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Give thanks for football


November 20, 2012
The Altoona Mirror

I love the changing seasons in Pennsylvania. Not just the summer greenery morphing into the autumnal beauty of reds, oranges and yellows, nor the fall colors fading into snow-covered forests and fields, but also the gradual move from the crisp fall air and moonlit nights over the gridiron for football to the soft glow of muggy gymnasiums for basketball and wrestling seasons.

But as the holiday season hits high gear this week with Santa coming to town, and Black Friday sales now starting on Thursday, it's important to take a few moments to recognize our blessings and give thanks for our faith, our health, our families and friends, and for the things that bring joy to our livesincluding sportsespecially football.

Thanksgiving just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without football. For high school teams still alive in the playoffs, it's a special reason to give thanks, and a chance to get up early in the morning for a holiday practice before sitting down to turkey dinner and NFL football on TV.

An NFL holiday triple-header is on tap this Thursday, featuring the traditional marquis games for both Detroit and Dallas, and a special edition of "Sunday Night Football" on NBC (Funny, it's actually listed as Sunday Night Football in the TV Guide, guaranteeing that Faith Hill will make a pre-game appearance).

Thanksgiving NFL games date back to 1920, with too many memorable moments and great performances to count. But an enduring NFL holiday image for me is the mutant multi-legged turkey that John Madden used to award to Thanksgiving Day game MVPs.

Of course, after the visit-with-family-stuff-your-face-watch-football-fall-asleep holiday comes Black Friday, complete with its own unique set of competitions, if not exactly sports.

There's the early morning sprint to the mall or department store, the strategic pursuit of a good parking space, the shopping cart obstacle courses, and the quest for the day's best bargains.

Friday evening and Saturday afternoon offer high school football playoffs sure to offer big crowds and great excitement. For teams like the Bellwood-Antis Blue Devils, post-season success is expected, and the playoffs another line on the to-do list. The Lions of Chestnut Ridge, still celebrating their program's first district football title, are heading into uncharted territory, inter-district play. Both will be worth watching.

Senior ceremonies highlight Saturday at Penn State for a class that has endured hardships they could never have imagined; they have worn the uniforms well and should be proud; these Nittany Lions deserve more than their names on their backs, they deserve a bowl game.

The Pitt Panthers are at home for the last time this season against Rutgers; it's hard not to think of what a difference a few plays at now No. 1 Notre Dame would have made. Pitt and Penn State fans can be thankful for the rivalry renewed in 2016.

By Christmas, the sound of hitting helmets and marching bands will be replaced by squeaky sneakers on hardwood floors and wrestling whistles amid holiday tournaments.

But until then, we'll enjoy the clock ticking down on local football, and hopefully a Happy Thanksgiving for all.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at

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