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The coldest Turkey Day of all time?

  • The 2014 Turkey Day game between Greenfield and Turners Falls was one of the “snowiest” in recent memories. Could this year’s game be played in the coldest conditions ever? FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ


Monday, November 19, 2018

Of course Thursday is supposed to be the coldest day of the year the year to date.

The day when area football fans will be huddled along the sidelines and end zones at fields across the state, is forecasted to have temperatures in the teens. The morning lows are going to get down near zero, which means by kickoff the temp could be hovering in single digits.

Turners Falls athletic director Adam Graves posed a question to me Monday afternoon: Is this going to be the coldest Turkey Day game ever?

What a perfect topic for the traditional pre-Turkey Day column about the Greenfield-Turners Falls rivalry. 

Weather has been a topic of conversation before in this column, including back in 2014 when a large snowstorm dumped several inches on the area and caused the Thanksgiving Eve game between Frontier and Mohawk to be postponed. Greenfield and Turners played that morning on a field that was cleared by coaches beforehand.

As to whether this will be the coldest Turkey Day game ever, it’s unlikely. I spent Monday afternoon and evening looking through binders put together by local sports historian Mike Cadran about the game. I found that the warmest game in the series may have been back in 1941, but the story that appeared that season mentioned previous games being played in sub-zero temperatures, which we should stay above on Thursday. After scouring the archives, it is safe to say that while it may not be the coldest ever, it will certainly rank up there.

Let’s take a look at some notable weather-related games from the past.

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In 1922, five years before the first official game between the high school squads, club teams from each town got together to play a game on Turkey Day. According to an article from that year, the game was moved to 2:30 on Thanksgiving due to inclement weather, but no explanation as to what the poor weather conditions entailed. There was no further explanation given on any days surrounding the game, although to highlight just what a different time it was in 1922, the story appearing right next to Greenfield’s Turkey Day victory in Friday’s edition, was about a cock fighting team from the Berkshires beating a New York team. Can you imagine a story about cock fighting appearing on the front page of the sports section, today? It seems ludicrous.

In 1929, the teams were in their third season of playing on Thanksgiving and according to the newspaper, met on a “field that was rough and icy, and before the first period was over, many a scratched shin and cut knee bore silent though painful witness to the hardness of the ground. But before the game was over, the gridiron had become soft and muddy.” Greenfield won that game 6-0 on the strength of a Bernard Alex touchdown run.

The very next season featured snow falling throughout, but still drew a crowd of 4,000 to Beacon Field. The field was already covered when fans arrived and the article said a small blizzard at the start of the game was followed by snow throughout, and several fumbles and loss of footing was blamed on the white stuff. Quarterback Ed Hughes gave Turners Falls a 6-0 lead in the first quarter, but Robert Bitters tied the score later in the frame and Leon Lavin’s conversion pass to Ed Lalor gave Greenfield a 7-6 lead that held up.

It should be noted that the 1931 season featured what the paper called “the first perfect weather conditions in the five years” of the annual contest.

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The 1936 game was again played under icy field conditions and finished in a 0-0 tie. Turners actually scored a touchdown in that contest but the score came off the board due to an offside penalty. Another interesting tidbit from that game was that before the game a section of the bleachers on the Turners Falls side collapsed, but no one was hurt. Good thing for this year’s fans, there are usually only a smattering of tiny bleachers on the Turners Falls side for games in Greenfield, so a repeat of that before this year’s game should also not cause injuries.

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The 1941 game could be the warmest Turkey Day game ever played as an “Indian Summer” returned to Franklin County. The story said that fans were treated to a mild breeze, which was a nice change from “sub-zero” temperatures that were a staple of the first 14 years of the rivalry. Turners Falls won the game 13-7 in front of 10,000 fans, and a highlight from that year’s story mentioned that many dogs were on the sidelines during the game, causing Greenfield coach “Ump” Nichols to exclaim, “Shoo pup” at one point.

In keeping with the warm-weather theme, the 1945 game was played in a driving rain storm as Greenfield and Turners played to a 12-12 tie. The rain lasted the entire first half.

Another warm game was in 1952 when the game was played in “a simmering white heat that could have cooked a turkey on Avenue A.”

