Food and football -- and Thanksgiving!
November 19, 1999
Of course when the Pilgrims shared a dinner with the Wampanoag Indians
in 1621 they had never heard of football. They were simply thankful
that they were still alive and had something to eat. Of the 102
passengers on the Mayflower who had landed in Plymouth a year before,
over half had died from pneumonia and the privations of a hard winter in
a strange new world. The survivors had been befriended and helped by
the tribe of Indians and were saying thank you. For three days the
colonists and the Indian braves feasted on turkey and venison, pumpkin
and corn. The history books don't tell us what the squaws ate.
Whatever it was, they probably ate in the kitchen!
The Pilgrims, incidentally, didn't become known as "Pilgrims" for a
couple of hundred years. Originally they were known as "First Old
Comers," and then as "Forefathers." It was not until 1820 that Daniel
Webster, in a bi-centennial oration, referred to them as Pilgrims.
George Washington was thankful for the new Constitution and declared a
day of Thanksgiving in 1789. My old pal, Thomas Jefferson, however,
considered holidays a "monarchical practice" and paid no attention to
Thanksgiving, much to the disgust of the federal employees of his day.
Thanksgiving did not become a formal holiday until Mrs. Hale became
editor of Godey's Lady's Book. In 1846 she launched a campaign to make
Thanksgiving a national holiday, doubtless so people would have an
excuse to eat the luscious high-cholesterol food she described in loving
detail in her magazine. In 1864 Abe Lincoln finally proclaimed the last
Thursday in November as the day for thanksgiving. For some reason I
have long since forgotten, Franklin Roosevelt changed the date in 1939,
but whatever the day, late November is still set aside for overeating.
And football! Somewhere along the way, pretty early in this century,
football got into the act. "Unknown" is credited in one of my books of
quotes as saying, "On Thanksgiving all over America, families sit down
to dinner at the same moment -- half time." Not surprisingly, my
favorite Thanksgiving memories are of food and football. That is, my
mother's cooking and football which you watched from the sidelines,
not from the couch.
Colorado University did not have Folsom Field with its artificial turf,
nationwide recruiting or riots back in the thirties, but we did have
Whizzer White (aka Justice Byron White), silver and gold uniforms and
players who graduated. Denver University still had football teams, and
the C. U./D.U game on Thanksgiving day was a major event for both
schools. It took place in the old Merchant's Park on south Broadway in
Denver. The seats had splinters and the roof over the bleachers had
huge holes in it, but none of that mattered. Of course it would not
have dared to snow that day anyway. C. U. usually won as I remember
it. Probably people from D. U. remember it differently.
When I was in school in Boulder I had friends who lived too far away to
go home for Thanksgiving, so they went home with me. To show how uncool
(by today's standards) we were, my dad would usually escort four or
five coeds to the game. After all, college kids didn't have cars and we
all needed a ride.
Then, of course, my mother's fabulous Thanksgiving dinner was waiting at
home. Fortunately she wasn't a football fan.
In the nineties the day's activity still involves food and football.
The menu probably hasn't changed much, but the football has for most
Americans. Now we watch the games on TV from the comfort of the couch
-- often from dawn to dusk and beyond.
Whether we are thankful for football or food - or both - it is a day for
us to appreciate what we really have. There are so many things I am
thankful for, my family, my friends, a late life career that I
treasure. I am also thankful that women's pro basketball is still
going strong in the world of sports. I am thankful that Lt. Col.
Eileen Collins commanded one of the space shuttles. And I am thankful
that Hillary is running for the Senate.