Don’t try to tell a high school football player that Thanksgiving Day is just another game.
It’s been a popular narrative since the start of the state’s high school football playoff system this year. With Super Bowl matchups already determined, it’s said that Thanksgiving is blending into the background of feasts and early holiday shopping.
For the first time in a long time, no Northeastern Conference or Cape Ann League title will be up for grabs this morning. The Catholic Conference title could be decided if St. John’s Prep upsets Xaverian, but even that is for bragging rights alone and has no bearing on the playoffs.
So what’s left for them to play for?
In the eyes of the seniors, everything.
Football is the shortest of the high school seasons. A baseball, basketball or hockey season has almost twice as many games; football players only get so many chances to tighten up the shoulder pads and helmets.
Over the past few days, seniors all over the state have been wondering how it all went by so fast. To them, it seems like yesterday that they were wide-eyed sophomores, watching upperclassmen put special stickers on their helmets for the Thanksgiving showdown. Then, it felt like it would be 100 years until it was their turn; now, it feels like that was only a moment ago.
Counting the two vocational school bowl games next week, only 16 teams statewide aren’t playing their last game of the year today. For many of the seniors on every other team in the Commonwealth, this morning will be the last time they ever get to play football.
They will savor it. Time will slow down for them, as they remember every detail of the pregame speeches and preparation. The actual game might fly by, especially if they play well. But fragments — a block here, a tackle there — will stick with them forever.