When it seemed as though the Boston College football team would have some extra time on its hands because the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule was shuffled to adjust for Miami’s COVID-19 outbreak, coach Jeff Hafley brainstormed for ways to bring a drop of normalcy to Thanksgiving in a year that’s had little of it.
The Eagles have been bubbled since June, and they’ve reaped the benefits with spotless COVID tests all season. But keeping it that way meant that, with a few exceptions, players and staff wouldn’t be able to get away to see their families or have loved ones drop in for the holiday. Instead, they’d have to spend it among themselves.
So Hafley got a little creative and a little nostalgic. He came up with the idea to have a “Turkey Bowl” among the players.
“I was going to have all the young guys go in the stadium and play a game and get the scoreboards going,” Hafley said. “And I was going to have the older guys put the headsets on and coach the two different teams.
“That was my plan. I like to have fun with the guys. I was going to do that and have a big Thanksgiving meal for them afterward.”
But, as with most things in 2020, those plans had to change.
The Eagles went from having two weeks off to having a normal game week when their matchup against Louisville was moved from Dec. 12 to this Saturday. They still had their team meal for the holiday, but the game preparation meant that a Turkey Bowl wouldn’t be possible.
As college football programs across the country feel the effects of the second wave of the pandemic, teams have been hit with confirmed cases. The Eagles have been vigilant about following protocols and have a chance to finish the season COVID-free. But that has come at the expense of some aspects of life that make it worth living. Missing out on the holiday brought that into sharper focus.
“Thanksgiving is an important day for a lot of reasons,” Hafley said. “You like to spend it with your family, just share it with them. Even me, for example, my mom and my brother or my sister, I can’t have them enter the house right now and put myself in jeopardy because of everything the team has sacrificed. It’s unfair if I do that and then come around our players.”
For quarterback Phil Jurkovec, spending the holiday away from home was nothing new. He spent the first two years of his college career in South Bend, Ind., at Notre Dame and didn’t get back to spend Thanksgiving with his family in Pittsburgh. If not for COVID, he said, he might have been able to spend the holiday with his family this year.
“I think if this was a regular year, we’d be able to have some time,” he said.
Even if he could have gone home, Jurkovec said, his family was like many that couldn’t have the usual get-together.
But he liked the thought of being a coach for a day for the Turkey Bowl.
“I love seeing the younger guys compete,” he said. “So if they had a scrimmage, that’d be a lot of fun. I’d go on the headset and start coaching them up.”
Even if it didn’t come together, linebacker Max Richardson appreciated the sentiment of the Turkey Bowl.
“In years past, we had never done anything like the Turkey Bowl that was going to go down,” Richardson said. “But Coach Haf approached a few of the leaders on the team and said, ‘Hey, I’m going let you call the scrimmage this next week,’ which was really cool. I was really excited about that.
“Obviously the schedule got changed and things happen, but Coach Haf is really looking to empower the players on the team and make them feel as if they are just as important as him in a leadership role.”
Putting a bit of fun to the side to grind through another game week wasn’t difficult for an Eagles team that’s been doing it all season, Hafley said.
“These kids have done so much where it’s hard,” Hafley said. “Everyone wants to be around their family. They’ve sacrificed so much already. We asked them to do the same [this week]. Another sacrifice that our players are making, staying with each other.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.