The classic Philly Thanksgiving football game returns: Central vs Northeast


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The party was only six years old and the sport had been played for less than a month when Philadelphia kicked off a time-honored American tradition by hosting the nation’s first soccer game on Thanksgiving Day.

The 1869 match at Germantown pitted Germantown Cricket Club against Young America Cricket Club. No winner has been registered.

Just 23 years later and a few miles away, there has been another historic first (at least as far as local rivalries go). In 1892, Central High School and Northeast High faced each other in their first Thanksgiving game.

The tradition is back this year after a rare hiatus in 2020. In fact, the pandemic hiatus was only the second game missed since 1896, the other in 1918 when Northeast failed to field a team due to the First World War.

Several other football rivalries in local high schools have also found a home for Turkey. Neumann Goretti and Southern clashed over the holidays from 1934 to 2015, and are resuming this year at the South Philly Supersite. Cheltenham vs. Abington did it 100 years before he was moved to another date.

” There are others [Thanksgiving] back-to-back games, ”said current Northeastern head coach Eric Clark,“ but he’s everyone’s grandfather. “

The 122nd meeting between the Northeast Vikings and the Central Lancers begins Thursday at 10:30 a.m. at the Vikings’ grounds at 1601 Cottman Ave. What to expect if you attend? Passion, pride, tradition and serious excitement.

Christian Madison was a star for recent center teams who now plays at Cornell. “These games are always intense,” he said. “You feel the energy as soon as you step onto the pitch and see the two fan bases rocking.”

Former Northeastern player Anthony Franklin, now Philly editor for Pennsylvania Football News, agrees. “I played the 2000 game,” he said, recalling a crowd of 10,000 strong. “I remember looking both sides, and only seeing standing places, hearing the fans.”

Marcus Maxwell was playing against Franklin in that game, and he remembers getting really excited. “It was about getting that horse. About getting that trophy.

The trophy in question is known as the Wooden Horse, a hand-carved mahogany statuette that has been awarded since 1947, marking a prominent space in the winning team’s trophy box.

“The playoffs are great, but the rivalry makes it the game of the year,” said Eric Heisler, another Central alumnus who has been in four Thanksgiving games, “It’s for the wooden horse and the bragging rights This means as much for the teams in the field as it does for the generations of alumni in the stands.

Clark, the head coach of the Northeast, has experience in many roles. He played the game himself, looked at it like an alum, and was an assistant coach for the Vikings. This year, this is his first edition of the show.

“I know what this rivalry means for the two schools and for the city of Philadelphia. In the three games I played, I had two wins and one loss. The only loss was in the best team I was a part of. It shows that every Thanksgiving there is so much at stake, and it’s such a great rivalry that anyone can win.

Anyone can win, but a certain team can dominate throughout an era. Recently it’s Northeast, who has won every year since 2004 except one. “2013 was a huge upheaval,” said Franklin, the editor of Pa. Football News, when Central pulled off a 6-3 shock.

In the ’80s, Central dominated the rivalry, as evidenced by their 60-3 victory in 1986. “That,” said Michael Mulcahy, a player for that Northeastern team, “was an all-time kick kick. . ” His favorite memory was an alum three years later when it snowed: “Howard Eskin showed up to this game with a fur coat and we bombarded him with snowballs.

There were also times when the two teams couldn’t have been more equal.

“My junior and senior year, we were the best teams in our divisions so each of those games meant a lot to the title race,” said Lou Tilley, longtime sports commentator and star of the North East at the start of the Games. 1970s. “In the two years we had to beat them to beat them for the public league championship, and every year it ended in a tie. “

What will be the result this year? Few follow local high school football as closely as reporter Franklin, and he predicts a continuation of the recent trend. “Central has improved a lot. I think you will see a close game at the start. But I think Northeast will eventually pull away in the second half and win. “

To coach Clark, this match is not limited to the final score.

“Our young men will have the chance to shake hands with alumni who are 50 or 60 years older than them,” said Clark. “It’s one of the most moving moments when these former students walk into the locker room to say a few words. At this point you know you are part of something special. Something bigger than you. Few people can play such a special game as Central and Northeastern. “

Sports presenter Tilley agrees. What advice does the former Northeast player have for teams entering the field?

“Enjoy it. Soak up it all. Revel,” Tilley said. “Because it’s not getting better.”


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