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A look at the history of the Turkey Bowl

Posted at 12:28 PM, Oct 29, 2013
and last updated 2014-11-18 09:37:12-05

Baltimore’s Brooks Financial Turkey Bowl rivalry between Calvert Hall and Loyola Blakefield is older than seven of the “10 greatest rivalries” in sports, according to ESPN.

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“If you’ve played in that game your status in town is made different than anyone else’s. … Your status becomes rock star status,” Dean Smith, a veteran football writer and author of Never easy, never pretty , said.

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Entering its 95 th year, the annual Thanksgiving Day clash is tipped in favor of the Loyola Dons with 49 wins to the Calvert Hall Cardinals’ 37. 

The Turkey Bowl, as Smith puts it, “could make or break your season no matter what your record was.”

“Baltimore’s place in football history is not only the [1958 NFL championship ‘Greatest game ever played’] but it’s also things like this rivalry,” Smith said.

The rivalry dates back to 1920 when both private schools were no more than two blocks away from one another downtown.

“We were only, as the bird flies, a quarter of a mile apart between the schools,” Tom Bateman, a Calvert Hall football alum and manager of the website, said.

Back then, neither school even had a football field.

“It was always neighborhood rivalries,” John Stewart, Dean of Students at Loyola Blakefield, said. “There were guys in my neighborhood that went to Loyola. There were guys that went to Calvert Hall. You’d go out on the field and you would see guys you grew up with.”

Over the years, as popularity of the Turkey Bowl grew, the game was played at great venues like Memorial Stadium, M&T Bank Stadium and Johnny Unitas Stadium.

“You get chills,” Stewart said, recalling his old playing days, entering the then-Baltimore Colts’ locker room before the big game.

“You got to know where you came from to know where you’re going. It’s just a big thing around here. The kids don’t realize it until after they leave what a big deal it is,” Stewart said.

Stewart and Bateman are the unofficial historians on opposite sides of the Turkey Bowl history. Each can look back on the 93 years and remember life-changing, last-second plays and incredible demonstrations of will and courage against the odds that help preserve the framework of Baltimore’s football legacy.

“How many teams around the country can say that they have played for 100 years against [a rival]?” Bateman said. “It’s Army-Navy for us. It’s our Super Bowl. Nothing else matters but that game.”

Loyola however can boast the more impressive stats from the near 100-year-old game, as the numbers go:

  • Current record: 49-37
  • Ties: 8
  • Biggest blowout: 47-0 (1922)
  • Longest streak: 11 (1989-1999)

But neither team is relishing in their current form.

“Our team, like Loyola’s team, is going through its worst season in years right now. … It looks like both of us will have losing records going into the Thanksgiving game,” Bateman said. “Winning that game, you forget about all of that. Who cares [if] you win the game everybody talks about?”

Before the rules changed, even ties were down as benchmarks in the schools’ athletics programs.

For Stewart, one of the best games in Turkey Bowl history was the 1957 7-7 tie.

“Calvert Hall that year had a varsity football team that was as big as the then-Baltimore Colts on the line,” Stewart said. “They had a superstar running back that went to Notre Dame … and Loyola had a first-year coach and a relatively small team.

“It was really David and Goliath,” Stewart continued. “Had the game gone into overtime, Loyola might’ve lost.  … They were wearing us down. … But our guys were scrappy.”

Bateman meanwhile recanted the glory of three decisive wins over the Dons of Blakefield.

“Bateman, I knew he’d do that,” Stewart said jokingly upon learning of his fellow historian’s Cardinal pride.

Bateman threw out a few impressive numbers of his own:

  • 42 – The length in yards Phil Marsiglia crushed a field goal to win the 1969 game 17-14 with no time left on the clock.
  • 70 – The number of yards Calvert Hall ran on a kick-off return to comeback in the waning seconds of the 1983 game to down the Dons 15-14. “We ran a reverse,” Bateman said. “We completely fooled them.”
  • 2 – The number of overtime periods it took to topple Loyola in 2001, the first year the game went into extra time. Calvert Hall won 7-6, after being tied 0-0 in regulation.

Not to be out-shined, Stewart quickly reminded an engaged reporter of the thrilling 1974 40-28 win when Pete Legler scored four touchdowns in the first half. He then shared details of a 1985 win that snapped a seven-game Calvert Hall win streak.

“We’re humble but not that humble,” Bateman said.  

* Editor's note: The original version of this story was published before the 2013 Turkey Bowl. It has since gone through several updates for republication.