Every Thanksgiving since 1994 New Canaan and Darien play in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s (FCIAC) most celebrated Rivalry game, “The Turkey Bowl”. “I like the concept of a Thanksgiving Day game. Traditionally, in New England, Thanksgiving IS football,” said former head DHS coach, Mike Sangster.
The border town rivals have been battling it out on the gridiron since that fateful fall afternoon in November, 1928 when NCHS head coach Loren J. Keyes and DHS skipper Lindley Hubbard’s troops clashed on the grounds of Ox Ridge Hunt Club in Darien. Since that day, the tradition of this intense rivalry has survived the Great Depression. World War II, Vietnam, Disco and the Reagan-era to become perhaps the single most anticipated scholastic-level sporting event in Southwestern Connecticut.
The series has also persevered through three periods of hiatus which threatened the very existence of the rivalry. There were no games played in 1930, 1950-55 and 1965-66. In effect, the interruption of play in 1930 was later compensated for with double games during the prime years of the Second World War. However, with the break in action from 1950-1956 the rivalry faced near extinction. Feeling outnumbered (164-85) in male enrollment and having lost three straight by a combined score of 144-0, NCHS dropped DHS from its schedule in December 1949. The two teams did not meet again until 1956.
“When I think about high school sports, sportsmanship, rivalries, and competition, that’s what this game is all about,” said former NCHS Athletic Director, Vin Iovino. “The rivalry brings out the best in both teams. It’s a matter of pride,” added former DHS Athletic Director, Jim Girard.
Of the 90 games played to date, New Canaan holds a 50-38-2 edge in the series. Both clubs have enjoyed substantial winning streaks since the games inception. Darien won nine straight contests from 1956-1964, while the Rams answered with nine consecutive victories of their own from 1967-1976. New Canaan tied that record by winning nine straight from 2004-2011.
Ironically, twenty-nine games have ended in shutouts – the most lopsided coming in 1962 when Darien overwhelmed their rivals 70-0. Darien has fifteen shut outs, while New Canaan has fourteen. “It’s a good old-fashioned rivalry,” said Lou Marinelli, NCHS head coach. “It’s a game we want to win. If we were 0-9, we’d want to win this game. It would make our season.”
The coveted Coaches Memorial Trophy – in honor of legendary leaders John E. Maher, who headed up the Darien program from 1945-1965, and Joseph C. Sikorski, who guided New Canaan for a twenty-year span beginning in 1949. As the trophy reads, the award is, “presented annually to the winning team in honor of the two outstanding coaches who devoted a lifetime to establishing a winning tradition.”
“The game is dedicated to two outstanding role model coaches. There aren’t two better people that this game should be played in honor of than those two men,” said Iovino.
2014 was the 4th time the schools met twice in one season. The first happened in 1999 when the Rams won the first game but then lost just four days later in the CIAC Class M Semi-Finals to Darien. The second time was in 2008 when the Rams won both meetings, the Turkey Bowl/FCIAC Championship and the CIAC Class MM Final. The third time was in 2013 when Darien won the Turkey Bowl, but then lost in the CIAC Class L Final to New Canaan. In 2014, Darien won the Turkey Bowl/FCIAC Championship and the second meeting in the CIAC Class L Championship game, New Canaan won 21-20.