If so, you aren’t alone.
Along with stuffing and apple pie, high school football games have become a Thanksgiving tradition. Before people pack the cars and head on out to wherever the day’s festivities will be held, they stop by local football fields to drink some warm cider and watch teams butt heads early in the morning.
Younger fans of the Cheshire High School Rams football team will be excused for believing that the Apple Valley Classic between Cheshire and Southington has been happening since the dawn of time — or at least the dawn of football. CHS and SHS have been clashing on Thanksgiving Day for 24 years now, with SHS leading the series 14-9 heading into Thursday, having won the last seven in a row.
But older Cheshirites know that Southington is, in fact, just the latest rival to take on CHS on the last Thursday of every November. Other neighboring schools filled the football team’s holiday “dance card” for years, with Cheshire and West Haven clashing beginning in 1959, then the Rams played North Haven each Thanksgiving from 1972 to 1995, which led to a matchup against Lyman Hall beginning in 1962.
In fact, it was 48 years ago this week that Cheshire closed out its rivalry with Lyman Hall, in a game that was postponed because of snow. In the Dec. 2, 1971 edition of The Cheshire Herald, the game recap explained exactly what happened the last time the two rivals met:
The Cheshire High School football team retired the Bean Pot, the emblem of the Thanksgiving game between Cheshire and Lyman Hall High School of Wallingford, with a 14-0 victory in a snow-postponed game on Saturday morning. For the Rams of Coach Frank Tschan, it was one of their better defensive games. Lyman Hall was able to cross midfield only twice during the game … late in the third and fourth periods and the one scoring threat was stopped on the Cheshire 14-yard line.
The story makes clear that it was Cheshire’s stout defense that was the star of the show. Lyman Hall was barely able to move the ball past their own 30-yard line, and Cheshire’s D kept putting the Trojans in fourth-down territory.
Yet, while it was the Rams D that won the game, Paul Linehan, the Cheshire quarterback, accounted for all of the scoring. He ran for the only two touchdowns of the game, including the final one that put things out of reach for Lyman Hall:
… Linehan carried for a yard and on second down Linehan hit (Bill) Cirmo with a pass good for 20 yards and a Cheshire first down on the Lyman Hall 1-yard line. Cirmo carried to the 1-foot line and then Linehan carried it in to the end zone for his second touchdown of the game. Cheshire moved out on top by a 12-0 count, and Linehan then carried it in for a two point conversion.
The matchup would be the last between the two schools, as Lyman Hall would begin a series against their natural rival, Sheehan High School in Wallingford, in 1972. “As of this date, Cheshire is still looking for an opponent for the 1972 Thanksgiving game,” the article concluded.
Somewhere along the way, that opponent became North Haven. When, exactly, the deal was signed and the two schools decided to play one another doesn’t seem to have made headlines, but it was certainly on the minds of football fans early in the 1972-1973 school year, as a short article in the Sept. 7, 1972 edition of The Herald explained that the football team was already preparing for a new season, and a new Thanksgiving opponent:
The Cheshire High School, under new Coach Bill Cunningham, have been working hard in two-a-day workouts as it prepares for the season opener … Returning are four junior lettermen who played a big part on last year’s defensive team. They are Paul Bowman, Jim Lauber, Robert Steen and Joe Harty. These returning veterans give the Rams a strong seasoned first unit. Coach Cunningham will have to find the reserve strength to give the Rams the depth they will need for the upcoming season.
And, how did the Rams do when they finally kicked off their series with the North Haven Indians? An article in the Nov. 30, 1972 edition of The Herald gave all the details of the Rams’ narrow defeat:
On a bright but cold Thanksgiving morning, 3,500 fans watched as North Haven High School staged a strong second half comeback to edge Cheshire, 22 to 21. Those Rams fans who traveled to North Haven to witness the first Turkey Day clash between the two schools might have wished the game had ended after the first half of play, as the Rams led at that point, 21 to 6. In the second half the Rams attack turned as cold as the day and the Indians came storming back to score 16 points to eke out the one-point victory.
Again, Cheshire quarterback Paul Linehan was instrumental in Cheshire breaking out to a big lead, as was running back Paul DeFrancesco, who was playing the role of all-purpose back for his team — running the ball and catching passes from Linehan. But, unfortunately for the Rams, North Haven made enough plays in the second half to surpass them:
… The Indians moved the ball to the Cheshire 20-yard line before the Rams defense could stop the Indians attack. On a fourth down, with 2:25 left to play, North Haven went for a field goal. Steve Kesses booted the ball 35 yards through the goal post for three points to put the Indians out in front, 22 to 21.
Though it was a disappointing start to what would become known as the The Golden Boot game, Cheshire would quickly rebound the following year with a 43 to 6 victory over North Haven. The Rams would go on to win 15 of the next 22, before the series ended in 1995.
How long will the current Cheshire/Southington rivalry continue?
There’s no way to know. What we do know, however, is that the current crop of players will always remember these Turkey Day games … along with their mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.