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Remembering Thanksgivings from the past

Thanksgiving dinner and football.

Since my early youth, it has been the staple in my life. I can remember how my eyes were wide, and how I was caught in amazement at my grandmother’s dining room table filled with bowls of traditional holiday sides. Then came the turkey paraded down the hallway, as we watched in silence.

From there, it was watching the Lions for a 12:30 p.m. kickoff and later the Cowboys to cap the day. For me, and maybe many others, it was and has been a day of my favorite foods and a football doubleheader. Now, the doubleheader has been expanded into a tripleheader, but back in the day, a pro football doubleheader on TV was an early Christmas present.

In this week’s version of my Yesterday column – a look back to the 1960s, 70s, 80s and sometimes beyond - I will take a look at football memories as well as some other highlights and pop culture items from past Thanksgivings and the time around the holiday.

Those Were the Days ... Back in the 1960s and 70s, there also were more high school football games played on Thanksgiving Day than the two currently still being played in District 11 (Phillipsburg-Easton and Catasauqua-Northampton).

Growing up in Nazareth, I remember plenty of Nazareth-Wilson games that were played on Turkey Day from 1926-75.

Among the other rivalry games that local teams played in on Thanksgiving Day in the late 60s and 70s were Palmerton-Slatington (now Northern Lehigh), Lehighton-Stroudsburg, and Marian-Panther Valley.

Those Thanksgiving TV tilts ... In my column from last year, I mentioned how the Clint Longley game of 1974 has been my most memorable Thanksgiving Day game. Playing for the injured Roger Staubach, Longley threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson with 50 seconds left to lift the Cowboys to a 24-23 victory over the Washington Redskins.

One of the most exciting Thanksgiving Day battles occurred a few years later in 1979 when Houston met Dallas in the “Texas State Championship.”

The Oilers were a rising team under head coach “Bum” Phillips with running back Earl Campbell and gunslinger quarterback Dan Pastorini.

Campbell ran 195 yards on 33 carries and Pastorini threw for 163 yards and two touchdowns. The latter one was a winning 32-yarder to Ken “00” Burrough late in the fourth quarter for a 30-24 victory.

A few weeks later on Monday Night Football, their “Love Ya Blue” (“Houston Oilers, Houston Oilers, Houston Oilers, No. 1..”) song was released and 50,000 placards were distributed for fans to wave when the song played. I also remembered the big, light blue helmet on a golf cart along the sidelines.

Speaking of Songs ... On Nov. 20, 1977, the late Bears’ running back Walter Payton set a new NFL single-game rushing record with 275 yards against the Vikings. Payton reportedly had remnants of the flu and a 101-degree temperature.

CBS produced a highlight video of Payton with the background song of Cary Simon’s hit, “Nobody Does It Better.” I vividly remember the video, and it became one of the most impactful ones of the decade.

The song, which was released in July, spent three weeks at No. 2 among the Billboard Top 100 and was No. 1 on the Easy Listening Chart. It was the theme song for the James Bond movie, “The Spy Who Loved Me.”

One More Song ... In November 1968, the Banana Splits theme song “The Tra La La Song” was released and it made it to #96 on the Billboard Chart.

The show, “The Banana Splits Adventure Hour” lasted two seasons and ended in 1969. Along with the madcaps of the foursome, the show also featured “Danger Island,” an adventure clip that always featured a cliffhanger, and the animated series, “Arabian Nights” and “The Three Musketeers.”

I’m sure that those of you old enough to remember can recall some of those highlights from the series.

A Flying Squirrel ... On Nov. 19, 1959, the “Bullwinkle Show” debuted on ABC. An iconic show from my youth, Bullwinkle and his sidekick, Rocky the Flying Squirrel were involved in their escapades across the world battling their Russian-based nemesis - Boris Badanov and Natasha.

The show also contained an educational component with Mr. Peabody and Sherman – who both emerged again in the 2000s - in a history lesson. In addition, there were segments that features Aesop and Son Fables, as well as the Adventures of Dudley Doright - a Canadian Mountie - who combated the villainous Snidely Whiplash from kidnapping his gal Nel.

Another Classic Game ...Something simple that kept us busy was the game, “Basketball Bounce” - from a company based in Smethport, Pennsylvania. The price ranged from $1 to $2 in the late 1960s and 70s.

The game was on a piece of cardboard covered with plastic. There was a round ball that was launched by a lever on the right side to try and make a basket in the middle.

We probably all had this game or a similar version of it - at one point in our lives.

Do You Remember? ... Every week, I’ll recall a likely forgotten player, manager, coach, announcer, or TV personality from yesterday.

This week’s subject is Al Meltzer. “Big Al” was a fixture on the Philadelphia sports scene as a sports anchor on NBC 10 for 20 years, but he also did play-by-play for the 76ers, Eagles, Phillies and Big 5 basketball. He gained his nickname for his powerful voice that matched his 6-foot-4 stature.

Meltzer worked for channel 10, 3 and 6, as well as for Channel 17 and Comcast SportsNet, where he ended his career in 2001. He carved his niche in the Philadelphia sports woodwork for his legendary work on Big 5 broadcasts on Channel 17 in the late 1960s and 70s. He passed away at the age of 89 in 2018.

One Final Thought ... Enjoy your turkey and your football on Thursday - like we all have for many years. It will be a day to recount memories of the holiday and football games from the past.

However, don’t forget the true meaning of the holiday - be thankful for everyone and everything around you that makes your daily life easier.

Happy Thanksgiving!