When most people think of Thanksgiving, they think of the basics: food, family, friends, gratitude, Black Friday and cranberry sauce (whatever the hell that is). But for me, as well as an entire nation of maladjusted sports fans, there is another pillar of Thanksgiving tradition that takes precedent over all others: football.
For those who don’t know, Thanksgiving marks the greatest weekend of the football season. It’s a four-day celebration of all that is good and holy about the sport, opening Thursday and closing Sunday with the NFL and filling in the gaps with some of the best rivalries in college football.
It starts on Thanksgiving Day with a full slate of NFL games bound to keep you couch-locked while your mom and her siblings tire away in the kitchen. There’s always three — an early afternoon game, an afternoon game and a night game. The Detroit Lions usually lose one of them, and the Dallas Cowboys typically emerge victorious in another. It’s a tradition football fans have grown accustomed to at this point, but that doesn’t make it any less special when Thanksgiving rolls around each year.
The next day, after the food has settled and the hangover has kicked in, we begin the first of a two-day college football festival otherwise known as Rivalry Weekend. Some people call it the greatest weekend in sports; I’m sure others have grown tired of my hyperbole at this point. Either way, it’s certainly a weekend worth celebrating, with a seemingly endless stream of top-flight rivalry games for two whole days. There are always a few games on the docket you can’t miss while you’re busy cleaning out your fridge and freezer.
At noon Saturday, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 10 Michigan face off in what is known in the American sports canon as “The Game.” That’s right, not “The Game Up North” or even “The Big Game,” just “The Game” — as in The Only Game you should ever be concerned about. Ohio State and Michigan have been facing off for more than a century now (this Saturday will mark the 116th game between the two programs), and the rivalry is still as fresh as it’s ever been.
Sure, Ohio State has won seven straight dating back to Urban Meyer’s reign of terror, but Michigan probably has its best chance to play spoiler in years. It’s Ryan Day’s first game against Michigan as head coach of the Buckeyes, and a win would all but guarantee his team’s slot in the elusive College Football Playoff. As a two-loss team, it’s a long shot for Michigan to make the playoff, but a win against their highly ranked rivals would make a convincing argument to any skeptic on the playoff committee.
Finally, if you’re from a certain part of the country where one’s identity is irreversibly tied to the college football team one pledges their allegiance to (the Dirty South, baby), there is one rivalry that trumps all others in terms of passion, commitment and disdain for the other side: the Iron Bowl. Alabama’s in-state rivalry between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers is among the sport’s most beloved (or infamous, depending on how you look at it), and this year, everything is on the line.
Just two weeks removed from a heartbreaking home loss against top-ranked LSU, the No. 5 Crimson Tide will travel two and a half hours south to face its sworn enemy without its on-field leader, junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. It’s a win-or-go-home game for an Alabama team teetering on the edge of a playoff berth, and I can’t think of a better opponent to stand in their way than the dreaded Auburn Tigers.
To cap this delicious meal, right before us USC students are slated for our final week of classes, we’re blessed with a classic NFL Sunday. Look, I recognize that it’s already a weekly tradition in the fall, but a full Thanksgiving schedule doesn’t make it any less exciting. Two of the season’s best games fall on this Sunday, with a matchup between the conference-leading San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens and a Sunday night clash between the New England Patriots and the Houston Texans.
It sounds like a lot of football because it is and that’s the point. If the football season is an indie movie (which, for some of us, isn’t a stretch), this weekend is the emotional climax where the protagonist dunks her head underwater and comes of age — or something. Either way, I already forgot what we’re getting three days off of school for. Sports!
Matthew Philips is a senior writing about football. He is also a former lifestyle editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Catch or No Catch,” ran every other Tuesday.