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Football and Thanksgiving go together like mashed potatoes and gravy, pumpkin pie and whipped cream, or turkey and cranberry sauce.
But we’re not just talking about the NFL games here. Thanksgiving morning is when the cousins get together to relive their high school gridiron glory days. When the uncles prove they’ve still got it despite constant back pain. When moms and aunts prove they’re not afraid to get in the mud — or when the youngest siblings prove they can do a mean impression of San Francisco 49ers star Christian McCaffrey.
The casual family football games in the yard or at the local park on Thanksgiving are a tradition worth extending. And Sacramento has plenty of local parks that will be open to allow for pigskin before turkeys come out of the oven. But there are some important tips to keep in mind to maximize your morning before the big meal.
Places to play in Sacramento
Cherry Island Sports Complex in Rio Linda might be the best spot for the most serious games. It has 10 full-sized soccer fields, which means room for probably 20 friendly football games, unless you’re a super athlete who was cut by the Las Vegas Raiders in September. For the rest of us, about half a normal football or soccer field would do just fine, meaning you need about 50 yards of grass. You’re playing football, not going to a cross country meet.
Discovery Park is also a good spot for a game. It lacks the organization of Cherry Island, which is designed to be a hub for soccer tournaments, but there’s plenty of grass to at least throw the ball around. A full list of city parks can be found at cityofsacramento.org.
The most casual games can be played in back yards with some 20 yards of space. Just be careful of fences, bricks, garden walls and anything that might hurt running into at full speed. Save the ice for your drinks, not to cut the swelling.
Knowing the rules
Yes, we all know the rules of football — or most of them. But chances are a few family members don’t buy fantasy football magazines or argue with strangers about Danny Gray’s ability to stretch the defense on Reddit. This is for the beginners who want to have a little fun working up an appetite and bonding with loved ones.
Don’t spend time worrying about down and distance. Unless you trespass on a marked field, which we don’t endorse, you won’t have any idea what five, six or seven yards looks like. Do something simple like have four chances to score a touchdown and then the ball goes to the other team. Or find a way to split the field in half with a tree as a marker and allow four downs to get there, and then four more to score a touchdown before it’s a turnover to the other team.
And don’t use a clock. Four or five possessions for each team should do just fine.
Don’t overthink it. The more simple the rules, the less needless arguing.
Let the best thrower be all-time quarterback. Throwing a football is difficult, and chances are only one person in your group can do it in a way that allows everyone to have a little fun. Let this person play quarterback for both teams. It’s the most fair way to go about things. Unless, of course, you have a couple of former all-conference preps comfortable with tossing the pill.
Don’t allow handoffs. You’re not going to impress your family by using the phrase “smash mouth football.” Your grandmother isn’t standing in the way of you hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. No one wants to spend their morning blocking for you. If you want to run away from people, just play tag.
Have one pass rusher and one blocker. Whether you count in “Mississippis” or “one-thousands,” have a pass rusher count to four or five using a four-syllable word before trying to pressure the quarterback. It adds a little urgency to each play and gets rid of those awkward moments where the quarterback is standing there waiting for someone to get open. Football plays should take seven seconds, not seven minutes.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. If your sister, who acted in the high school play and sang in the choir, wants to run routes and catch passes, let her. If you’re little cousins wants to know the feeling of carving up a defense and throwing stiff arms, let them. The time for serious competition is over. Let anyone and everyone join in the fun. No one is going to remember the score by the time dinner is served, so don’t be the overly competitive person who can’t stand losing.