Thanksgiving between the hash marks

Back in my earlier days, I wished our little family could experience a Thanksgiving tradition like those you see in commercials. You know, where every family member gathered ‘round Grandma’s table year after year. They hugged and kissed as they arrived with delicious food to share. I was envious of the golden-brown turkey served on a beautiful platter. Oh and those pies had such perfectly crimped crusts. Even the dogs got along. Let’s not even start on how perfect the weather was for their backyard football games. But what weighed on my heart the most was they were all together--making memories, growing up and growing old together.

As a college coaching family, that kind of Thanksgiving meal was certainly not ours. It’s not just that our home changes, but so too does the distance from family and friends. So what you might say? We all know Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday of November, but did you also know it happens to be a crucial Thursday during football season? Oh and by crucial I mean stressful, which typically translates to a 5 a.m.-8 p.m. work day. All the years we spent working at the college level it was the team Thanksgiving Dinner that was our tradition. It was always such an honor to sit down to a delicious meal beside our football families and give thanks for such hard working and dedicated young men and coaches. Only problem was you could not kick off your shoes after that meal, undo the top button of your pants, curl up on your couch to watch a football game whose final score mattered not at all or eat leftovers an hour later. So for those reasons, we have always had a second Thanksgiving meal--ours!

Thanksgiving Day "traffic" at our home.

Thanksgiving Day "traffic" at our home.

For years our day kicked off with watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, followed by hours of preparation while we waited for Dad to get home. Why hours of prep for a family of four? Because when he finally did walk through the door he was hardly ever alone. In tow was “our football family.” Players and coaches who were also unable to make it home. The first Thanksgiving meal I prepared could be an episode of "I Love Lucy." It was not just my first Thanksgiving, but one of my first time feeding offensive linemen. I bought the biggest turkey at the store only to realize there was no chance of it fitting in our oven. So back to the store where I exchanged it for two smaller ones. When they did not fit I politely asked my next-door neighbor if they wouldn’t mind cooking it for me. I peeled potatoes and apples for days. I knew I was in over my head as the guys inhaled undercooked biscuits right out from my oven because they were so ridiculously hungry! My poor children ate cereal one year because there was just no food left after the “boys” got plates!

Just one of our many groups of wonderful football families

Just one of our many groups of wonderful football families

With years of practice I have fine tuned the meal. I have even tried to make a few of their favorite dishes so it felt a bit more homey for them. Once I attempted Oyster Dressing. Collard Greens were pretty easy to make, just terribly difficult for my family to smell. One holiday after hours of searching for Pigeon Peas and a decent recipe the dog even refused to eat them. If I tell you how many ways and days I tried to create a fluffy and flaky biscuit you would be very disappointed in me. I personally drew the line with frying a turkey, but then unabashedly accepted one each year from our friend Doug. We also devoured Annie’s Michigan Apple Crumb Pie and Pam’s warm Buttered Knot Rolls! All these years taught me:

1. Don’t knock a fried turkey until you’ve tasted one!!

2. No one can ever replace “Momma’s” cooking!

3. Even if your attempt is an epic fail, your effort never is.

4.  There is no such thing as too much food when football players come for dinner. Ever.

I always knew that each “stop” changed who we are, but now I see so too has our family’s Thanksgiving tradition. Players have graduated, coaches switched jobs and neighborhoods changed as does our Thanksgiving. This season we are coaching in the NFL, so our meal this year will ironically be orchestrated around a game that used to mean nothing to us as our team is playing on the road that day. Thanksgiving dinner will not happen until after the team plane lands. Our front lawn will not look like a used truck lot with players vehicles parked everywhere. There will be no pots of Collards, baskets of rolls or a fried turkey present. But win or lose I will make that Apple Crumb Pie … with a perfectly crimped crust!!!

Moral: Take what you love and weave it into your own tapestry.

your truly thankful friend,

A little wish for you: No matter the size of your Thanksgiving table; may you be surrounded by people you respect, your plate runneth over with delicious food and your heart be filled with gratitude!