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Electric football game is one for the ages

The Harvard Cup wasn't the only football game with a rich tradition and vivid memories that took place in Western New York on Thanksgiving Day. The 45th known matchup of miniature molded-plastic gridiron gladiators in the Tudor Tru-Action electric football game was also played, in our Williamsville living room.

The first game dates back to Jan. 1, 1965, when my late father -- known to most as "Doc" -- coached his red players, representing the then-AFL Buffalo Bills, to a 58-42 win over my yellow squad, the NFL Cleveland Browns, in the highest-scoring game ever.

New Year's Day 1966 saw my dad in the role of Paul "Bear" Bryant as his Alabama team beat my Nebraska. I gained a bit of revenge the following year when the Cornhuskers zigged and zagged their way to a win over the Crimson Tide, posting my first victory. The records of games played between 1968 and 1970 are missing, not surprising seeing Richard Nixon, famous for gaps of his own, was in the White House at the time.

Nov. 25, 1971, marked our first documented Thanksgiving Day contest, and for the next several years games were played on both the fourth Thursday in November and the first day of the year.

In the mid to late '70s, during college and the first few years of marriage to my wife, Jamie, it became increasingly difficult to field a competitive team after a night of auld lang syne, and the Jan. 1 game was eventually eliminated.

In 1999, my dad -- always a kid at heart -- took part in his last game, leading Alabama, yet again, to an upset of Texas, handing my beloved Longhorns their only loss in seven games.

When my father died suddenly the following August at age 72, our oldest son Scott was elevated to head coach of the red team, and he has been at the on-off switch ever since. I have also started turning over more of the play calling to our youngest son, Tyler, in recent years, albeit somewhat reluctantly.

Although some of the players now run sideways, in circles or, worse yet, backward, the one player that shows no signs of aging is the metal kicker, who once booted a 99-yard field goal. This prompted a rules change that in order to attempt a 3-pointer, the line of scrimmage must be inside the 50-yard line.

The game originally came with six little felt footballs. Over the years, we've managed to lose all but one. As a result, it's not unusual to have to stop the clock after a missed field goal or extra point as we get down on our hands and knees to search the carpeting for the only remaining fabric pigskin. Then there was the year we had to retrieve it from our dog's mouth when she tried to run off with it.

Over the years, my father wrote short notes on the score sheets, commenting on the weather and providing a glimpse into family events and world affairs such as, "Snowy, cold day," "Jamie pregnant," "Mom retired," "Grandpa not doing well" (he died two days later) and "U.S. troops in Persian Gulf. Hope no war!" In 1995, perhaps sensing his mortality, he wrote, "A great start for the holidays. How many are left?"

Although we have played the last seven games without Doc, the tradition he started carries on. For those who missed it, the players quite literally buzzed up and down the field this year in a game that was won by Tyler's Chicago Bears, 20-13, over Scott's Tennessee Titans. The game was followed by a wonderful dinner. As Doc wrote on several occasions, it was "another great day" for our family.

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