Matt Friedman thinks of his first Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl practice and he remembers how big everyone was.

“At Jay, I weighed more than all of my offensive linemen but one,” Friedman, now the head football coach at Skowhegan Area High School, said. “I was just amazed at the size of the players.”

Twenty-five years ago, Friedman was a recent graduate of Jay High School. A running back for the Tigers, he was one of 80 players selected to play in the first Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl.

Now the game is a summer institution, but in 1990, the Lobster Bowl was brand new. Vermont and New Hampshire had been playing the Maple Sugar Bowl against each other since the 1950s, raising money for the Shriner’s hospitals for children. Why, thought Maine’s Shriners, can’t we do the same thing?

It was all new, and the players selected didn’t know what to expect.

“I had heard little bits of rumblings about an all-star football game,” said Jon Christopher, a quarterback from Madison who went on to play at the University of Maine. “For those of us who were going on to play in college, it was a little extra preseason for us.”

The West players trained at the University of New England in Biddeford. The East squad went to Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield for the start of camp, then went to UNE to finish after the teams visited the Shriner’s hospital in Springfield, Mass.

Details of the game get fuzzy after two and a half decades. The West won, 24-12. The game was played at Thornton Academy in Saco. The Lobster Bowl didn’t move to its permanent home at Biddeford’s Waterhouse Field until 1992.

Friedman scored on a 46-yard touchdown run early in the second half, still the seventh-longest touchdown run in Lobster Bowl history.

“I remember a bunch of my buddies from Jay were behind the end zone, and I saw them as I was running,” Friedman said.

Christopher threw a fourth quarter touchdown pass for the East, but he had to be reminded it was to his Madison teammate, Clayton Abbott.

“I remember we marched up and down the field in the fourth quarter, and we fumbled inside the 10 twice,” Christopher said.

Steve Cates, a wide receiver from Skowhegan who went on to play at Maine, remembered being excited to play for then-Lawrence coach Pete Cooper, who was head coach of the East.

“To be able to play under him, a legend, was the best,” Cates said.

While specifics from the game and training camp fade, the memories of that hospital visit still play in crystal clear HD.

“It was really a great experience,” Friedman said. “Those kids were just excited there were so many people there to visit them.”

“It’s funny how age makes you appreciate things a lot more. You start to realize how much that visit meant. You saw those kids, and you realize how lucky you are,” Cates said. “I don’t think I appreciated it at the time.”

Friedman has coached in the game a few times, and he was at Waterhouse Field on Saturday to cheer for D.J. Allen, who played for Friedman at Skowhegan.

“Thankfully, the Shriners decided it was worth all the effort,” Friedman said.

Cates hopes all the players realize how lucky they are to participate in the Lobster Bowl, especially if the game marks the end of their football career.

“If this is their last hurrah and they’re not playing afterwards, live every minute,” Cates said. “Appreciate, truly appreciate, what you’re playing for.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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