Thanksgiving is the best of our American traditions; it marks the beginning of the holiday season and lacks much of the crass commercialism of Christmas. Nobody is disappointed by another gift after shelling out hundreds of dollars for presents. Nobody is disappointed with a huge feast.
There is no keeping up with the neighbor's lighting display, no forced Yankee Swaps and vapid corporate parties. There is only food, family and, in every city and town across the country, high school football.
These are the biggest football games of the year and a time for renewing centuries old rivals as well as a time to come together and celebrate shared heritage.
The town of Newton is fortunate enough to experience two such Thanksgiving games each year, with taking on longtime adversary , while will play in a less storied but no less intense match-up.
Transcending football, these games are more of an event than merely an athletic contest and are a final rite of passage for many of these student-athletes.
"For most of the kids this is the last time they'll play an organized sport," said Newton North Head Coach Peter Capodilupo, who has coached more than 25 Thanksgiving games. "Some of them have been playing since they were seven, eight, nine years old."
Old friends and teammates returning from college for the first time, the early start time, the larger-than-normal crowds all lend themselves to the unpredictability of Thanksgiving games.
"Anything can happen on Thanksgiving," said Brookline Head Coach Kevin Mahoney. "There are usually great games with big plays."
"It's a different time of year (with) relatives coming in and kids planning their breaks," said Lincoln-Sudbury Head Coach Tom Lopez. "It's a different atmosphere. Lots of things can happen."
"The day has a special feel to it. Nobody is on the road on the drive in to the school," said Newton South Head Coach Ted Dalicandro. "The (kids) play with a ton of emotion…and sometimes the underachievers can play their best on one particular day and upset a team."
Centuries of Football
Newton North and Brookline will be continuing a tradition that started more than a century ago. The game has lasted through two World Wars, the Depression, the Kennedy Assassination, Vietnam and 9/11.
"I love the Thanksgiving game," Mahoney said. "Newton North and Brookline are so similar in size, enrollment and community."
Starting in 1894, it is one of the oldest football rivalries in history and in the 115 years fans have seen great theater, Newton North leads the tightly contested series by the slimmest of margins - 55-53-6.
"For several years they owned us, then it was a stalemate, then we owned them," Capodilupo said. "This is an important event. You have a whole town working for a year so you fail."
One of the biggest games in their history was in 1953, which saw an undefeated Newton North team defeat Brookline on their way to becoming state champs, the only perfect season in Newton North history.
For Kevin Barisano--a fullback, defensive end and co-captain for the current Newton North team--the game has familial meaning. Both his grandfather Louis Barisano, who was part of the 1953 squad, and his father Marc Barisano, a 1977 graduate, played at Newton North while his maternal grandfather Robert Clabo coached at the school for 25 years.
"The tradition is insane," said Barisano, who has been coming to these games since childhood. "It just provides more motivation to make them proud."
Barisano--who says "this is it for me, football-wise"--wants to go out on a high note.
"These games are crazy. We're expecting a huge crowd. This is a second season for us," he says.
And it is a family affair for Capodilupo as well--two of his sons, Edmund and Nick, have been Newton North co-captains in the past. Nick Capodilupo, in addition to being a special education teacher at the school, is now an assistant coach.
With sons playing and coaching, another son acting as waterboy, a wife active with the Gridiron Club and a daughter in the stands, Thanksgiving football has helped keep the Capodilupo family close.
"This is a family thing for me," said Capodilupo. "I know what its like to go home with a devastated family on Turkey Day. Not just as a coach, but as a father."
Though there is a disparity in sideline experience--Capodilupo has seen decades of these games through the eyes of a varsity coach while this is Mahoney's first--the Brookline coach is no stranger to the rivalry.
Mahoney was a freshman when the two teams played the 100th Anniversary game in 1994. Adding to the drama, both teams came in at 8-1 with the winner going to the Super Bowl. Brookline won, eventually losing to Chelmsford in the title game.
Last year, though Brookline came into the game at 0-10, the Warriors were able to deny Newton North a winning season with an 18-6 victory.
Mahoney hopes this Thursday's game has a similar outcome.
"This is the one you circle on the calendar," Mahoney said. "The football season is really three seasons - the preseason, the regular season and then the game with Newton North."
Each year for the past two decades the Rotary Club, of which Newton and Brookline are in the same district, has held a luncheon to commemorate the game, which will be held today at Brae Burn Country Club.
Featuring each school's superintendent, athletic directors, coaches, selectmen, aldermen, football and cheerleading coaches, former team captains and mayors, the event is an opportunity to rekindle old friendships and forge new ones. The Rotary Club also presents a trophy each year, which the winning school proudly displays.
For Tony Bibbo, a Newton native who organizes the yearly luncheon and runs the Newton Community Center, the game will always have special meaning
"My blood is orange and black," said Bibbo, who will be attending the game with his son and grandson, "I have a great affinity for the community. When I describe Newton, people say it sounds like a Utopia."
Stay tuned to Newton Patch tomorrow for the second half of this story--the developing Turkey Day rivalry between Newton South and Lincoln-Sudbury.