December 4, 2007

Turkey Bowl, with Salsa on the Side

Once or so every month for the past six months, the subject of The Turkey Bowl somehow found its way into the conversation: A Brownsville epic, the long-running tradition (14 years) of a usually muddy and always gnarly football game in the park the day after Thanksgiving.

Ryan's eyes would brighten and come alive, as talk of the game conjured up memories of Turkey Bowls past. He described to me in detail and with great excitement the rules and traditions of the game; perhaps the most important one being that in order to play in the Turkey Bowl, the player-to-be must party at least one night before game day. He would tell me about the MVP prize ball signed by all the players, the half time show, the video that would be made and watched after the game--all details a real football fan would want to know. I, on the other hand, wanted to know about the food and where we would stay. What we would eat and how many people might be there.

Needless to say, our Thanksgiving plans were set (in August, mind you) once Keli and Reeber committed to holding the annual extravaganza at their awesome property and tree nursery in Brownsville, Oregon, a few miles southeast of Corvallis.

And so we made our plans. Ryan started panicking about his football fitness level; I started panicking about what to cook and bake. I was told to bring our favorite dish--gulp, how does one decide that? Not able to narrow it down, nor stop myself from going on a small-scale cooking binge that would make Martha proud, I decided to bring several. With two tarts, one pie, a huge mixed greens salad, and my friend Anna's famous Mediterranean Dip packed into insulated coolers, my nurturing instinct took over, and I asked Ryan at the very last second if he felt like we were bringing enough food. He laughed at me. I took it as a yes.

Thanksgiving Day was incredibly beautiful. Sunny and cold, the air crisp and light: the quintessential fall day was perfect for travelling.

We were some of the last folks to arrive. The majority had shown up Wednesday night and were in fairly rough shape from a big night in the Scar Bar, where it all takes place. The bar is in a huge converted garage, complete with wood stove, pool table, bar, kegerator, couches, and a Musician's corner with virtually every instrument under the sun: it was plain to see that this was a very musically talented crowd.

Dinner for 30 was served at the Scar Bar, lit up by candles and warmed by the crackling fire in the wood stove. Every flat surface was converted into tables, and we all lined up to pass through the amazing smorgasbord of food. And then we ate. And ate. And ate. And drank a few cocktails too. Did I mention that we ate? Then the music started, and the party really got going, until early the next morning.

Talk of the next day's big game was peppered with doubt, with some key players having second thoughts. Without them, there would be no game. NO Turkey Bowl?! Well, wasn't this the reason we all came here (for some, it was)? The actual holiday itself, the Turkey, the pies--they were all an excuse for two football teams' worth of grown men to go chase each other and slide around in the mud.

When it came down to it, the fate of the game lie in Reeber's hands. After several hours of negotiations the next afternoon, lots of begging, and Reeber almost signing the forfeiture document that was drafted in the wee hours of the morning, the pivotal moment came down to when I, little ol' non-football fan me, played the card that wound up sealing the deal.

Before I tell you the outcome, I must digress. I met Reeber and Keli over the summer in Corvallis at Brooks' and Alexis' house. I had made my Fresh Salsa, with heirloom tomatoes, plenty of garlic and other additions from the Corvallis Farmer's market. Having mentioned to Ryan that my salsa was semi-famous in some circles, I was a bit nervous to serve it to a whole crowd of people I barely knew. Keli tasted it, loved it, then told me it would be Reeber who would be the real authority, as he was a bit of a salsa connoissuer. From the first bite onward, it was Reeber who sang praises the loudest, and practically ended up drinking the juice when it was finished. Keli told me the night before, after Thanksgiving dinner, that my salsa is a serious obsession and told me that it even comes up in contexts that are unmentionable on this blog (!).

And so, I knew I had something to bargain with, knowing how much Reeber loves my salsa. In the forfeiture document, we wickedly included, in addition to giving up bragging rights, a "Reeber can never eat Val's Salsa ever again" clause. He gasped in horror. I then sweetened the prospect of playing some football by promising to make a batch of the red gold after the game if he would play.

He caved.

After some frenzied preparations of packing up game attire, the keg (!), referee outfits, and the entire sideline crew, we headed into Brownsville to Pioneer Park. It was perfect weather for a football game, a little chilly but clear and gorgeously sunny.

Kick off was set for 3:05 pm. It was to be a flag football game, but I was assured that it would be rough in spite of this.

And it was. To make a long story short, the Turkey Bowl ended in a tie, 28 all due to a broken nose near the end of the fourth quarter. Luckily we had a doctor on the team who came to Joe's aid. After a trip to the emergency room, and a few beers later, he was doing alright.

After a big batch of salsa, highlights of the game and lots of laughs watching the video, Turkey Bowl 2007 was over. It was a smashing success.

Thanks to Reeber. Without his unfaltering dedication to my Fresh Salsa, the Turkey Bowl 2007 might never have happened, and I would have been left wondering for another whole year what it was really all about.

Photos courtesy of Jon Bell, top to bottom: Scar Bar in festive fashion; Reeber almost forfeiting; The teams, post-game. Check out Jon's Blog for more photos, and plenty of fantastic writing.

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