974, and continues to this day. The Brighton High School game originated in 1986 or 1987. The Webster game started in 1995. The Turkey Bowl at Pittsford Mendon High School is a relative newcomer, begun in 2004.As seen by the equipment strewn on Reifsteck Field, the 2019 game attracted many players and even some fans, human and furry. Perhaps the most dramatic games ever were played in 2018 on a cold and snow Thanksgiving afternoon.
Cold and snowy Turkey Bowls at Reifsteck Field (Thanksgiving 2018)
Twenty five Thanksgivings ago in Dallas, a rare snow and sleet storm cascaded through the open roof of then-unenclosed Texas Stadium, making play treacherous. With 15 seconds left, Dallas led Miami 14-13. On the icy surface, the Dolphin’s Pete Stoyanovich attempted a 41-yard field goal attempt.
The Cowboys’ Jimmie Jones blocked the kick which squirted into the snow near the Dallas goal line.
Dallas lineman Leon Lett attempted to recover the ball. Lett slipped as he went down, however, and knocked the ball forward. In the resulting chase for possession, the Dolphins recovered in the end zone.
Had Lett merely let the ball lie where it was, Dallas would have won. Given a second chance, Stoyanovich made the game winning field goal.
Fittingly, Lett called his play — one of the most dramatic and weird in NFL history — “a brain freeze.”
It was 32 degrees in Dallas that day. Today, Rochester broke the record low for Thanksgiving at 9° Fahrenheit. Persistent squalls created occasional whiteouts, depositing a couple of inches of snow.No matter for the dozens of football and soccer players gathered in Brighton for the annual Turkey Bowl traditionally held on Thanksgiving morning.
Unlike Jerry Jones’ monstrous AT&T Stadium, Reifsteck Field has no roof, retractable or otherwise.
Three years ago — in better weather — I met Brighton High School alums and others gathered for their 29th pre pig out pigskin game. Not so hardy this year, the group was AWOL, hopefully back next year for a 32nd edition.
On the practice field adjacent to Reifsteck, meteorologically undeterred, another group of about 25 people convened for their approximately tenth Bowl. The players and fans are mainly from the Brighton school and local community, including Kevin McGowan, Brighton Central School District Superintendent, and sons.
On Reifsteck’s artificial turf field, a larger group has played for many years now. As explained by organizer Len Aronson, the friends previously played at Buckland Park but prefer the softer Reifsteck surface vs. the hardened ground at Buckland. The footballers are from all over Monroe Country but find Brighton centrally located. They don’t call their game the Turkey Bowl per se, but the concept — a pre pig out pigskin game — is the same.
A couple of dozen soccer players — mostly from the Brighton soccer community — held their own Turkey Bowl.
As seen in Barons prevail in first televised football game at Reifsteck Field and Working on the Chain Gang at Reifsteck Field, Rochester weather is always an issue at Reifsteck.
As seen in Adding Yeshiva football to the Cobb’s Hill series, the boys at the Talmudical Institute of Upstate New York play football in the snow. Unlike their elder Turkey Bowlers, the students play tackle football.
In the 1980s, we played a precursor to the Turkey Bowl. At the Holidays, we gathered for street football.As seen in “An early-spring renewal of the spirit” over 10,000 fungos later, Reifsteck is also used for hitting and fielding fungoes.