Young players from UGA, Tech once had Turkey Day rivalry

sports@macon.comNovember 19, 2012 

There are several certainties on Thanksgiving: turkey and dressing and NFL football games featuring the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys.

The Lions will play their 73rd holiday game Thursday when they meet the Houston Texans at Ford Field, while the Cowboys will entertain Robert Griffin III -- RG3 -- and the Washington Redskins at Jerry’s World.

Detroit started the Thanksgiving tradition in 1934, and the only time they did not play on that day was between 1939-1944 because of World War II.

Dallas, which joined the NFL as an expansion team in 1960, played its first Thanksgiving Day Classic in 1966 and will be playing its 47th this week.

If you are a Cowboys fan, which I am, how could you ever forget rookie Clint Longley’s performance on Thanksgiving in 1974 against the Redskins? Subbing for the injured Roger Staubach in the third quarter with the Cowboys trailing 16-3 and their playoff hopes on the line, He brought them back, throwing a 50-yard touchdown pass to Drew Person with 28 seconds remaining in a 24-23 win.

There have been some great college rivalries on the holiday, as well, with the most prominent being the annual game between Texas and Texas A&M. They have played 118 times, with 64 on those on Turkey Day, but that will not be the case this year. When A&M left the Big 12 to join the SEC, the series between the Longhorns and Aggies was cancelled. Texas will still play Thursday, but it will be against TCU. There is speculation that Texas and A&M will meet in the Cotton Bowl this year.

On occasion, there have been some other great matchups on Thanksgiving, including Georgia-Georgia Tech, Alabama-Auburn and Oklahoma-Nebraska, but they have not been on an annual basis.

One of the best matchups of all-time was the annual game between the freshman teams at Georgia Tech and Georgia to benefit the Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital. You may remember the slogan “Strong legs run that weak legs may walk.” That game had a 60-year run from 1933 until 1993 but actually was in its best years from the beginning until 1972, when freshmen were ineligible to play on the varsity level.

Mike Cavan, who was a quarterback at Georgia in the late 1960s and early 1970s recalls his freshman year and the game, although he didn’t play in it because of an injury.

“You can’t imagine the impact visiting the children in the hospital has on you,” Cavan said. “It was a great experience. Realistically, the game was secondary, but for the players it was the biggest crowd they had ever played before, and for the fans it was a barometer of what to expect for the next few years. It was just a phenomenal tradition.’

Frankie Sinkwich, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1942, reportedly said playing in the freshman game was a greater thrill for him than playing in the 1943 Rose Bowl, in which the Bulldogs defeated UCLA 9-0.

It was always a big game for us when I was in high school at Robert E. Lee in Thomaston because we had the opportunity to take a date to the contest. We would board the Rebel Bus with a sack lunch and head to Atlanta and Grant Field where we would be joined by a crowd of as many as 40,000.

It lost a lot of its flavor in 1973 when it became a junior varsity game when freshmen were allowed to play on varsity teams. It continued as a junior varsity game until 1993. When it was cancelled after the 1993 tilt, Georgia Tech led the series 30-28-1. No games were played in 1943-44 because of World War II.

During its 60-year history the Thanksgiving battle between the Bullpups and Baby Jackets raised more than $6 million for Scottish Rite.

Contact Bobby Pope at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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