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Commack alums keep 'Turkey Bowl' tradition

Rich Steinberg (with football) runs back a pass

Rich Steinberg (with football) runs back a pass intended for Eddie Brandmark (dark hair in background) while evading a touch by Max Linder during the annual Turkey Bowl football game. (Nov. 25, 2011) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Richard Steinberg's diving catch of a 30-yard touchdown pass won't make it into any record books, but the exhilaration will last -- hopefully longer than the aches and pains.

"I think everything hurts," the physics professor from Hastings-on-Hudson complained later, lying faceup on the grass at Valmont Park in Commack.

When Steinberg, 47, and his Commack High School South buddies started their day-after-Thanksgiving football tradition in their senior year, they bounced back a lot quicker.

For 30 years now, representatives of the Class of '82 have met on the field to play the "Turkey Bowl" and, more importantly, stay connected with each other through life's ups and downs.

"It's really one of the highlights of the year -- seeing the people I grew up with, seeing the younger ones," said John Nicolette, 47, a toxicologist now living in Chicago.

The pregame ritual is as a big a part of the day as the game itself.

They still meet at La Scala, a Commack pizzeria that once served as a high school hangout. Friday, they talked about how things have changed.

"We used to have an MVP for every game. Now if you just show up and make it through the game you're MVP," said Larry Lazar, 47. "I haven't played yet and I've already popped the Advil."

Some players came from hundreds of miles away to maintain the tradition.

Lazar, a lawyer from North Caldwell, N.J., brought his sons Bradley, 5, and Jake, 3.

Bradley and five other boys joined their fathers on the field as the teams faced off.

"It's great. Now you see the next generation of kids come out with them," said Barbara Drucker, 42, of Washington Crossing, Pa., whose husband, David, was playing.

With age and injuries taking a toll, tackle football gave way to touch years ago.

"The game has definitely slowed up a bit. People are more worried about getting hurt," said Alan Rodriguez, 47, of Northport. The law firm negotiator wasn't part of the original group but he's played in the Turkey Bowl for seven or eight years now.

When Howard Miller, 47, scored, Lazar gave him some good-natured ribbing.

"They let Howie get a touchdown; this is how competitive this game is," Lazar said sarcastically.

But later, when Miller limped off the field with a pulled calf muscle, Lazar was the first to hustle off in search of an ice pack.

It's not just bodies that have changed. With age has come professional careers and symbols of success.

"The cars are definitely nicer," said Miller, a Port Washington lawyer. "When we were 18, nobody was pulling up in a Lexus."

The game ended before dusk, without emergency room visits or calls to 911.

Kevin Lax, 47, a Furlong, Pa., cardiologist, couldn't remember the score. But he looked at the happy faces of the kids who'd just experienced their fathers' tradition and knew something special had happened.

"The young guys won," he said.

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