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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thanksgiving without an NFL triple-header?

DEAN SHALHOUP

They come of age in one of the nation's bleakest economic periods in history, only to find themselves dodging bullets and bombs a half a world away. Still, I've found over the years, the men and women of America's beloved Greatest Generation also hold dear plenty of fond memories of a simpler, fairer and more neighborly era.

Take Thanksgiving, for instance. Somehow, our forebears of not that long ago managed to get through the holiday and its companion four-day weekend without watching a single NFL game. Or even knowing any scores. Or even caring. ...

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They come of age in one of the nation's bleakest economic periods in history, only to find themselves dodging bullets and bombs a half a world away. Still, I've found over the years, the men and women of America's beloved Greatest Generation also hold dear plenty of fond memories of a simpler, fairer and more neighborly era.

Take Thanksgiving, for instance. Somehow, our forebears of not that long ago managed to get through the holiday and its companion four-day weekend without watching a single NFL game. Or even knowing any scores. Or even caring.

But what really piques my curiosity is how the heck they and other Americans across the land got through Thanksgiving Day without plopping onto a sturdy table a big, fat newspaper stuffed with glossy, full color promises of retail bargains never before seen in these parts - larger, louder ones commanding you to be at the door of our bright, gleaming bastion of consumerism at midnight, or risk losing out on the season's No. 1 must-have gadget and thereby almost certainly scarring little Janie or Jimmy for life?

Since I didn't have time to convene a panel, I trotted out some microfilm versions of old Telegraphs this week, wondering if I'd see any ads promoting special Thanksgiving week or weekend sales events from which today's Black Friday phenomenon might be descended.

I settled on 1941, a sort-of even 75 years ago, and first realized I was scanning through pages that would very soon be teeming with giant headlines proclaiming the sudden, horrifying news that America had been attacked and was entering World War II.

But then a far more pleasant headline caught my eye, which at first made me wonder why I'd never known about it before: "Stage Set for Thanksgiving Day Game with Connecticut Team."

Connecticut? Sure, Nashua played Massachusetts teams all the time back in those days, but Connecticut? Then it dawned on me.

That was the year that legendary coach Charles "Buzz" Harvey made his debut on the Holman Stadium sidelines, having been wooed (perhaps with kind words and promises, but definitely with a nice chunk of change) from his native Saugus, Mass.

The "wooers" were a group of school, sports, civic and city leaders who were tired of .500 football seasons and wanted to do something about it. They looked around, eventually setting their sights on this "kid" Harvey - a large, commanding sideline presence who starred at Saugus High, then at Holy Cross in Worcester, before returning as Saugus coach and immediately turning the program around.

Just 28 when he took the Nashua folks up on their offer, Harvey wasted no time in beefing up the schedule with traditionally tougher Massachusetts teams - and still promising Nashua would win more than they would lose.

The rest is history, of course.

As for the 1941 Thanksgiving Day tilt, jack-of-all-trades reporter Fred Dobens spared no ink in covering the coming of undefeated Connecticut state champion Bulkeley High of New London.

"It has been a long time since Nashua sports fans have had a chance to howl about their team, and most of them are making the most of it," Dobens wrote.

Word came down that along with the players, cheerleaders and band, New London was sending more than 1,000 fans by train for the game. In Nashua, a "torchlight" parade snaked down Main Street on the eve of the big game, with everyone congregating at the City Auditorium on Spring Street for a big rally.

Come 11 a.m. Thanksgiving Day, Holman Stadium, just five years old at the time, was bursting at the gates with a raucous, but by all accounts quite friendly, throng awaiting the opening kickoff.

The final score? Ah, doesn't matter; it was Thanksgiving football with a rookie Nashua coach and a standing-room-only crowd.

OK, for the record, it was a rather anticlimactic 7-7 tie.

And as for Black Friday-style ads? The closest I found was a full page ad titled "Christmas Shopping Guide."

Dean Shalhoup's column appears Saturdays in The Telegraph. He can be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DeanS.