Thanksgiving is the holiday to savor
By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

I read where in ancient Egypt, they had harvest festivals that pre-dated our American Thanksgivings by a couple thousand years, and that at those festivals, sports were a critical part of the equation.

Cool! To know that Cleopatra once dined on the "Turducken" on the fourth Thursday of November while checking out some football is an immensely satisfying bit of human trivia.

You can almost imagine the Time Travel now, John Madden breaking down some Detroit Lions game film/Thanksgiving Day "Turducken" with the Egyptian queen:

Ahman Green and Brett Favre
Ahman Green eyes his piece of the mutant bird, while Brett Favre clutches his chest after a mouthful.
Madden: So you see here, there's plenty of turkey meat there, and then you've got another leg over here, and once that leg is consumed, you think you're out of legs, but no -- we've got a few other legs over here, and if you really get after it, you can taste a little turkey, a little duck and a little chicken ...

Cleopatra: I am bored with this Turducken. I want to meet your Monday Night Football cohort. He looks like the handsome Marc Anthony.

Madden: You must be talking about Al Michaels. He's a big fan of the Turducken. He's also been to Egypt, on one of those paid European vacations that ABC gave him, on account of "Monday Night Football" being such a big hit ...

Ah, how we love the commonality of the human experience.

Let's be honest: Thanksgiving in ancient Egypt was no different than Thanksgiving in America, 2003 -- epic amounts of food, plenty of recreational gambling on the local sporting events, and gluttony on a scale where you're forced, eventually, to loosen the rope belt on your tunic by nightfall.

That's our topic this week, dear readers: Thanksgiving as Sports Holiday, and how it rates compared to our other American Sports Holidays.

Because let's face it -- Thanksgiving is the 1-seed in any holiday Bracket. Who doesn't love Thanksgiving? What's not to love? Food, football, family -- and exactly zero cumbersome religious imagery.

It got me to thinking. Is there any way any other holiday could compare?

You wouldn't think so, but let's perform a Page 2 Scouting Report, just for the record. Forthwith, the holidays, their pros, their cons, their ultimate standing in the American TV-watching consciousness:

Pros: You can start the day with the Neighborhood Mud Bowl, when college and post-college kids risk torn ligaments in tackle football games down at the local park. (Thinking back, it's a wonder we had fewer compound fractures.) Then, on the tube, two NFL games, guaranteed, every year. Ole Miss-Mississippi State on ESPN at night, when you've eaten yourself comatose and are prone, in front of the tube, motionless. A couple of NBA tilts, if that's your thing. Plus, endless amounts of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls and butter to ride sidesaddle as you watch this orgy of sports. Bonus points for the Friday after Thanksgiving, when you can eat the coveted Day-After Turkey Sandwich while watching Texas-Texas A&M, ladling mayonnaise on the dried-out bird as surely as the Longhorns will pour on points on the helpless Aggies.

Cons: How can the NFL ruin an otherwise Perfect Holiday by staging the annual tilts on artificial turf? On the very day that grown men around this great country engage in mud-splattered glory at the local yard in the Neighborhood Mud Bowl, the NFL gives us two games on bogus turf? God bless the tradition of the Lions and the Cowboys, but can somebody point us to an actual patch of grass? I say either force Dallas and Detroit to change their playing surfaces, or switch the Thanksgiving rota to Green Bay and San Francisco, two creaky old stadiums featuring the Earth's natural sod.

A Christmas Story
It's not Christmas until Flick tongues the pole.
Pros: Quality NBA action, as we get Kings, Lakers, Mavs and Yao Ming this Christmas. The obligatory Hawaii Bowl to sate the hardcore lunatic, the fan who can't rest until he sees Cal coach Jeff Tedford in a lei. Plus, if no sports matchups intrigue, there's always the enduring classic "A Christmas Story" replayed in blissful cycle on TNT. The Bumpus Hounds destroying the Xmas turkey every two hours -- an American tradition.

Cons: Who watches sports on Christmas Day? Let's face it -- the dirty little secret about Christmas is that the holiday is over at noon. It reaches a near-peak at midnight on Christmas Eve, absolutely peaks at 9 a.m. when all the presents are opened ... and the rest of the day is a morass of family dysfunctionality, excessive alcohol and excuses to leave early. Alas -- the Yao-Shaq duel will play out as you drive home from Mom and Dad's in the darkness, stewing in silence over either a real or perceived family sleight.

New Year's Day
Pros: When I was a kid, there was no question this was the Best Sports Day of the Year. Back then, it was four bowls, four worthy champions, four landscapes of America (chilly Dallas in the morning, sun-splashed Pasadena in the afternoon, balmy Miami and domed New Orleans at night), seven major conferences and an at-large bid and total, total college football bliss. But I'm no longer a kid. I'm a 36-year-old steadily losing touch with today's generation, no matter how many times I watch MTV2.

Cons: This year, Jan. 1 means the following: Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Outback Bowl, Gator Bowl, Capital One Bowl. Are you kidding me? The storied Rose and Orange Bowls joining this cast of understudies? What hath God wraught? Plus, no NFL playoff games. We have to wait until Jan. 4 for the Sugar Bowl, the BCS' version of what we used to call "New Year's Day". Bummer, man. This is truly one of those when-I-was-a-kid-I-walked-two-miles-through-the-snow moments.

St. Patrick's Day
Pros: Oceans of booze. Plus, St. Pat's often falls on the opening weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament. If you're like me, you parlay that into a massive weekend of Cactus League baseball and a bizarre, yet intense, interest in a Purdue-St. Joseph's second-round tilt, all made better by the steady drumbeat of the beer man's cries at Scottsdale Stadium. Did we mention the oceans of booze? We're all Irish, after all, aren't we?

Cons: No NFL. No meaningful NBA action. And oceans of booze can only mean tidal waves of headaches on March 18.

Fourth of July
Nathan's hot dog eating contest
The Fourth of July always brings us back to the story of David and Goliath.
Pros: Baseball, baseball, baseball. If you're not watching your local Little League All-Stars on a dusty diamond in your hometown, you're catching the local Major League franchise on what is likely Fireworks Night, as the kids and you are oddly delighted at the sight of exploding sticks in the air. The 4th is burgers and dogs on the grill, the smell of leather as you play catch and warm summer nights.

Cons: The NBA Finals have only recently concluded, making you grouchy that you spent nine months watching action on the hardwood where men only shoot 43 percent from the field. Plus, there's that nettlesome Fireworks Night -- traffic jams, plus the specter of a stray Roman Candle firing into your Upper Deck section and setting your cargo shorts ablaze.

The Conclusion
Final rankings of Sports Holidays:
1. Thanksgiving
2. St. Patrick's Day
3. New Year's Day
4. Fourth of July
5. Christmas

Now -- go eat some bird, would you, please?

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes every Monday for Page 2.



Brian Murphy Archive

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Murphy: Popularity contest

Murphy: Pondering parity

Murphy: Turn back the clock

Murphy: Why you should watch

Murphy: Who do you believe?

Murphy: Art a choke

Murphy: Cub-conscious

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