Turkey and football: A tradition continues in Bethesda

Tracy Callahan looks to go deep during the game Thursday morning. The past three years, his son has played quarterback opposite him. (WTOP/Andrew Mollenbeck)

Andrew Mollenbeck, wtop.com

BETHESDA, Md. – Thanksgiving and football have an indelible link.

Put aside for a moment the Turkey Bowl in D.C. and the professional games on TV. A pickup game among friends, family and neighbors in Bethesda has an impressive tradition of its own.

Players’ best guess is that their first touch football game was in 1975. Since then, the same group – some with a second generation in tow – laces up cleats and draws backyard plays to trick the defense every Thanksgiving morning in Ayrlawn Park, Md.

“Nobody calls anybody. You just show up,” says Tracy Callahan, who’s playing for the 18th consecutive year. “Nobody has ever contacted me about the game.”

By now, it’s just common knowledge that the game starts at 10 a.m.

When it’s time for a breather from the action, players pick through the goodies set up on a folding table along the sideline. Boxes of donuts, pastries and drinks options provide nourishment.

“There’s probably people from the age of 9 to 51, 52 years old,” says Dave Hawk.

“Fifty-six,” Callahan says.

His son played opposite him at quarterback the past three years. This year, his nephew is on the field.

“It’s people that grew up in the neighborhood and then extended family and friends,” Hawk says, noting that one regular participant flies in from Dallas each year to continue the tradition.

There is no time limit or scoring threshold, and the end of the game is subject to interpretation.

“Usually the game ends when social hour looks to be ready to go,” Hawk says.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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