Sometimes, traditions are born from the simplest moments. In the case of the annual Winslow Turkey Bowl football game, it was a question asked 10 years ago.

Hey, does anyone want to play football tomorrow?

Ryan and Josh Plisga asked that question to a group of friends on the night before Thanksgiving, 2004. Ten years later, they don’t have to ask. They know the game is on.

“We don’t even announce it anymore,” Josh said. “People just know to show up.”

As long as people have been coming home for the holiday, Thanksgiving Eve has been a night for reunion. People gather at their favorite restaurant or bar, and just reminisce. It was that kind of night when the Plisga brothers, both Winslow High School graduates, got the idea for the impromptu Thanksgiving morning football game. Meet at the Winslow midget football field, behind the high school, at 9 a.m., they said. Josh Plisga said he went to bed wondering how many people would show up.

Twenty-five were there on Thanksgiving morning, ready to play.

The game hasn’t really changed over the last 10 years. Some guys are a little older, a little slower, but the format is the same. Team names never change. Josh captains the Pilgrims. Ryan captains the Indians. They pick up sides, and they play for two hours, give or take a few minutes. It’s full contact football, and while nobody is out there flying around looking to make a highlight reel tackle, there’s been an injury or two over the years.

“We’ve had some dislocated shoulders, some broken noses,” Josh, 32, said.

“As we’ve gotten older, it’s become aggressive two-hand touch,” said Jay Coelho, who has played in six of the games since moving to the area in 2007.

The biggest year was 2007, when 35 guys showed up to play. This year, with a foot of fresh snow on the field, only a dozen of the heartiest diehards came out. The snow was nature’s equalizer, slowing down the fastest players. This was the second game played in snow. Weather only adds to the atmosphere.

“One year, the wind was whipping. It was only 10 degrees. The field was like concrete,” Ryan Plisga said.

Word of mouth can be a wonderful thing. The regulars know to show up at 9 a.m., and bringing a new player is fine.

“Usually every year, somebody shows up, and I don’t even know them,” Ryan Plisga, 34, said, “but if they’re there, they can play.”

It’s never really been about the football (although Ryan Plisga would love to let you know the Indians won this year’s game, 49-35). The game has always been, and always will be, about catching up with old friends.

“The ambiance, the camaraderie, the friendship. All of it,” Coelho, 37, said when asked why he comes back every Thanksgiving.

Ken Nadeau graduated from Winslow in 2002. He looks forward to catching up with Jason Lizotte, a fellow Black Raider who graduated a few years before Nadeau, and Ricky Vigue, Nadeau’s teammate on Winslow’s 2000 and 2001 state championship teams.

“We wouldn’t see each other otherwise,” Nadeau, 31, said. “It brings back old memories. It’s kind of a tradition now.”

Sometimes, traditions just sneak up on you. One Thanksgiving football game becomes two, and two becomes three, and you wake up early on Thanksgiving and head to the midget football field because, well, tradition. You’re not the same young man you were 10 years ago. You have a wife and maybe a child. Aches and pains are a little more achier and painful than they used to be, and they linger a little longer.

“It’s getting harder now, with a small family,” Nadeau, now an assistant football coach at Winslow, said. “As long as my body allows me to, I’ll play.”

Ryan and Josh Plisga, who started this whole thing with a simple question a decade ago, have no plans to stop.

“I’ll keep playing as long as people keep showing up,” Ryan said.

“No one wants to quit,” Josh said. “Hopefully, we’ll keep it going another 10 years.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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