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Former Crusaders, Railsplitters have fond memories of Thanksgiving

Greg Hennigar’s senior year was cut short due to a broken collarbone, but he returned healthy enough to take a knee in his final game, securing Judge’s win. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The Barfoot Bowl will be empty on Thanksgiving morning.

Father Judge High School sent out an email last week to alumni that the Crusaders and the Abraham Lincoln Railsplitters have canceled the annual game. 

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Instead of focusing on the negative – the ending of one of the great traditions in Northeast Philly – we go to former stars of the game to get their fondest memories of playing in the big game.

Braedon Hart

Offensive Line

Father Judge Class of 2022 

“Turkey Bowl to me was the best part of Thanksgiving. From the bagpipes to the fight song, I loved every moment of it. My favorite memory is being a little kid who lived on Chippendale Street, half a block away from the game. As a kid, I used to love to run down to Rowland Avenue and watch the Judge players walk with the police escort and bagpipes to the game. Having the opportunity to be one of those Judge players walking down Rowland was a dream come true and a memory I’ll have for a lifetime.” 

Joe DiGrazio

Running Back/Linebacker

Abraham Lincoln, Class of 2005 (now an assistant with Lincoln)

“The game was very important to me growing up in Mayfair. I was very familiar with both schools. I attended and played at Lincoln but had a lot of childhood friends who played for Judge. Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday because of this game and the great tradition that came with it. I’m very sad to see it go.

“There are so many great memories I have from this game so it’s hard to just pick one. What I’m going to miss most is the atmosphere. Every year easily over 5,000 fans pile into our stadium for this awesome tradition. The stands packed, hundreds of people lined up on the hills and behind the end zones. It was so cool to play in front of big crowds like that. 2003 and 2004 we had really good teams at Lincoln so those games were very competitive so we gave the crowd some really good football to watch and cheer for.”

Patrick Brady

Defensive End/Special Teams 

Pat played at Judge in 1987, Lincoln in 1988 and 1989

“The game means everything to me, teamwork and cooperation and brotherhood mean the world to me, which is why I still have all of the close friends years after high school. I learned valuable lessons but I think the most important for me was ‘mental toughness.’ This has given me the ability to try new things and fail knowing I will simply try again until I am successful. Competitive sports can really help give yourself a true understanding of your own abilities but when combined with the abilities of your teammates, is when the true magic and success come. 

“My favorite memory from my time playing at Lincoln has to be the 7-0 win against Father Judge in the snow-covered Turkey Bowl of 1989! Having played for 2 years as a freshman and sophomore at Father Judge I knew their abilities and was ready for a tough game. It was bittersweet for me as I know the seniors at Father Judge who I had played with most of my childhood were devastated by our victory but extremely proud of the way the team came together and held Father Judge in the closing moments on their final drive to seal the victory.”

Justin O’Brien 

Running back/Kicker/Kick Returner

Father Judge, Class of 2002

“The game was a sense of pride to me because I wanted to keep the tradition and winning streak going. No one wants to be the team to lose to Lincoln. 

“(My best memory was) when Ted Silary had his website up and people could comment hype for the game. A Lincoln player commented that he happened to be the punter for Lincoln. I remember taking the first punt he punted to me to the end zone!”

Ryan Nase

Offensive Line

Father Judge, Class of 2002

“Playing for Father Judge and in the Turkey Bowl was something I looked forward to from basically the time I was old enough to understand sports. I grew up right on Summerdale Avenue behind the visitors bleachers to Northeast. My childhood bedroom looked out over the field and to me the high school football players were as big, or bigger, than the Eagles because I actually got to see them play in person. There were weekends in the fall where I would go to two or three games (My apologies to the ADs at the time, I knew how to walk around the tennis courts in the back so I didn’t have to pay). While I went to all the games growing up in Resurrection parish, Judge was always my favorite and I knew that’s where I was going to high school all along. I loved the Catholic League rivalries but there was just something different about the crowds, the atmosphere, the attention, ‘The Streak’ and everything about Thanksgiving that made me look forward to the day I would one day get to play.

“There are so many memories from my time playing and I’m not sure I knew the impact this memory would have at the time, but I’ll never forget Greg Hennigar coming into the game our senior year and making us laugh in the huddle one final time in way that just encompasses who he was as a person. We knew it was a big deal at the time because no one cared about Father Judge more than Greg and we felt terrible that he lost the last part of his senior season to a broken collarbone. We wondered what could have been at the time, and still do 20-plus years later as we were 7-1 and had just beaten La Salle for the first time in a while when he got hurt. The memory would take on even greater meaning when Greg died the following year and the bond we formed as friends and teammates losing our guy so young. Him taking the field and commanding the huddle one last time on Thanksgiving Day, even if just to take a knee, is something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Mike Dufner 

Offensive Guard

Father Judge, Class of 1970 (Crusaders played Washington this year)

“I was not continuing on to college so for me the Thanksgiving Day game was the last football game I would play. Our coach, Bill Brannau, spoke to us about that and encouraged us to play well and enjoy our last game together. He was right, it was very special.

“My favorite memory was that our quarterback and my good friend, Jim Smink, threw 7 touchdown passes. At the time and for many years it was the city record for TD passes in a game. May still be. Jim passed away just a few months ago. RIP my friend.”

Michael O’Donnell

Offensive Guard

Father Judge, Class of 1984

“Philadelphia is (a) football town. Add that to Thanksgiving Day and you get the 4 Fs: Friends, Family, Food and Football. You don’t get more American than that. 

“I played football at Father Judge for four years. I was to Father Judge what Rudy was to Notre Dame. Five foot nothing, a hundred and nothing, with not much athletic ability. All I had going for me was my effort. I ran full speed into guys that had 50 to 80 pounds on me every day. It was really my only option to compensate for a lack of size, strength and speed. However, to my body, it felt like being in a car accident every day.

“My senior year, Coach (Whitey) Sullivan and Coach Bob Kaupp (God rest his soul) decided to give me my one and only varsity start. It was on Thanksgiving Day against Abraham Lincoln. They will never, never, never know how much that meant to me at the time, and every day since. It was the Super Bowl of my life and I remembered it well every year on Thanksgiving Day from Alumni Hill. I am truly heartbroken.”

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