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Thanksgiving Football: Despite missing breakfast, Upper Darby and Haverford have 100th football feast

Montez Ellis runs for a 69-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of Upper Darby's 28-21 win over Haverford last season. Ellis is back to take part in the 100th Thanksgiving Day meeting between the Royals and Fords Thursday.(Pete Bannan - MediaNews Group)

One of the great traditions of Thanksgiving Day football is the number of former players who return home to take part in the festivities.

They’re usually easy to spot. They’ll be the ones standing on the sideline, many wearing lettermen’s jackets that only come out of storage for the game. The alumni will be out in force when the Fords take on rival Upper Darby Thursday at A.G. Cornog Field (10 a.m.) in the granddaddy of Delco Thanksgiving rivalries.

It’s the 100th time the Fords (5-5 overall, 4-3 Central League) and Royals (4-6, 3-4) will lock horns on Turkey Day.

“It’s pretty special for it to be 100 years,” Haverford coach Luke Dougherty said. “It’s pretty humbling. I said that to Dave (Barr, the Upper Darby coach) the other day on the phone. Dave and I have not been around for 100 years so the game is a little bigger than us and a little bigger that what we’re trying to sell to 15-18 year-old kids, what 100 years looks like. Any time you had a third digit to a rivalry, it’s a big deal, especially In a football rich county like Delaware County. To be the longest speaks volumes to our community.”

It’s the longest running Thanksgiving rivalry in Delaware County by far, with it not played only twice since its inception in 1921. That was in 1925 and again 2020, that one due to coronavirus. The Fords hold a 49-44-6 advantage in the series and of the 93 games where there was a winner, 38 were decided by one score (eight points or less), and in another four games the margin was 10 points or less.

“There’s such incredible history to the game,” said Barr, who played for Haverford and coached at both his alma mater and now at Upper Darby. “Any time you play 100 times you’re going to have unbelievable stories, unbelievable endings, crazy weather, unbelievable players on both sides, those things naturally happen in 100 contests.”

Some of the recent games have been classics. Haverford pulled out a 49-42 victory when Jack Donaghy raced 19 yards for the winning score in 2015. In 2018, Haverford stopped a two-point conversion to pull out a 14-13 victory. Last year, Covenant Horace took a Montez Ellis pass 31 yards for a Royals TD with 26 seconds left to snap an 11-year drought with a 28-21 victory. Ellis was the offensive MVP of that game and he’s back for the Royals.

“I think that just speaks to the power of the rivalry,” Barr added. “And I think you’ll see that in a lot of rivalry games, especially in football, that are like that. When coaches use that cliché, ‘You can throw out the records,’ it really is true. Weird things happen.”

However, there are a few of changes this year. One is the site. The game was supposed to be played at Upper Darby’s Memorial Stadium. Field issues there prevented the Royals from playing at home this season, so the game had to be moved to Haverford.

Also, the kickoff has been moved up from the traditional 10:45 a.m. start to 10 a.m. That earlier start also means the traditional breakfast between the coaches at the Perkins in Upper Darby won’t take place this year.

“Dave lives in New Jersey and with the earlier start and the bus ride, even though it’s a short ride, we just felt that it was too tough to do this year, but we’re going to do something later,” Dougherty said. “We’ll get together in some way because we want to continue what (former head coaches) Joe (Gallagher) and Rich (Gentile) started. It’s a great tradition and a part of the fabric and history of this game.”

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