Northwest Philly's Thanksgiving Football Rivalry Takes on a Different Flavor

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Brian Hickey | NewsWorks.org
    After Thursday's practice aqt Benjamin Johnston Memorial Stadium, MLK Cougars Head Coach Ed Dunn tells his players that they won't be allowed to play in the Thanksgiving game if they don't bring coaches their report cards.

    After his team trounced West Catholic to win the PIAA District 12 AA championship a couple weeks back, Imhotep Panthers Head Football Coach Albie Crosby got to talking about Thanksgiving.

    With former Germantown High Coach Michael Hawkins a couple feet away at Benjamin Johnston Memorial Stadium, Crosby noted that he and coaches from the Martin Luther King Cougars team agreed to reinvent the holiday's traditional game as "The Legacy Bowl."

    With GHS closing in June, away went the longstanding Turkey Day game against MLK.

    Crosby told Hawkins his Panthers "will represent Germantown. We don't want you to be forgotten. We want the people of Germantown to know that they can come back, that this game is still for the whole community."

    With that, a tradition that saw residents and alumni from Germantown, West Oak Lane and beyond pack the stands at that very stadium had seemingly been kept alive and given an extreme makeover.

    And what makes this one all the more special is that two current Public League championship teams will take the field.

    Coming from different angles

    The Cougars had won their Turkey Day game just four times since 1990 before GHS closed. In fact, GHS' record since the game started in 1976 was 24-11-2.

    In 2011, the score was Bears 43, Cougars 0.

    In 2012, MLK fans went home with the taste of a 48-0 defeat in their mouths.

    But the times, they quickly changed.

    As chronicled by NewsWorks since September, a reinvented Cougars roster featuring several players who came over from GHS rode a nine-game winning streak to the school's first-ever Public League football title. This was accomplished in no small part by the efforts of Head Coach Ed Dunn, who came to MLK this year from GHS, where he was an assistant coach under Hawkins.

    After wrapping up practice at Johnston Stadium on Thursday night, Dunn spoke about how the new Turkey Day game fits neatly into the reinvention theme.

    "It's something new and exciting," said Dunn, noting that he and Imhotep's defensive coordinator Omar Hales faced one another in high-school football (Central and GHS respectively). "Both schools are in Northwest Philly, so hopefully we build a new tradition that grows and grows and grows through the years."

    Not a last game for Tep

    For MLK, it will be the final game of a historic season. For Imhotep, it's a bit of a scheduling nightmare.

    The game itself replaces one against Boys Latin, against whom Imhotep won all four games played. (In fact, the Panthers from East Germantown are 7-0 all-time on Thanksgiving, with two previous games against Edison and one against Freire Charter.)

    It comes just two days before PIAA Class AA District 12 champion Imhotep's next state-playoff game, which will be played at 1 p.m. Saturday, on the same field, against the Catasauqua Rough Riders (from just north of Allentown). The 12-1 Rough Riders also have a game on Thanksgiving.

    Some wondered whether the game would have to be rescheduled as both teams made deep post-season runs, and there are lingering concerns about whether the Panthers starters will play the entire Thanksgiving game.

    But a day before the Panthers learned who their playoff opponent would be, Crosby reiterated the importance for the community at a light-lifting practice that saw a seven-on-seven players-versus-coaches game.

    "We want Germantown's fans to feel comfortable and have a sideline to go to still. We want to start a tradition and get a legacy going, as well," said Crosby, before donning cleats for the game. "Thursday is for the fans and to get the younger kids involved, but we'll be ready to play."