Don Seeley loved Thanksgiving Day football.
The former Mercury sports editor, who passed away in June, especially loved the annual Pottstown-Owen J. Roberts Thursday morning meeting — a game steeped in tradition arguably more than any other in the area.
He loved it for its history, the way it harkened to the good ol' days, the way it was a homecoming for so many spectators even more than actual Homecoming.
When the topic of the game crossed my mind early in the football season, I couldn't help but think the sports editor of The Mercury is supposed to be at this game.
Thursday morning, I took in my first Thanksgiving Day football game.
Having grown up in District 3 territory, the only Thanksgiving football I ever knew was our annual game in the park with my brother and our friends that mostly featured one-play drives and a whole lot of Mississippis.
From talking with Don, Mercury photographer John Strickler and a number of other people over the years, I always knew their reverence for OJR/Pottstown game.
After waking up, bundling up and driving my way toward Grigg Stadium, the spirit of the morning quickly hit me as the Pottstown marching band played as I walked across a few athletic fields to the gates.
So used to Friday night football, it always feels unique to hear the band music playing in the morning light.
On the sidelines, stories of past games in the rivalry came up, most notably the 1970 showdown in Bucktown starring the late Denny Laws in front of 10,000 fans.
Before the game, a moment of silence was held for Seeley, Laws, Pottstown graduate and former Navy Seal commander Job Price and former Pottstown and St. Pius X coach Bill Rogers, four fixtures of the game who died in the past year.
The 2013 installment didn't feature nearly as many supporters — though there was interest from the folks around the neighborhood watching from outside the gates along Hale St. — but there was still a buzz, even for a pair of teams that had combined for only three wins all season.
Ultimately, Owen J. Roberts' straightforward rushing attack wore down short-handed Pottstown, resulting in a 27-6 victory that snapped a two-game skid in the Thanksgiving Day game.
In a game all about its history, maybe that gave Wildcats coach Tom Barr an edge on coaching counterpart Don Grinstead, a rookie to the rivalry.
The Thanksgiving Day game has been a part of Barr's life for many decades, but the feeling hasn't faded.
"To me — and I'm hoping my players feel this way, too — I played in this game, I've coached in this game and it's still the same for me. You get up early Thursday morning and you get the butterflies in the stomach and I'm excited. It's great to have a 10 o'clock kickoff in the morning and better yet when you win the game. I still look forward to this game every year,' said Barr, who has been the OJR head coach for 17 seasons.
At least one of those players — two-way lineman Steve Myers — was happy to be playing Thursday morning, especially after getting the Wildcats' first win in their last three attempts.
"It's tradition,' Myers said. "Even being away, we packed in the fans tight and to get the win was great. We got great play from our offense and defense so it made for a great Thanksgiving.'
A three-week layoff between games isn't something Grinstead, in his first year in charge at Pottstown after previously serving as an assistant at Great Valley, was accustomed to — and the scheduling squib kick, if you will, it presented.
"It's rough early on,' Grinstead. "You try to figure the schedule and you have three weeks off which is a long time. It was a learning experience. The whole year was a learning experience and this game in particular was a learning experience. I think we'll get better at it.'
Even though so many Thanksgiving games have gone by the wayside (OJR-Pottstown stands alongside the Spring-Ford vs. Phoenixville meeting as the only two in the area that remain), Grinstead for one is excited to get another crack at a Thanksgiving game.
"You feel special. There's only four teams playing in our conference on Thanksgiving and that's a special thing,' Grinstead said. "It's a special thing for our kids to be able to come out here and play a football game and go home with family and have dinner and give thanks. Football is special and to play it on a day where you are with your family and your family is at the game, I think it's a great thing. Our kids embrace it and I embrace it.'
It may not be embraced by everyone in the same way it once was, but without question it's right for The Mercury sports editor to embrace it, same as it ever was.
Austin Hertzog is the Sports Editor of The Mercury. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AustinHertzog