- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Turkey and Turkey Bowls. If Thanksgiving and football aren’t American, then I don’t know what is.

I love Thanksgiving. Always have. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve watched the NFL games on Turkey Day, along with the Egg Bowl (Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State), followed by the Texas-Texas A&M; game the next morning.

It has been a dream of mine to play in one of the NFL games on Thanksgiving Day. When the schedule comes out every spring, the first game I check is Thanksgiving weekend, hoping we were lucky enough to land that game. I think of it as more of an honor than anything else. Playing with your teammates on an American holiday like Thanksgiving is special.

Everyone watches the NFL games. Once the morning parades are over, you are engulfed by football the entire day. Even if you don’t like football, you watch. Even my sister does.

Thanksgiving meant so much to me as a little kid, I would count the days until my family piled into the car and headed down to Peoria, Ill., for the holiday festivities.

When we were young, my cousin Michael and I would dress out in full football gear. Well, almost. We had the finest uniforms and equipment Hutch could make, complete with plastic replica helmets and shoulder pads.

Since we were too rough with the neighborhood kids, we only had each other. For hours we would pretend we were the ones playing the late game on Thanksgiving Day, complete with the long passes and big hits. We must have looked pretty stupid to anyone watching — two little kids running into each other with fake pads on.

We would make it home from the park just as the bird was being served. We ate in our uniforms and pads, letting everyone know how hard we played that day, just like the pros.

Now, I know everyone plays in Turkey Bowl games growing up. Uncles become Jerry Rice, and your old man turns into Lawrence Taylor. Your cousin busts out the cleats that helped him gain 1,000 yards in high school, still dirty from their final game. And you know he is the best player out there.

It’s tradition.

My family had one, too. The key word is had.

In one of Fred Smoot’s favorite stories, I single-handedly put an end to the Bowen Family Turkey Bowl. My Dad still has flashbacks of the game when I was in eighth grade. It was my true calling to becoming a safety in the NFL.

We all know these games are important — I mean, it’s the Super Bowl to your family. It’s only played once a year. You go over the entire game again at the dinner table Christmas night. Future stars are born in family Turkey Bowls.

On Thanksgiving Day 1990, it was another close game down to the end. My dad’s team decided to go for it on a fourth down. They ran a slant route to Dad.

Looking back on it, they really should have checked to the fade.

I was playing safety at the time, thinking I was one of the greats like Ronnie Lott. The moment my dad came across the middle, I separated him from the ball with a ferocious hit and rose my hand in victory.

There was only one problem: We were playing two-hand touch, and my dad got up gingerly.

Instead of sitting down at the table to have dinner as a family, Dad lay on the couch with ice wrapped around his knee, now full of torn cartilage. Yes, the turkey had to be served to my father that night.

The family Turkey Bowl had come to an abrupt end.

Whenever I tell this story, I assure the listener it was a crucial play in the game. And it was. Come on, it was fourth down! I knew then, if I could take a shot at my own father on Thanksgiving, I could play defense without any regrets.

To this day, my old man says it was a cheap shot. To me, it just comes down to another great Thanksgiving story, which so many families have.

Besides, as I always tell him, if he didn’t want to get laid out, he shouldn’t have come across the middle.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Ask Matt

Q: When the opposing team is punting, how come the receiving team doesn’t go for the block more often? Many times, it looks like if they went for the block more aggressively, then they would have a better chance of getting to the ball.

A: Teams don’t rush punts too often in this league because of field position.

When you rush the punt, your returner loses blockers, and pro protection schemes don’t break down as easily as they do in college. Field position is so crucial in this game with the way defenses are playing nowadays.

Q: Gregg Williams has done a great job with a defense that was supposed to be the weak link for the Redskins this year. Do you think he will be here next year, or will he get a head coaching job somewhere?

A: All I can tell you is that every player in a Redskins uniform wants to play for Coach Williams next year and continue working on what we have started here.

Staff writer Mark Zuckerman collaborates with Redskins safety Matt Bowen on this column. It appears every Wednesday. If you have any questions for Matt, e-mail them to [email protected]

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