As the nation pauses for Thanksgiving, many will gather around with family for a giant feast. In the NFL, however, family togetherness can often take the form of teammates turned friends sharing a makeshift turkey dinner in a half-empty apartment.
Although I was away from my family, there was still something uniquely special about my first Thanksgiving in the NFL shared with a few fellow rookie teammates. It was odd spending this day designed for family with relative strangers, but it was also great to get to know guys on the team a little bit better outside of the football environment.
There really is very little opportunity, if any, for most players who are far from home to fly back to their families for Thanksgiving. This may be the worst day of practice of the year, especially when that practice happens to be outdoors in the middle of a New York ice storm.
Eric Mangini utilized the elements for his players to get acclimated to the various weather conditions one may face during a game. This philosophy happens to be one in which I agree with, but no matter how reasonable the strategy may be, it doesn’t make the experience any easier.
I distinctly remember standing there in the icy rain wearing only a Jets thermal and a pair of sweat pants. The air was so cold that day that it actually would hurt my teeth if I left my mouth open.
For the most part, Thanksgiving weekend in the NFL functions similarly to every other weekend. Compromising the weekly routine is not something a coach takes likely, and only small concessions are made.
Most coaches and teams are nice enough to turn Thanksgiving Thursdays into a half day of practice by having us get things started a little early and cutting out a few post-practice meetings so that players can get home a bit early for their family feasts.
One of the best perks of this particular holiday is getting an interesting yet rare glimpse into the cultures and traditions of several players and their backgrounds. Hearing the clamor in the locker room either the day before or the day after Turkey Day was always very entertaining. Guys would give a rundown on their favorite dishes and the foods that they were most excited about devouring.
This time of year also provides bonding opportunities, such as seeing how many established veterans go out of their way to offer up their homes and families to give those with nowhere to go a place to enjoy the holiday and eat some delicious food.
So, as all of you football fans sit on the couch watching the Thanksgiving action, remember to hold your loved ones tight; you could be standing in a blizzard hundreds of miles from home.
Personally, as a little bonus, I’m hoping for a John Madden sighting on Thanksgiving. Perhaps we can hear him explain and dissect the details of the now-famous turducken.