UPPER MERION >> The magic came back. So did the fans. And the tradition of Thanksgiving Day football in the morning lives on once again, opening a new generation of kids to experience what had been a special day in the past for fathers and grandfathers.
It had been 26 years since Norristown and Upper Merion waged a battle on Thanksgiving. Some questioned if resurrecting Turkey Day football would work.
As we found out, it did. In flying colors.
It started with fans tailgating and music blaring shortly before 8 a.m. outside Viking Stadium. There were alumni gatherings on both sides. And the packed stands featured faces old and young on a warm and sunny day with perfect weather for football.
The game was pretty entertaining, too. Upper Merion started fast and never looked back, scoring a 33-21 victory over Norristown. For those who might not remember, the Vikings now lead the Thanksgiving Day series 16-15 with five games ending in ties.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Norristown athletic director Tony Palladino said as fans began to file in. “I’m happy. It’s the first year back and I don’t think it could have gone any better.”
The day surely could not have gone any better for Upper Merion’s Isaiah Graham-Mobley, who walked off with The Times Herald Red McCarthy Most Valuable Player Award. The Temple-bound senior closed out his high school career in fashion, accounting for three touchdowns and also recording an interception.
“You could feel the atmosphere,” Graham-Mobley said. “It was special. It felt like a playoff game they way the fans were into it.”
Naysayers held the opinion that Thanksgiving Day football was dead. That kick-starting an extinct tradition would be a mistake.
It was far from it.
“We couldn’t have had a better day for football,” Upper Merion athletic director Rob Devers said. “There was very positive energy from the fans. The weather couldn’t have been better and the game was good. I really couldn’t ask for more.”
When Palladino and Devers hatched their plan to turn back the clock, both believed the game would be special. Both head coaches felt the same way, having been brought up in an era where a win on Turkey Day could salvage a down season.
“For our seniors, they want to walk off the field where they played as a winner for the final time,” Upper Merion coach Hal Smith said. “Our guys got to do that today.
“But (Norristown) never gave up. They came right back at us.”
As is usually the case in rivalry games, a few new wrinkles were added to the playbook. Upper Merion opened the game with an on-side kick, which the Vikings recovered and turned into a quick score. Smith spent the last two weeks watching game film and coming up with some gadget plays, like the pass where Graham-Mobley took the ball on a reverse and heaved a 32-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Liam Stutzman to put the Vikings ahead 20-0 on the first play of the second quarter.
“We’ve been working on that,” Graham-Mobley said. “We got to have a little fun out there.”
And next Thanksgiving Day, The Vikings and Eagles will do it again, this time at Norristown High.
Mark Schiele is the Times Herald Sports Editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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