The Turkey Bowl isn’t the only big rivalry game in the area on Thanksgiving. Plenty of schools across the FCIAC, let alone the state and the country, have a big rivalry game played on Thanksgiving morning. Some probably even go as far as to also call it the Turkey Bowl. But the New Canaan-Darien game has grown into something more than just the game played on Thanksgiving. It’s an event that has taken on its own life, and encompasses the entire community in both towns, not just football fans.
The game was first played in 1928 and was won by Darien, 28-6, although New Canaan would win 18 of the first 24 matchups. This year will be the 91st meeting between the two teams. Turkey Bowls have been biters, like the 2014 Turkey Bowl that doubled as the FCIAC Championship game. Darien won 28-21 in overtime at Boyle Stadium in front of a crowd of thousands. Some years it’s not so close, like in 1971 when New Canaan won 68-0, or in 1949, when Darien won 64-0. The enrollment numbers were so skewed in 1949 that the game actually wasn’t played again until 1956, and New Canaan wouldn’t win again until 1967. Lately things have tilted back towards New Canaan, with Darien winning just six times since the year 2000 in all meetings.
Only a four times in the history of the matchup has it happened that the schools played twice in the same season, meeting on a date other than Thanksgiving, all of those occurrences happening between 1999 and 2014. Otherwise, you can go ahead and mark your calendar for quite some time with the Turkey Bowl on Thanksgiving morning.
It has also grown beyond football. The Turkey Bowl has serves as a homecoming game, with alums from all over the country arriving for the day. It has the mystique of the Super Bowl, with both programs looking at the game as that one they’d like to win most of any game on the schedule.
It has now been 15 years since I graduated from New Canaan High School. Classmates of mine have left the area and moved across the country, starting families of their own. But come Thanksgiving Day, the Turkey Bowl is still on their minds. Friends in St. Louis, Colorado, Florida, and other states have sent me photos of the Turkey Bowl via the HAN Network app on Thanksgiving morning as they cheer for their home town. The Goose in Darien has a tailgate each year. New Canaan football alums come back for a pancake breakfast, some of them speak to the team about the their days on the football field for their alma mater.
Steeped within the rivalry and tradition is the feeling of a family for both towns. The entirety of Darien matches up with the entirety of New Canaan. Some years it’s for a championship trophy, and some years it’s simply for who gets to say they’re better for the next 364 days. Either way, it’s one of the special days of the year when the entire town is joined together to feel proud of where they live, and to be thankful to their family.