After missing out in 2020, high school football rivalry games are back for Thanksgiving

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Mansfield and Foxboro are two neighboring towns with one big rivalry.

“Of course we want to beat Foxboro,” said Joseph Forte, a Mansfield senior who plays left guard & defensive end. “We are Mansfield. We hate them.”

There’s nothing like a little old fashion trash talk, yes, even on Thanksgiving.

“It’s a rivalry that had just about everything,” said Foxborough coach Jack Martinelli. “You had ill will toward each other, a lot of love toward each other.”

But all over the state, the end of the season Thanksgiving day football rivalry game paused in 2020 because of COVID 19.

“For the first time in 25-26 years, I was home,” said Milford High football coach Dale Olson. “I cooked the bird that day and helped my wife.”

“It was tough,” said Mansfield senior Mark Degirolamo, who plays nose tackle.

“I remember the last time I played football on Thanksgiving, the feeling after,” said Jonathan Joseph, King Philip senior who plays corner and slot receiver. “I knew I wasn’t going to play football for a while, but I didn’t know it was going to be over a year.”

“It was devastating,” said Martinelli. “For a lot of them, it’s the last time in the uniform, last time in the game, last time on the field.”

“You talk to anyone who is played high school football in Massachusetts [and] they talk about Thanksgiving Day,” said King Phillip coach Brian Lee. “They talk about those memories. So not being able to have it was just piling on for those kids.”

Thanksgiving and football, we know how well they go hand-in-hand in the pros, but the tradition on the high school level here in Massachusetts has been around for more than 100 years, and this year it’s back.

“It’s legit,” said Joseph. “It’s like another Super Bowl.”

This Thanksgiving is extra special for high school football because of the two-year wait to pick the long-standing tradition back up. For some players, the tradition means carrying on a family legacy.

“My dad, my uncle, my grandfather, my entire family has grown up playing this game, so I’ve been watching it for so many years,” said Degirolamo. “It’s awesome to play.”

This is Foxboro and Mansfield’s 90th Turkey bowl game and 33rd between the two head coaches.

“I don’t know if there are many longer rivalries between two coaches in the state,” said Mansfield coach Mike Redding. “To be honest, my first few years, he intimidated me.”

Part of the reason the game can be so intimidating. For many teams, it’s the biggest of the year.

“I never played in the Thanksgiving game because of Covid last year, so I’m excited to get my first taste of that,” said Alex McColl, Milford senior who plays defensive end and offensive tackle.

“There’s a lot of pressure,” said Lee. “All these people that love Thanksgiving, you lose on Thanksgiving, you ruin the holiday, and your turkey tastes terrible.”

“We show the kids highlights of the last 30 years of Thanksgiving,” said Redding. “We talk about how high school players and people in this community will talk about this in barbershops for years to come.”

Now that the long-standing tradition is back, we all have one more thing to be thankful for, along with trash talking.

“I don’t care if we lose every game as long as we beat Foxboro,” said Forte.