Planning a table-groaning Thanksgiving meal for an army—while working around any number of schedules and eating habits—sometimes feels like a losing game of 3D chess. But chefs in Dannemora and the surrounding communities have another stumbling block to consider: the Turkey Bowl, a 60-year-old football tradition that starts at the village playground around 10 a.m. and wraps up after the noon whistle blows.
No one can say for sure why the Turkey Bowl was born, though charter player and self-appointed color commentator Fred Breyette claims it’s because young men have never wanted to “sit home with relatives.” He says it took at least a few years of open warfare with the town matriarchs—up to and including kidnapping sons out of turkey-scented houses—before the mothers in town could be convinced to work their holiday timetables around the game. Regardless of how it started, the event soon became a huge part of the community’s social calendar, with captains jockeying for teams at least a month in advance and trash-talking happening all year long. The horse-trading really heated up the night before, when players would meet at Ting’s main street bar to fill out the rosters over a pint or two, or 10. The next morning, the full-contact, slightly bleary contest kicked off rain or shine, snow cover or no. Toques were used as markers, and sometimes they’d get “accidentally” kicked farther down the field. There were never any refs to stop those kinds of shenanigans. “There couldn’t have been,” Breyette says. “They probably would have been killed.”
These days the field has been ceded to a kinder, gentler Turkey Bowl, with teams made up of high-school athletes and tear-away flags replacing dogpiles. What hasn’t changed? Turkey Bowlers still know how to talk trash—and dinner can wait.