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The 1962 game was a muddy affair that saw Greenfield shut out Turners Falls, 22-0. Green Wave quarterback Tom Suchanek (perhaps you have heard of him) threw a muddy, wet ball, completing 10-of-17 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. Tim MacDonald caught an 18-yard touchdown pass, and Phil Mowry plucked a 23-yarder from Shu. John Phelps added a 7-yard touchdown run, and Greenfield had a safety. The very next season featured the highest-scoring game at that time — and still one of the higher scoring games on record — as Suchanek and Turners quarterback Rich Wondoloski went toe-to-toe. Suchanek passed for 173 yards and two touchdowns in a 40-20 victory. Norm MacLeod rushed for three touchdowns, and Bill Phelps and Ed Margola each caught a touchdown pass. Wondoloski, meanwhile, passed for 244 yards and three touchdowns in the loss, hitting Gary Sutton, Bill Beaubien and Gene Leveille with one touchdown pass apiece. The difference in the game was that Greenfield out-gained Turners 157-1 on the ground.

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Perhaps the worst conditions ever in Turners Falls came in 1967 at Sheff Field during a 14-0 Green Wave victory as rain poured down throughout the game. After a recent snowstorm caused the field to freeze over, the snow was cleared but rain fell and had nowhere to go, essentially creating a pond on the field. One player, according to Cadran, was at the bottom of the pile at one point and had his face buried in three inches of mud as he flailed to catch his breath. Conditions were so bad that 50 large bags of wood shavings were spread on the field before the game. The article harkened back to the aforementioned game in 1945, which was also played in pouring rain.

The newspaper asked Turners athletic director Ed Bourdeau why the game wasn’t postponed? “Weather reports indicate a freeze is coming. If this turns to ice, the field will be impossible to play on and someone is sure to get hurt.” He also noted that no one was significantly hurt from that game.

Quarterback Tony Plizga and halfback Lenny Bruno each scored a rushing touchdown in the win. Another note. Late in the game, Turners Falls fans pelted officials and Green Wave players with snowballs after a personal foul penalty was called, as well as a subsequent penalty on Turners coach Jack Bassett, who protested the original call. Charlie Galvin, veteran PA announcer, warned the crowd, and assistant coach Dick Farland went into the stands to halt the snowballing.

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Two years later, in 1970, the game was played in what the paper described as sub-freezing, bone-chilling weather. Of the 5,000 fans in attendance, Neil Perry of the Recorder wrote, “Blue were the 10,000 feet numbed by the frozen ground and the icy wooden stands on both sides of the glacial football field.” Later he wrote about Greenfield tight end Mark Phillips, “It was too cold to hold a pencil, so no one kept track of how many times Phillips caught the ball, including apparently, the Turners Falls secondary.” Phillips caught one touchdown in the 36-14 win. The very next season, in 1971, the game had to be moved to Saturday due to a large snowstorm. It was the second and final time to date (1940 was the first) that the game had to be moved due to a snowstorm.

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Finally, of more recent note, who can forget the 2014 Turners Falls 14-6 victory over Greenfield that featured a fresh pack of snow. Tyler Charboneau intercepted a Max Pirozhkov pass on the final play of the game to seal the win, as the teams fought through the snow and mud. Turners running back Wyatt Bourbeau was the MVP of the game with 28 carries for 151 yards and two touchdowns

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One other note. Thursday’s game represents the 92nd edition of the Turkey Day game, dating back to 1927. Could is also be the last?

There has been nothing to suggest that this will be the final season for the Turners Falls program, but there have been rumors swirling in the Powertown. This season marked the first year of a cooperative between Turners and Pioneer and of the 20 or 21 players on the roster, over half (13) are seniors, which leaves the team with less than a full starting lineup of players moving forward. With no junior varsity team to speak of, it has some folks nervous. Both schools have their own middle school teams, so as long as enough move on to play varsity, the program can survive.

Again, no one from the Turners Falls program has suggested that this will be the last. The proud program will assuredly do everything it can to keep moving forward and get through this difficult time.

But if it is the last, we should take a second to revisit the first official game between the high school programs in 1927. In front of 2,500 fans at Beacon Field in Greenfield, the teams got together and took unbeaten records into the game, which set up a Western Mass. championship, which Greenfield won 13-0.

Here’s to hoping we get the opportunity to roll this story out

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder Sports Editor. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com.