The Sports Wire…Thanksgiving Football IS Tradition
By Steve Freker
Of all the holidays out there, and all the trappings of tradition that accompany them, Thanksgiving and tradition are one and the same, especially if you are involved in sports and particularly if football is one of those sports.
Thanksgiving IS tradition if you live in Massachusetts and you follow high school football. There is nothing else that dominates the conversation, that triggers the anticipation and builds up to such a crescendo of emotion, mixed with anxiety, elation and sometimes, ending in sadness. It’s tough to say, but even if the team you back on Thanksgiving morning (or in some cases Thanksgiving Eve) comes out on the wrong end of the score, you still got something to talk about and something to look forward to for next year.
I can proudly say that my Thanksgiving high school football “pedigree” hits the 45-year mark last Thanksgiving morning, when Malden High traveled to Hormel Stadium to play Medford in Game #130 of the ancient series. I was there for Game #84 at Hormel when my older brother, Jack, was a sophomore at Malden High playing under the legendary Bill Tighe, a historic year, since this was the final season Tighe would coach at Malden before heading off to Lexington, where he coached 39 seasons before retiring after Thanksgiving 2010, as the oldest active high school coach in America. At 93, Coach Tighe is still around surveying the local high school football scene as a loyal fan.
I’m lucky that I’ve been to nearly every game since 1972 as either a fan, a reporter, a player or a coach, and now, a coach again. I was privileged to wear the Blue and Gold for Game #86, #87 and #88 (I actually played one play in 1974, the highlight of my life to that point; saw some action in 1975; and played most of the game in 1976). Over 30 years later, I can still remember most plays, if not all of them. Recently I have been able to give the induction speech to several of the players I idolized that played on that 1974 Malden GBL champion team, including John “Pops” Ruelle or coached in the game, like Paul Miller, a fantastic wide receiver and second baseball for baseball in the spring.
I remember well the Medford players of that era. The toughest of them all was none other than Harry Marchetti. He’s the former Medford High coach and now an assistant principal at Somerville High and the hardest-hitting and most relentless defensive player wearing that Mustang uniform I can remember to this day. What an animal he was out there. The legendary Armand Caraviello was the coach and guys like Richie Tenaglia and John DiMare were some standouts that I recall. Franz Eberth and Dickie Adie were some other former Mustangs I recall from those days.
We lost my senior year, 12-6. Medford came in winless at 0-9 but they didn’t leave that way. Not a tasty Turkey Day dinner that day, folks. In 1979 I was in the end zone watching my second brother (and team captain) Gary play against Medford his senior year at Hormel in Medford. A lot of fireworks that day, in a 48-24 loss.
I was fortunate to be able to spend the better part of the next two-and-a-half decades as a Malden High coach, from the early 1980s to 1998 and those were great years, being able to coach alongside of my own high school head coach Paul Finn for 17 seasons, what a great experience. We always capped the year with the Thanksgiving Game and while we didn’t win them all, it was a memorable time of the year. Coaching in the 100th game in 1988 was a highlight I will never forget, nationally-televised with Bob Costas in studio interviewing former Malden great Carmine Cappuccio on national TV. You never forget that stuff. The next year my youngest brother Michael captained Malden to another Thanksgiving win, this one a cliffhanger, in 1988.
I made some great friends with lots of folks from Medford through the years and my association with the game present Medford High athletic director Bobby Maloney, former Mustang coaches Bud Kelley, Mark Smith, Bill Buldini, all great guys. I even remember when another good friend, present head baseball coach Mike Nestor, scored a TD against us when I coached in Malden in 1994. He was a baseball player, but he still threw on the Blue and White during football season.
I started coaching football at Malden Catholic for the 1999 season and went right through to the 2007 season, but still made it to the Malden-Medford game most years. And as fate would have it, I will be back on the sidelines next Thursday at Macdonald Stadium for Game #131…. as Malden High head football coach. Always new chapters to be written!
Oh, almost forgot… from 1984-2016, I wrote a story or two (or 500!) about “The Game” working for the former Malden Evening News and Medford Daily Mercury.
It’s true what they say, too. This year there’s no clear “favorite” in The Game, an you really can say “throw out the records,” as it’s a true, new season in itself on Thanksgiving morning. I hope all the kids who play, the coaches who guide them and everyone associated with the game, parents, school faculty nd administrators and fans, have as good and as memorable an experience as I’ve had these many decades. Happy Thanksgiving!
Steve Freker is now head football coach at Malden High School and a former player and longtime assistant coach there. For nearly 40 years he also chronicled Malden High football as the editor of the former Malden Evening News.