A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

In this screen shot for Warner Brothers, Lucy asks Charlie Brown to try and kick the football in the opening scene of "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" released in November of 1973.

Charlie Brown didn’t get to kick the football again this year.

It’s still sad that ABC can’t be trusted to air “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on Thanksgiving like Charles Schultz must have intended — it was Tuesday at 8 this time and I watched again to make sure — but there’s a reason Shultz opened the classic with Lucy talking Charlie Brown into one more try and promising she wouldn’t pull it away this time.

Football and Thanksgiving.

The pair are so intertwined that it would be easier to move the holiday than remove the football. Don’t believe me, ask your folks if you have kids, or your grandparents (if you’re still a kid) about Franksgiving and which Thursday in November was set aside for Thanksgiving when they were little.

No really, ask them. With words. Spoken from your own mouth and using your own ears to hear the answer and process the answering story.

No texting or tweeting for help.

Don’t Google it and say, “really?”

Talk to the family member with the gray hair and wise eyes who is hopefully sitting at the table with you today. Then again, you might call someone and engage in a conversation that is beyond two minutes of idle chit-chat about where they might go shopping on Friday, then signing off with a “Happy Thanksgiving.”

As the years have rolled by, I’ve noticed more and more that table talk has died away — not just on this holiday, but it’s more noticeable to me on this day. My folks are members of what may be called “the last conversation generation.” As for the rest of us, we’re falling prey to — or have grown up as — a society that LOLs, considers forwarding the email or sharing a meme the equivalent of actually telling a joke.

Which is where football may save society and the holiday as we once knew it. For all its sins, the NFL has stayed true to the holiday with the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys always taking the field on whichever Thursday one government entity or another dictated would be Thanksgiving. OK, Detroit was first and it was a gate gimmick at the start. Dallas got on board not long after its club was founded — and after Texas had decided to join with the rest of us on which Thursday to carve up the turkey. Thus far, the league has shown enough good sense and restraint to only add one rotating game to the holiday schedule — and, so far, has not backed one into a Wednesday evening spot, nor any other such foolish thing.

Not every family incorporates football — whether NFL, or the longstanding and tradition-rich college rivalries — into their day of thanks, but a lot of us do. Whether it’s just to have some background noise while the food cooks and everyone wanders in, or is an integral post-meal tradition replete with pumpkin pie at kickoff, the game tends to be there.

It’s given us common ground while facing a world where we’re all a bit too busy for our own good and fail to keep up with each other like we want, causing us to feel almost awkward with our extended kin at times. It’s a conversation-starter for those of us making the rounds between homes in a step-whomever and holiday-custody hand-off society. Asking “Whose winning now?” is the ice-breaking question even if you were streaming the game in the car or checked your phone for the score before you got to the door.

Even if no one really watches that closely, it’s a reason to sit around and reconnect as friends and family. It’s given us points of reference to bring up time and again: when Dad snored his way through the butt fumble and missed it; that time Leon Lett tried to recover a blocked field goal and made Uncle Andy cry; that Thanksgiving Stevie brought the Wisconsin girl home from college, and who was so sure Brett Favre would dust the Cowboys that she made that stupid bet — and wait, wasn’t their Susie born the next August?

Football is the canvas upon which we paint family holiday portraits.

So, before we sentence the elders of the tribe to a death by silence in a time when younger folk seem unable to engage in table talk, and their own peers are helpless and mute without changing hearing aid batteries, let today be a day that thanks is given with words, strung together and shared among those close to you.

There’s good reason Charlie Brown can’t kick Thanksgiving football: like the turkey, it’s not such a bad holiday habit.

Marcus Fitzsimmons is sports editor of The Daily Times.

An East Tennessee newshound since 1990, minus a few years spent working the road race circuit in D.C. , Marcus has been a reporter, copy editor and sports editor, and is now a production manager of APG's Design Hub located at The Daily Times.

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