Updated: December 30, 2013 11:58AM
As all eyes in the Mount Carmel High School football universe look to Saturday’s state championship game, the thoughts of this proud Caravan turn to the 2013 Turkey Bowl.
The Turkey Bowl is the final team scrimmage between Mount Carmel’s second, third and fourth-string offensive and defensive players and is its own championship in years when the team plays in a state title game.
The bowl game concludes a season worth of scrimmages among the reserves that take place during the second half of the last full-contact practice before each regular game.
These scrimmages were the only competitive action any of these unheralded substitutes saw all week. They were also something to look forward to, and the only good excuse a fourth-string safety would ever have to talk smack to a fourth-string wide receiver.
“Neither of us may be good enough to start, but I’m better than you! Now watch me drop this interception.”
In my four years at Mount Carmel, I logged only garbage-time minutes during games. If we were up by 40 points and there was a running clock, that was my time to show the world what 172 pounds of slow, unathletic strong safety could do. (Author’s note: I recovered a fumble in a game when I was a sophomore and forced a fumble on a tackle my junior year, which was mistakenly credited to a teammate. In the interests of accuracy, I just wanted to point that out.)
My game stats were dwarfed by my contributions to the weekly scrimmages, where I was all-Catholic League, all-state, all-American, all-universe. A modern day Paul Bunyan with cleats. The same could be said for any of my fellow benchwarmers, whose stars shined too bright to be seen on game day.
For us, our only shot at glory was the scrubs scrimmage, and there was no bigger scrimmage than the Turkey Bowl.
Typically played on Thanksgiving, the Turkey Bowl occurs during the final, full-contact practice of the season — if the team makes it to the state championship.
Thanksgiving is a good time to spend with your family, and a high school football team is its own family. There are people you like, there are people you dislike, but they’re your people nonetheless.
Over the course of four years of hitting each other, running sprints together and commiserating over aches and pains, you come to view your teammates as brothers. It might be a cliché, but it’s the truth.
The Turkey Bowl is more than just a game — it’s one last chance to battle with your boys and play ball.
My senior year, the Turkey Bowlers achieved a rare triumph of our own. A backup quarterback who had shredded our defense in the weekly scrimmages was promoted to starter for the final game of the regular season. He helped navigate Mount Carmel through the playoffs to another championship game, and, yes, another Turkey Bowl!
We surely had played a role in the QB’s success. Every run, pass, tackle and block we executed to perfection during our weekly scrimmages clearly had prepared him for the spotlight.
Sure, he ran the option well and tossed 50-yard spirals with ease, but we all knew there was some other, stronger magic at work. He was one of us, with the heart of a Turkey Bowler.
SouthtownStar staff writer Casey Toner was a member of the 1999 and 2000 Mount Carmel High School championship football teams. He was a perennial Turkey Bowl all-star.