Nearing 70, players planning for new annual get-together

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On Thanksgiving weekend in 1965, a bunch of teenagers jumped a barbed-wire fence to play football on the pristine field of an all-girls Catholic high school in Rogers Park, and the decision has affected their lives ever since.

No nuns appeared to chase them away. They had a blast. And minus the trespassing, they have continued the tradition every year since in one of the longest-running “Turkey Bowls” (featuring the same core group of players).

On Sunday, the half-century tradition comes to an end.

The players, graduates of the old St. George High School in Evanston — with a couple of guys from Loyola Academy sprinkled in the mix — are now closing in on age 70.

“Around the 45th Turkey Bowl, we said well let’s go for 50,” said longtime participant Art McGivern. “So this will be our last one. And then we’ll figure out another event to get us all together.”

Throughout the years, all manner of injuries — muscle tears, sprains, fractures — have been endured. The group played in rain and snow. Wives and girlfriends showed up to cheer — except when there was rain and snow.

One year, to keep the streak alive, the crew, many of whom played in high school, exited their cars in torrential rain to play two series of downs before retreating.

“My favorite memory is when [quarterback] Art McGivern played with a cane after hip surgery last year,” said Paul Murphy, a tax attorney who lives in Wilmette. “He kept it in a belt loop when he threw and used it to bat down balls on defense.”

McGivern, also of Wilmette, denied illegal cane use. “My arms are just really long,” he quipped.

Another recent gem: “Watching the two slowest guys chasing each other down the field while the rest of us were rolling around on the ground laughing,” Murphy said.

The locker room ribbing hasn’t changed much since the early years, but the meaning of the game has evolved.

“At first it was just about the football, we all loved football, and over the years we realized that the value of this thing was in the friendships.”

The teammates — some pals since kindergarten — have been there for each other on and off the field.

“When my daughter was in hospice for the last few weeks of her life, one of my football pals, Marty Murray, came to see her every day,” Murphy said.

Murray, who did the brunt of recruiting and organizing that kept the Turkey Bowl alive over the years, died in 2012. Two other men on the roster also have passed away. Their widows have been invited to the 50th game.

The game, which will be played at Jorndt Field in the Ravenswood neighborhood, has changed a bit over the years.

It typically draws about 15 guys, most of whom have made it to all but a few of the games. The group has included tradesmen, businessmen, and a former CEO.

Blocking was outlawed more than a decade ago. Two-hand touch became no running after a catch. There are no quarterback sneaks or pass rushes, Murphy said.

“We’ve also shrunk the field a little bit as we’ve gotten older, and the date has moved closer and closer to the warm weather — concessions to old age,” he said with a laugh.

“It has become a very genteel game,” McGivern said. “Everybody takes care of everybody else.”

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