Belichick: Got to love football on Thanksgiving

Belichick: Got to love football on Thanksgiving
November 28, 2013, 10:15 am
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Would Bill Belichick be greeted warmly if he returned as coach of another team?

(AP Photo)

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick strode to the podium for his Wednesday press conference, smiled and said, "Happy holidays. It's a little early but . . . "

You can't blame him for looking forward to Thanksgiving. Aside from all the treats that await him Thursday wherever he'll be celebrating -- "I make sure to leave room for pumpkin pie," he said -- he is a football guy, and the game has played a central role on Thanksgiving for as long as he can remember.

The son of Steve Belichick, a Navy football scout, young Bill looked forward to the Army-Navy game the weekend following Thanksgiving. As a teenager at Annapolis High in Maryland, he played on the holiday. Later in life, as a New England father with a football-playing sons, and as an NFL coach ready to watch his peers in Dallas or Detroit with a plate full of food -- or go to work himself -- football has always been as much a part of the day as turkey or his pumpkin pie.

Belichick knows that many families in the New England area feel the same way. Every year they head out to their local high school football game, meet up with old friends, then make their way home and bang the dirt off their boots before dinner.

"It’s a great part of the whole holiday and the whole weekend," Belichick said. "Yeah, it’s big in this area. I grew up with that. Thanksgiving was always a big football weekend for me because our high school always had a Thanksgiving day game with a big rival: Annapolis-Severna Park. That was a big one there. Then the Army-Navy was always the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Growing up, you just, that was like the key point in the year.

"I coached Detroit for a couple years and had the Thanksgiving Day game there. You could really see what a big part of the community that Thanksgiving Day game was and what it brought there. Then when I came to New England in ’96, [son] Stephen played little league football. Of course growing up here, our kids played football and had those same kind of experiences on Thanksgiving -- Thanksgiving day games and that weekend and all that. It’s a part of the New England culture, life, Massachusetts. I think it’s good. It’s good for families. It’s good for the excitement of the game. It’s good for the sport. It’s a good, wholesome thing. Turkey dinner, football -- it’s a great holiday. You’ve got to love Thanksgiving."

Belichick's football recall has been highly acclaimed for much of his coaching career, his encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the game and how past matchups were won or lost is second-to-none among NFL head coaches. On Wednesday he sounded like a New England everyman at the bar remembering how the Thanksgiving rivalry between the Annapolis Fighting Panthers and Severna Park Falcons shook out when he was in high school.

"You know it was pretty competitive," he said. "We got some, they got some. They got us my senior year. We got them my junior year. But it was always one of those . . . no field goals ever. So it would be like 19 to 13. It was 50-50 on the extra points. You’d go for two. Usually a touchdown with one or two point conversions messed up in the score there somewhere. So you never had 21-14 or 28-21. There were missed extra points; there were two-point conversions. No field goals, you can forget about that. Back in the day of the straight-on kickers; defensive end or whoever you had that was your kicker and the ball would either go right through the uprights or by the pylon. One or the other."

The Patriots have had pretty good success, especially lately, when they've played on Thanksgiving. They're 3-2 all-time on the holiday, and Tom Brady threw his first-ever touchdown pass as a rookie (a six yard completion to Rod Rutledge) on Thanksgiving in 2000. New England last played on Thanksgiving last season -- you might remember it as the "Butt Fumble" game -- and beat the Jets in a laugher, 49-19.

No game for the Patriots on Thursday means the players and coaches will have a chance to relax with family. Some players will celebrate together, like offensive linemen Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly, whose families will hang out and share dinner.

These are the Patriots, though, and this is the NFL, of course, where in-season days off are all but non-existent. Though time will be carved out for turkey, it will be a working holiday as Belichick and his team continue to prepare for their game with the Texans on Sunday.

"It’s certainly an important holiday for Americans and for our society," Belichick said. "But at the same time, we have a job to do, and part of it is a working day for us. So it’s a working day, it’s a family day, it’s a team day, but it’s definitely part working day, too."