In a lot of ways, the annual Thanksgiving football game between Darien and New Canaan may seem ordinary. It’s just neighboring towns playing some football on Thanksgiving; this kind of thing is happening all over the country.

A quick look at the history tells you this game has become much more than that for both communities. Darien and New Canaan have met on the football field since 1928, and have played on Thanksgiving since 1994. Some years, it’s been a blowout (Darien won 70-0 in 1962, New Canaan won 68-0 in 1971), some years it’s an instant classic (Darien won 37-34 in overtime in 2016), but the game has grown beyond the simple late November rivalry. Fans in Darien were lining up to buy tickets at 6:15 in the morning over a week before the date of the game, and those tickets were sold out on the first day. In recent years, the game has been played at Stamford’s Boyle Stadium to accommodate the massive crowds. This year, the game returned to Darien High School for the first time since 2012.

With tailgating prohibited on high school campus, dozens of independent tailgates and watch parties were organized all over town. One such tailgate was at the home of the Overbeck family. I arrived around 9 a.m., with the tailgate already in full swing, with about 100 people on hand. Walking in, cars and fans from both Darien and New Canaan could be seen as the Overbeck family has ties to both towns.

Multiple grills were lit, with sausage, ribs, clams, and just about any other food you can imagine available to eat. Hot cider was being poured. Kids played touch football in the yard, recent alumni home from college caught up with friends, and quite a few predictions were made about how the day’s game would turn out. Everyone was simply happy to see everyone else. After taking some time to catch up with old friends, it was time to walk over to DHS and settle in for the game.

Darien High School had extra bleachers and seating set up to accommodate the crowd of thousands that would be in attendance. The teams warmed up, and the reunion of alums and friends continued in the stands and around the fence by the field for both towns.

More predictions, more friendly jabs, but mostly just more genuine joy at being around for the latest Turkey Bowl installment.

For those who couldn’t get a ticket for the game, the Darien Athletic Foundation and New Canaan Athletic Foundation were putting on a joint broadcast. In years past, broadcasts of the Turkey Bowl have been viewed by alumni living across the country. As the stands filled, fans began to line the fence. A look around the stadium would show you a crowd that was massive, passionate, and eager.

Walking around, it was clear that while the outcome of the football game itself was certainly important, more than anything, this was two communities that were bathing in tradition and nostalgia, simultaneously experiencing the emotions of Turkey Bowl 2019 and each prior chapter at the same time.

Prior to the game, Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson and New Canaan First Selectman Kevin Moynihan met at midfield for the coin toss, and also to renew their annual wager, with these years funds going to the winning town’s athletic foundation.

While the two teams battled on the stadium, high school football players of the future played touch football on the adjacent Stadium East. Fans cheered on their town, and ultimately, New Canaan would prevail 20-0. As the final horn sounded, New Canaan fans charged onto the field, congratulating their players and hoisting friends on shoulders. Fans made their way home, leaving a family of thousands for a family of few, and to enjoy their Thanksgiving meal.

In the end, the joy on the New Canaan sideline was matched by disappointment for Darien, who has now lost the Turkey Bowl for three straight years. But win or lose, both communities are fortunate for one important reason.

They all get to do this again next year.

Darien’s Class LL football quarterfinal football game against Greenwich will be to 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, at Darien High School.