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09 November, 2011

A Tradition Unlike Any Other

   By Gus Ramsey

   Dot your I, go right ahead. Want to chuck that octopus on the ice? Let 'er rip! Throw that home run ball back on the field.  Indy winners, drink your milk. Packers players, leap away at Lambeau. If you have a tradition, I'm in. I love 'em. I love them so much, I have one of my own and I want to share it with you.
(***insert flashback effects and music here***)

   Thanksgiving, 1978. I am eleven years old. I have already taken in part in some Turkey Day staples, watching March of the Wooden Soldiers on WPIX and the Macy's parade on NBC. The Broncos played the Lions that day, losing 17-14. As a newly, emotionally invested Broncos fan, this national TV loss by my AFC championship team to the generic Lions was tough to take, so I decided to go for a walk before dinner was served. For no reason other than the fact I always feel better about life with some kind of sports ball in my hands, I took a football with me.
   It was a classic "New England Grey" day, with a cloud filled sky blanketing the chill in the air. A good day for a walk, just not a long one.
   We lived on a school campus, so it wasn't too long before I found myself on the school football field. At this moment, my love of Charlie Brown kicked in (I have a lot of loves.) and I decided to start kicking some field goals. Thankfully none of my four sisters were near by to play Lucy and yank the ball out from under me. It was just me, the football, the goalposts and the solitary moment.
   A friend of mine said recently that the best traditions are the ones born organically. He was speaking of the Lee Corso headgear prediction segment at the end of College Gameday. No one involved that day said, "Hey Lee, put on the Ohio State mascot's head to make your pick and we'll do this every week for as long as you are on the show." It just happened.
   So here I am, alone on the football field and a tradition is about to just happen.
   Using my heel, I kick backwards into the ground to dig a little divot. Angled slightly back towards me, I place the football in the divot to hold it in place as I prepare to kick it. Once the ball is placed, I look up at the goalposts to focus on my target. I am on the 20-yard line, so it is a 30-yard attempt. I decide I will kick it with a Jim Turner-like, straight on approach. Having not played soccer, it didn't seem like soccer-style was a good way to go. So I take three big steps back and do one practice run, just to make sure it's a good distance for the approach. Kind of like when Evil Knievel would do a fly-by on the jump ramp. This seems simple enough. I reset my position, look up at the goalposts and start my approach...
   As my right foot strikes the ball, the bulk of the impact is on the outer three toes. Not good. I look up to see the ball swirling off to the right, looking like a top that had been spun too hard, spinning, tumbling and  dying well short and well right of the goalposts.
   It takes a few more tries, but eventually, the moment comes. The ball strike is clean, the end over end is perfect and the ball sails majestically over the cross bar and between the uprights. It would have been good from 35, I just know it! A moment of pure joy. I try a few more, making a few too, before scurrying back home in time for one of the best traditions ever, the Thanksgiving dinner.
   Every year since that day 33 years ago, I have kicked a field goal on Thanksgiving. I did it with my college buddies, Koes, Coach and Bobby on a local high school field in Winter Park, Florida. One year my sister, Heather, and I were staying at friend of hers house in Jacksonville. I didn't know anything about where we were, so finding a local field was out of the question. In the backyard of this house were the remnants of a tree house, a piece of wood connected to two trees. I found a Nerf football in the garage and managed to keep the tradition alive. I made a field goal one year kicking in the near dark, in my dress shoes, at a local school in Monterey, Ca. I've kicked in the rain. I've kicked off of two feet of frozen snow with my friend, Pete. And in recent years I've begun dragging my two older boys down to the football field near my house to pass (or kick, as it were) the tradition down to them.
   Each year I start with a 30-yard attempt and kick until I make. The goal of the tradition is to put one through. Distance is a bonus. My career long is 45 yards. Up until last year I had been able to make at least one attempt from 40 yards every year since I was probably 18 years old. (The Elias Sports Bureau didn't start tracking my Distance Made From stats until 1998.) Last year I tried five attempts from 40 and missed them all. It was a chilly day and my 9-year old was running out of patience and sensation in his extremities, so we came home. I would have stayed for another hour, but so be it. I'm not gonna lie, it was a little sad.
Thanksgiving is fast approaching. I'm giving everyone some notice so you have time to get a football, a kicking tee if you'd like, and get your legs in kicking shape.  If you take part, report back to me on how you did. I'll post people's comments and I'll even put up pictures too, if you send them to me.
   The Thanksgiving Day Field Goal, it's a tradition unlike any other.

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